Q: I have a 6-year-old cocker spaniel who always seems to have stinky ears. We have taken her to our veterinarian’s office multiple times over the past two to three years for this issue and she always seems to have an ear infection. We treat her with the medication and she seems to improve while taking it, but almost immediately after stopping her ears start to smell again. Is there anything different we can do?

A: Don’t feel too bad, as ear infections are probably the most commonly diagnosed infection in dogs. Due to a very long ear canal and floppy ears, cocker spaniels have it worse than almost any other breed of dog. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer or treatment, so be prepared to treat for a long time, potentially even for the rest of her life.

Since this is an ongoing situation, make sure that you have put her on a food trial so that you can at least rule out food allergies as an underlying problem. Consult with your veterinarian as to which food would be best to use while conducting this trial.

If food allergies are not an issue, you should have the ears cultured. This process is very simple as your veterinarian can take a swab of the ear and send it to a laboratory for culture and sensitivity. This is important because chronic ear infections are likely to have some bacterial organisms that are resistant to most antibiotics and we need that information to be able to determine a proper antibiotic treatment. This treatment will almost certainly need to be longer than a normal ear infection treatment; in fact, it will probably be for six to eight weeks. You may also need to do this antibiotic regiment periodically, maybe one or two times per year.

One final issue to consider is if your dog may be starting to get hyperplasia of the ear canals. This is a condition where the canals begin to become permanently thickened due to the chronic inflammation and infection. In some dogs, especially cocker spaniels, this can even lead to calcification (turning to bone) of the ear canals. If this occurs, your dog will likely need to have surgery done by a surgical specialist to remove either the diseased part of the ear canal or the entire ear canal.

Got a pet-related question? Send it to Dr. Anderson, a veterinarian at Hawthorne Park Animal Care Center in Bloomington, via email at features@pantagraph.com.

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