Pet Talk: Is your dog really listening to you?

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas—If it seems everything you say to Rover goes in one ear and out the other, it’s probably not just a rebellious phase—he may be suffering from an ear infection or other condition that may require ear surgery.

Dr. Phil Hobson, a veterinarian in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, says most ear surgery in dogs is surprisingly a result of a skin or food allergy.

“Dogs with pendulous ears, or floppy ears, are the most susceptible to severe ear infection,” Hobson explains. “The shape of the ears and the position of the ear canal in these breeds creates a warm, moist environment ideal for the growth of infection.”

Hobson says dog ear infections are usually secondary to an underlying food or skin allergy.

“These dogs may shake their heads or scratch their ears, the ear canal can become inflamed and swollen, and their hearing dampened,” he adds. “Your veterinarian can perform tests to indicate what your dog is allergic to that may be predisposing the infection.”

If your veterinarian does recommend ear surgery to correct the problem, you’ll be glad to know that your dog will feel better within a few days of the 75-minute surgery.

After surgery, antibiotics are administered for about five to seven days, and pain medication is usually required for two or three days.

“This type of ear surgery, called ‘total ablation,’ includes the removal of the ear canal down to the middle ear and cleaning out the infected tissue,” Hobson says.

“During surgery, the veterinarian may find mineralized cartilage (infected cartilage that turns into bone) or tumors within the ear canal. Most dogs undergoing this ear surgery have eardrums that have been completely destroyed by the infection.

“In such cases, the dog’s hearing cannot be improved, but the dog will feel much better because the painful infection is gone, and the chance of recurring infection is nearly eliminated,” adds Hobson.

Although unlikely, one possible risk of ear surgery is temporary or long-term facial nerve damage.

Most pet owners, he believes, will find their dogs seem healthier, happier and more attentive as a result of the surgery. While it cannot restore hearing, it can certainly improve the dog’s quality of life.

For many breeds, allergies and recurrent ear infection may be unavoidable, but Hobson encourages dog owners to clean and inspect their pets’ ears regularly, while being careful to avoid pushing debris further into the ear canal.

Hobson also suggests that dog owners watch for any behaviors that indicate their dogs’ ears are becoming bothersome.

When it comes to your dogs’ ears, Hobson says it’s best to use this rule of thumb: A visit to your veterinarian can keep a small itch from becoming a big problem.

from the May 30-June 5, 2007, issue

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