Ear Care – My opinion

Once a Shar-Pei has an ear problem it will always have ear problems. You will not cure the problem, you will only control it through routine ear maintenance.

The primary problem with ear cleaning in the Shar-Pei breed centers around inadequate training and lack of control of the dog. If the dog will not let you clean the ears you will not be able to treat the ears. The training process begins in puppyhood and involves discipline and positive reinforcement methods which are beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that you should train you dog as a puppy to tolerate ear cleaning. I will also be the first to say that some of the problem in cleaning the ears rests in the most common method of ear cleaning used today – the cotton swab. Improper use of the cotton swab results in trauma to the ear canal with swelling, pain and an uncooperative patient.

The best way to clean the ear canal is to “float” debris out of the canal using an ear cleaning solution. A wide variety of such solutions are available on the market with none being better than any of the others. Try different ones and see which works best for you. My personal favorites are Pan-Otic and Nolvasan Otic. Do not use hydrogen peroxide! The foaming action bothers the dog and the peroxide breaks down into oxygen and water in the ear. It is usually wise to clean the ears outdoors because the principle here is to allow the cleaning solution to loosen the debris and the dog to shake the material out of the ear.

The ear canal is filled up with the cleaning solution, gently massage, and then the dog is allowed to shake its head. Stand Back! Material tends to catch on the inside of the ear flap where it is wiped off with cotton balls and the whole process is repeated. This is done several times until no more debris in collected. At this point a cotton swab can be gently inserted into the ear canal to soak up any remaining ear cleaning solution. Do not clean the ear with the cotton swab! After the ear is thoroughly dried, the appropriate ear medication is instilled into the ear canal as directed by your veterinarian. It is often a good training technique to give the dog some sort of a special treat at this point to positively reward the dog. This may make future sessions more pleasant. In ears that have severe disease, it is often a good idea to treat the ear for several days with medication first before attempting to clean the ears. This allows the swelling and pain to subside first and allow the dog to tolerate the cleaning procedure better. In such cases it may also be a good idea to have your veterinarian anesthetize the dog and clean the ears before any home therapy is done. This also allows your veterinarian the opportunity to examine the ear more thoroughly.

Predisposing Factors

Certain factors seem to predispose the ear canal to develop problems. These include the anatomy of the ear canal which is certainly a problem in the Chinese Shar-Pei with the tight ear flap and tendency to stenotic (narrow) ear canals.

  1. Maceration of the ear canal – Small increases in moisture in the ear canal lead to damage of the skin in the canal and predispose to bacterial and yeast infections. Frequently wetting of the ear canal through swimming or bathing may contribute to this phenomena.
  2. Climate – There seems to be an increased incidence of ear problems in the spring, summer and early fall with a decrease in the winter. This is most likely due to the decrease in temperature and humidity seen in the winter months. The winter season is also associated with relief from inhalant allergies and flea problems. In some areas of the country the problem is year-round.
  3. Treatment Errors – Traumatic cleaning of the ears, plucking the hair from the ear canal and use of inappropriate ear cleaning solutions such as hydrogen peroxide may lead to swelling and maceration of the ear canal.

Causes of Ear Disease

There are numerous causes of ear infections in the Chinese Shar-Pei. Most are listed below, but bear in mind, often the cause of an ear problem in a particular dog is a combination of factors.

  1. Yeast – The number one cause of ear problems in Shar-Pei are primary yeast infections. Yeast likes a warm, dark and moist environment and that is exactly what the typical tight, closed ear canal of the Shar-Pei provides. It is essentially similar to having athlete’s foot in the ear. Usually, this organism produces a moist, chocolate-brown, musty smelling discharge.
  2. Bacteria – Most bacterial ear infections are secondary to yeast infections. Bacterial ear disease is characterized by a watery foul smelling discharge and is often associated with ulceration of the ear flap and canal. Many bacterial infections are very resistant to common antibiotic therapy so culture/sensitivity results are critical.
  3. Allergies – Both food allergies and inhalant allergies can cause itching of the ears with resultant infections caused by the trauma of the dog scratching the ears. Contact allergy problems can result from using irritating substances in or around the ears. Drug eruptions can also cause ear problems if the dog has a sensitivity to that drug.
  4. Hypothyroidism – Low thyroid function is often associated with an increase in wax production in the ear canal which van become secondarily infected. Hypothyroidism is also associated with decreased immune system function.
  5. Parasites – Various parasites can cause ear disease such as ear mites, demodectic mange, sarcoptic mange, fleas, etc.
  6. Autoimmune diseases – Certain autoimmune disease can affect the ear flap and canal. These include systemic lupus erythematosus, pemphigus and others.

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