Ear and eye disease

October 9th, 2013
Ear and Eye Disease

Ears and eyes tend to be the first to get nasty diseases, but what triggers these conditions and how can they be prevented? Kylie Baracz reports.

Veterinarians tend to see many canine patients with signs of ear and/or eye troubles. The symptoms of these problems are bothersome and can be smelly, but what causes them and what happens if they are left untreated?

Dr Ian Murdoch, veterinarian at Pennant Hills Veterinary Hospital, says that although the symptoms don’t seem worrisome at first, ear and eye problems left untreated can lead to serious issues.

“Both ear and eye disease left untreated will, at the least, lead to discomfort or pain in the animal. At worst, it will lead to deafness and blindness — sometimes with the loss of the ear or eye affected,” says Dr Murdoch.

“Eyes can get irritated and damaged easily in windy weather with dust, debris and pollen, and ears often get worse in wet, humid weather or when allergies flare up with pollens etc.”


Flies and insect bites

At this time of year, biting flies and other insects can be a major problem for dogs’ ears.

“These creatures bite and suck blood from the ear flaps, sometimes on the tips and sometimes on the fold of the flap. They form a scabby crust where they bite and can even lead to some ulceration of the areas. Naturally this is uncomfortable and painful for the dogs, and it causes ear flapping and head shaking,” Dr Murdoch says.

Treatment for bites involves the vet diagnosing the cause and then administering an appropriate topical treatment for a set period. Flies can be prevented with special pet fly sprays and creams. Spot-on flea and tick treatment can also help.

“Try removing areas where the flies and mosquitoes breed and use fly traps,” says Dr Murdoch.


Ear infections are usually caused by yeasts or bacteria that colonise the ear canal when opportunity arises, such as when the ear gets wet from swimming or bathing.

Sometimes allergies and the ear anatomy (floppy ears, narrow canals, excess hair etc) predispose a dog to infection. Parasites called ear mites can live in the ear canals of dogs and cause irritation and disease. Generally speaking, puppies are more at risk of ear mites as pups catch them from each other when still with their mum.

“The symptoms for ear infections include head shaking, scratching at ears and pain when ears [are] touched,” Dr Murdoch says. “Redness and discharge from the canal including pus and wax can be seen and [there is] also a bad odour from the ears. This is sometimes attributed to the dog in general smelling bad.”

Treatment involves the vet diagnosing the cause, whether that be bacteria, yeasts or ear mites. The vet then administers an appropriate topical treatment for a set period. In some cases, the animal may need sedating or anaesthetising so proper assessment and thorough cleaning can take place. For ear mites, there are also spot-on treatments that are effective.

“Keep ears dry and use ear cleaners recommended by your vet regularly. Complete the course of medicine prescribed and revisit your vet to assess [your dog’s] response. Surgery might be needed to correct some anatomical defects,” Dr Murdoch says.

Aural haematoma

This condition is where blood fills the ear flap and can be caused by head shaking, scratching at ears with the hind feet, or even trauma from something such as a dog fight bite.

An aural haematoma can cause the ear flap to look like a heavy balloon. Generally, the ear will need surgical drainage.

Dr Murdoch believes the only way to prevent this condition is to catch an infection before it gets any worse. “Make sure any ear disease that leads to head shaking/scratching is under control, for example ear infections or allergies,” he says.



Conjunctivitis can be caused by infections, irritants in the air (dust, pollens and debris), trauma, chemicals (shampoo or citrus bug squirt), dry eyes and/or allergies.

“In general, all eye diseases result in one or more of the following: redness, closing the eye, blinking and weeping,” Dr Murdoch says.

Eye drops or ointments are often needed for infections or inflammation and special replacement tears are needed for dry eyes.

Dr Murdoch suggests that being aware of early signs of disease may help in the prevention of this condition.


Damage can happen to the cornea of dogs’ eyes from trauma (scratches from plants/cats) or infection. Blackening can be caused by chronic irritation from dry eye or constant friction.

Some dogs have entropian or ectropian eyes — this is when the eyelids fold in on the eye or the eyelids droop down from the eye. This can be naturally occurring and sometimes surgery is needed to open up the eyelids.

Genetic testing and breeding programs can also help avoid anatomical problems (eg squashed-in faces with skin folds rubbing on the eyes) and inherited diseases that lead to blindness.

Cataracts and glaucoma

Cataracts and glaucoma are serious problems that occur in the eye. A cataract is a clouding of the lens inside the eye which leads to a decrease in vision. It is the most common cause of blindness and is conventionally treated with surgery. With cataracts, a white-coloured lens can be seen in the pupil.

Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the optic nerve is damaged. This can permanently damage vision in the affected eye and lead to blindness if left untreated. With glaucoma, the eye may be cloudy and swollen all over, which is irritating for the dog.

Surgery can be done to remove cataracts and treatment can be prescribed.

Don’t leave it too late

Both ear and eye disease left untreated can lead to deafness and blindness, sometimes with the loss of the ear or eye affected.

Puppies more commonly get ear mites but older dogs are more susceptible to both ear and eye problems. Cataracts often occur in older dogs but sometimes also in young dogs of susceptible breeds. Dry eyes can develop with age.

If you spot anything different about the look and smell of your dog’s ears and/or eyes, head straight to your local vet to get him checked. As they say, better to be safe than sorry!

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