Thin Air, I Tell You

So many dogs with ear infections. A hundred a week? It seems that way. Many of their owners ask me how this happened. They often wonder if they are washing the dog enough or allowing him to spend too much of his time lolling on the grass. They wonder how the offending organism gained access to his ear canal, particularly when I tell them it’s a yeast infection.

We see a couple of ear infections every single day, but over ninety percent of them have nothing to do with any action the dog or the owner has taken. Occasionally someone gets a little too enthusiastic with the ear wash or a water lover spends too much time in the drink. The ear canals have a pretty efficient system for defending themselves, but they don’t do well when they spend too much time wet or get washed too frequently. Once in a long while, a dog catches ear mites from a feline companion, but most ear infections arise from flaws in the ear’s defenses. Nothing is entering or invading from the outside, and ear infections are almost never caught from another ear.

The most common culprit is an enemy from within. Sometimes it’s the shape and breadth of the ear canal or the patient’s hereditary predisposition toward ear and skin difficulties. He can’t help his breeding, and he can’t control the ear canal he got from his parents. Starting off with faulty equipment like that, he’ll never be able to achieve the normal bacterial populations that his friends are enjoying. The infections will come back again and again.

Sometimes the enemy within is a flawed immune system. Allergies to pollen, dust, cats, or mold, even food ingredients, cause an exaggerated reaction that throws everything off balance. The skin lining the ear canal loses its cool and fails to keep the peace between its various microscopic inhabitants. These are bacteria and yeast that normally belong in the ear, but when allergy strikes, the populations shift into overdrive and they begin to damage their host. The ear gets painful and the skin begins to burn. The patient has to get after that with his claws, and things get worse from there on out. I give him some ointment for the inside of the ear and try to get the demographics back in order, but it doesn’t last too long. The allergy is still there, and the situation tends to recur. Repeatedly. I’m sur you know that allergies don’t go away. They just go into hiding from time to time—if you’re lucky, that is.

So the ear infections are not coming from the time you saw him rolling around on the grass. They aren’t coming from his ruffian dog park buddy that has apparently never had a bath. For the most part, they are coming from mold spores and pollen particles, allergens that are invisible to the naked eye but entering our bodies with every breath. You know, it’s like they’re coming out of thin air.

Dr. M.S. Regan