Dog Ear Problems Part 2 – the diagnosis

puppy-ear-examinationYour vet will diagnose your dog’s ear problems by carrying out a number of tests.

It may not be possible to get an immediate diagnosis and further procedures may be required – I’ve summarized below what you can expect from your first visit to your vet and the additional tests that may be required.

If you don’t understand what your vet is doing and/or why he is performing certain tests don’t be afraid to ask him – and keep asking until you understand. By fully understanding you may be able to tell him something about your dog’s history or habits that can speed up, or help with, the diagnosis.

Routine tests your dog may undergo:

  • To begin with your vet will want to know everything you can tell him about your dog’s ear problems. Be prepared to explain:
    • what symptoms you’ve noticed;
    • when they started and how frequently they occur;
    • any previous ear problems;
    • any treatments you’ve applied whether for this ear infection or previous ones; and
    • any unusual activities or changes to the routine – include things like more swimming or baths than usual, change of food, exercising in different areas and mixing with new dogs.
  • Your vet will then give your dog a full examination, paying particular attention to: the condition of his skin; whether he has any pain around his ears; any smell coming from his ears; and will look inside your dogs ears with an otoscope – a magnifying lens with a light attached to it.
    The inside of your dog’s ear is normally pink and any wax discharge a light brown color. Using an otoscope your vet is looking for:
    • any foreign bodies lodged in your dog’s ear. As described in the anatomy of the ear, your dog’s ear canal is ‘L’ shaped, and where the ear canal bends is a perfect place for debris to accumulate;
    • whether or not the eardrum is intact;
    • the presence of [tag]dog ear mites[/tag];
    • the color of the inner ear;
    • the color of any discharge from the ear; and
    • any abnormalities in the shape of the ear canal, the texture of the skin in the ear, amount of hair in the ear and the presence of any unusual growths.
  • If there is an abnormal amount of discharge from the ear, your vet will do a cytological test. For this, an ear swab is taken and the sample is then examined under a microscope.
    This test can detect the existence of parasites, yeast and bacterial infections. You may need to wait a couple of hours or several days for the tests results, depending on the tests undertaken and whether or not they are performed on your vet’s premises.
  • If your dog has any unusual growths in his ears, your vet will do a biopsy to determine their nature;
  • If it’s difficult for your vet to see down the ear canal he may take a series of x-rays to determine the extent of the infection in your dog’s ears.
  • If your dog is suffering from a recurrent ear infection, the sample taken by the ear swab will be used to grow a culture to determine the appropriate treatment for the infection – it may be the case that your dog has become immune to an anti-biotic previously prescribed.

Additional / specialist tests:

There are a number of other tests your dog may have to undergo if the tests mentioned above do not identify the cause of your dog’s ear problems.

  • A blood count to identify the cause of inflammation and ear infection;
  • Hormonal tests to identify any hormone abnormalities;
  • Allergy tests for food and inhalant allergens; and
  • Urine samples for bladder and kidney abnormalities.

As you can see, diagnosis is not always straightforward and it may take sometime to identify the root cause of your dog’s ear problems.

Here are the other articles in this series:

Part 1 – the symptoms and causes of [tag]dog ear problems[/tag].

Part 3 – treating dog ear problems and reducing the risk of their occurrence.

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