Is it down to something irritating inside?

Q: My spaniel has horrible waxy ears. No amount of cleaning seems to make a difference. Any suggestions? I’m worried they may lead to more spaniel ear problems.

A: Neil says: Yes, stop what you are doing. You are probably making the situation worse. We need to go back to the beginning. Spaniel ear problems start because of some initiating factor. This could be ear mites, allergy, foreign body (grass seed), other skin issues such as hypothyroidism or seborrhoea, swimming (as water dries the ear out), ear structure (hairy ears, ear flaps, narrowed canal), inappropriate owner interference, or polyps. Some breeds, such as spaniels, are predisposed because the earflaps prevent 
air circulating.

As a result of the primary problem, secondary infections with bacteria and yeasts rapidly occur. These cause more inflammation, pain, head shaking and scratching, so that the ear canals become narrowed, the wax glands go mad and produce an excess of wax and the ear’s self-cleaning mechanism breaks down.

At this point, simply cleaning the ear won’t help and may, indeed, exacerbate the condition, depending on what you are using and how you are using it. Do not use water or alcohol-based products in the ear.

You must go to your vet and try to get 
the primary problem identified and treated, if possible.

Then, cytology or culture of the ear can be very helpful to identify the organisms involved, although we know that 70-90% will be a mix of the bacterium Staphyloccocus pseudintermedius and the yeast, Malassezia pachydermatis. Very moist, smelly ears can be infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is difficult and frustrating to get on top of.

Treatment should then be aimed at killing these bugs, reducing inflammation in the ear and restoring the normal balance, in much the same way as you might treat athlete’s foot in humans.

There are a couple of new medications that, after proper cleaning of the ear, can remedy the acute phase with only one or two applications. Where appropriate, these can be useful when treatment compliance is difficult. You must do something about your dog’s ears to avoid chronic damage and unnecessary discomfort.

spaniel ear problems

Gently brush burrs and seeds from the ears

So why do spaniels have floppy ears?

In his book Dogwatching zoologist Demond Morris suggests that with the hunting breeds, such as spaniels, floppy ears were favoured because these dogs were developed to hunt by scent. Prick ears are much better for locating the precise direction of a sound, so a dog with flop ears was less likely to be distracted by irrelevant sounds in the distance.