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dog ruptured eardrum

Symptoms and Treatment for Ruptured Eardrums in Dogs

The ear of dogs is divided into three parts - the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Between the outer ear and the middle ear is a thin membrane called the tympanic membrane or eardrum. It’s in the middle ear where the body’s tiniest bones - malleus, incus, and stapes - are located. It’s also where the eustachian tubes are found. The eardrum is very fragile; it can easily be damaged during ear cleaning or ear disease. Read on to learn about symptoms and treatment for dogs with ruptured eardrums.

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What does the eardrum do?

The eardrum plays a primary role in transmitting sounds captured from the surroundings to the three bones in the middle ear, then to the labyrinth. Anything that compromises the integrity and structure of the eardrum, such as an infection or perforation, can significantly affect a dog’s ability to hear. Any problem with the eardrum should be considered a serious health issue that warrants immediate veterinary attention.

Potential Causes of a Ruptured Eardrum in Dogs

There are several ways by which a dog’s eardrum may rupture. These include the following:

  • Exposure to very loud noises
  • Long-term inflammation of the middle ear (otitis media)
  • Sudden severe changes in the atmospheric pressure
  • Foreign objects in the ears
  • Penetration of the eardrum by a foreign object
  • Toxicity

Symptoms of a Ruptured Eardrum in Dogs

Loss of Hearing

When a dog’s eardrum is damaged, it is unable to perform its primary function, that is, of transmitting sounds, particularly high-pitched sounds, to the inner ear. Thus, you may wonder why your canine buddy is suddenly turning a deaf ear to your commands or whistles. If only one eardrum had been damaged, the hearing loss may not be as pronounced and most pet owners won’t notice the difference. The intact eardrum in the other ear is still capable of responding to sound.

Pain

Dogs with ruptured eardrums suffer from pain. They may not allow anyone to touch the affected ear(s). Your dog may yelp or even snap if you attempt to touch these parts. The dog may persistently scratch, paw, and rub the ear against surfaces. Tilting of the head to the affected side and frequent head shaking are also common symptoms. Affected dogs may also stop eating because jaw movements can worsen the ear pain. The pain and discomfort can also contribute to depression and lethargy.

Ear Discharge

When there is an infection in the middle ear, fluid can accumulate and exert pressure on the tympanic membrane, and eventually cause it to rupture. A tear or hole in the eardrum provides drainage of the fluid from the middle ear to the external part of the ear. The discharge is thick and pus-like and may be tinged with blood. The release of the pressure on the eardrum can alleviate pain and discomfort and the dog may feel better.

Neurological Signs

The facial and sympathetic nerves pass through the middle ear canal of dogs, thus any inflammation in this part of the ear may lead to facial paralysis on the same side of the ear that’s affected. Thus, if the eardrum rupture occurred in the left ear, the dog may be unable to blink his left eye or the left eyelids may not close completely. The left side of the dog’s face may also appear droopy. Since the middle and inner parts of the ear also have an important role in maintaining balance, a ruptured eardrum or an infection in the inner ear passages may cause the dog to stagger, walk in circles, and there may be incoordination and mobility issues.

Diagnosing a Ruptured Eardrum in Dogs

If you notice that your dog seems to have an ear problem, it is highly recommended that you consult your vet sooner rather than later. Your vet will use an otoscope to examine the inner part of the ear and check for tearing or perforation of the eardrum. When fluid is present in the ear, the tympanic membrane appears to be bulging.

A myringotomy is a procedure that is performed to obtain a cytology specimen that will be used for culture and antibiotic sensitivity testing of the material behind the eardrum. Because of the pain and discomfort, there may be a need to sedate or place the dog under general anesthesia to allow a thorough examination and testing.

Techniques to Assess the Eardrum

There are several techniques that veterinarians do to assess the integrity of the eardrum. The eardrum should always be evaluated because the choice of medications and flushing agents will depend on the integrity of the eardrum.

  • Use of a catheter. A small diameter catheter is inserted into the ear canal until it stops. The catheter is extended and retracted to have a feel of the “stop”. A spongy feel indicates an intact eardrum, while a hard feel to the “stop” is associated with a ruptured eardrum. The hard feel is the catheter hitting the wall of the tympanic bulla.
  • Tympanometry (Impedance Audiometry) uses a sensor that measures the response of the eardrum to sound waves. This is not, however, practical for use in veterinary clinics. It’s being used as a research tool in animals.
  • Dilute povidone-iodine solution or dilute fluorescein solution. The warmed solution is infused into the ear canal while the dog or cat is under anesthesia. If the fluid comes out of the animal’s nose or if it’s snorted out through the oropharynx, the eardrum is ruptured.
  • Video Otoscope. The ear with a suspected ruptured eardrum is filled with warmed saline and the tip of the video otoscope is inserted into the ear canal. If air bubbles are rising from the ear canal while the dog or cat is breathing, this indicates a ruptured eardrum.
  • Positive Contrast Canalography. This is a method that is used for detecting a ruptured eardrum in dogs with otitis media.

Treatment of a Ruptured Eardrum

If you suspect that your dog has a ruptured eardrum, always seek professional help. Don’t administer any over-the-counter medication without consulting your vet. Take note that the tissues inside the ear passages are extremely delicate and certain products can only make the problem worse. When there is a tear or a hole in the eardrum, any medication can easily penetrate the inner ear and can possibly cause irreversible deafness.

After a thorough examination of your pet, your vet may perform the following procedures to address the problem.

  • Flush out the affected ear using appropriate medications.
  • Give symptomatic and supportive treatment based on the findings. Your vet may prescribe steroids, a round of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, and/or anti-fungal medication.
  • Surgery may be performed by a vet to repair the damaged eardrum and restore the dog’s hearing.

The prognosis of a ruptured eardrum in dogs depends, to a large extent, on the severity of the problem and the dog’s response to the treatment given. Minor cases may heal in 3-4 weeks, while some dogs may suffer permanent loss of hearing. Neurological signs, such as circling, head tilting, and jerking eye movement may persist.

Read more:

Common Ear Problems in Dogs

Examining and Caring for Your Pet’s Ears

How to Clean Your Dog's Ears

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