The symptoms of a ruptured eardrum in dogs may not always be readily recognized by dog owners because dogs are capable of compensating their hearing loss. If a dog has a ruptured eardrum in one ear, the symptoms may therefore not be noticed because he can still hear well with the other one. It's important therefore to learn what can cause a dog's ear drum to rupture and what signs may specifically point out to this. Following is information on the symptoms of a ruptured ear drum in dogs by veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec.
A Lesson in Anatomy
Just like us, dogs have an eardrum, also called tympanic membrane. The eardrum is set deep into the ear canal and is not readily visible. The eardrum can be defined as a thin, tightly stretched membrane that separates the dog’s external ear from his middle and inner ear.
A dog's eardrum has two major functions. First and foremost, it offers protection. Placed at a highly strategic spot, the eardrum keeps infectious agents and dirt from entering the deeper portions of the ear canal.
On top of that, the dog's eardrum helps in sound detection. Basically, when the sound wave hits the eardrum, it vibrates thus moving the small bones that send the vibrations to the inner ear.
Because of its thin structure and tight stretching, a dog's eardrum can be easily ruptured. There are several potential causes for a ruptured eardrum in dogs.
Causes of a Ruptured Eardrum in Dogs
As mentioned, there are several potential causes for a ruptured eardrum in dogs. For instance, if a middle ear infection spreads to the dog's eardrum, chances are it will cause rupture. Usually the infection starts on the outer ear, and if left untreated for a longer period of time, it spreads to the middle ear and eardrum.
Often, a foreign object, for example, a foxtail may works its way down the ear canal where it can perforate the ear membrane. In some occasions, owners may accidentally pierce the membrane while trying to clean their dog’s ears with ear swabs.
In some cases, just as it happens in people, extremely loud noises, particularly at close range can damage the eardrum (common examples of such noises are fireworks, industrial machinery, gunshots). Severe and sudden changes in atmospheric pressure can also be a culprit. Because of its fragility, the eardrum is very sensitive to atmospheric pressure changes.
Any trauma to the dog's ear may easily burst the membrane. Certain head traumas, if strong, can lead to eardrum rupture. Toxin exposure can be another culprit. However, the most common causes for a ruptured eardrum in dogs are ear infections and traumas.
Symptoms of a Ruptured Eardrum in Dogs
A dog suffering from eardrum rupture is likely to show a plethora of signs and symptoms. A ruptured eardrum causes a great deal of pain. The dog is likely to manifest that pain by crying, pawing at the ear, refusal to have their head and ear touched, abnormal head and ear movements such as head tilting and excessive head shaking and loss of appetite.
If the eardrum rupture is caused by ear inflammation or otitis, and the inflammation is severe, the dog’s bodily temperature may be increased. Usually when the cause of rupture is ear infections, the infected discharge may leak from the ear. The type of discharge varies depending on the infection. The discharge may appear as watery-like, waxy discharge and bloody. The discharge usually has distinctive and repulsive odor. The exact odor depends on the type of the discharge
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Since the eardrum plays a major role in processing sounds, any eardrum damage significantly affects the hearing ability causing some level of hearing loss. Compromised hearing is not easy to detect and is often misdiagnosed. Impaired hearing usually starts by losing the ability to hear high-pitched noises.
How a dog balances and maintains coordination is influenced by systems located in the ears. If the eardrum is compromised it may lead to loss of coordination and clumsiness. Impaired balance manifests with stumbling, falling and walking around in circles.
Since sympathetic facial nerves pass through the middle ear, and a ruptured eardrum often affects those nerves too, affected dogs may show facial abnormalities such as difficulty blinking, involuntary eye movements, dropped eyelids or a droopy facial appearance on the same side as the affected ear.
At the Vet's office
If you suspect your dog’s eardrum is ruptured, it is important to avoid waiting to see if the conditions repairs on itself. An eardrum rupture cannot heal on its own. It is a serious condition that requires aggressive approach and if left untreated can have severe consequences.
Also, you want to avoid using over-the-counter medications to treat the condition at home. Certain medications that can be used in healthy dogs, have a negative - ototoxic effect if used in ears with compromised eardrums, because they can penetrate in the inner ear.
It is of imperative importance to have your dog checked by a licensed veterinarian as soon as you notice the signs of eardrum rupture. The veterinarian will start by taking a full history of your dog and performing a thorough physical examination. Then the vet will use an otoscope to visualize the inside if the inner canal. If the eardrum is intact it will be easily visible. On the other hand, if the eardrum is ruptured it will not be visible. Keep in mind that proper ear examination usually requires sedation.
Some veterinarians may use an old-school diagnostic procedure that looks for air bubbles formation in the ear canal as the dog breathes. Another commonly used test is performed by putting few drops of fluorescein in the ear canal. If the color comes out through the nose the test is positive or the eardrum is ruptured.
"Otoscopic examination allows one to explore the ventral vertical canal, horizontal canal and tympanic membrane (eardrum). The examiner is then able to note any trauma, foreign bodies, hair mats, ectoparasites, etc. that may be present. The tympanic membrane should be examined for any variance from its normal concave, pearly gray color and glistening appearance."~Dr. M. Joseph Bojrab
Ruptured Eardrum in Dog Treatment
What type of treatment the veterinarian will determine depends on the underlying cause of the ruptured eardrum in dogs. Treating the primary condition and preventing further local complication are the goal of the treatment.
Regardless of the cause, the veterinarian will perform a thorough ear flushing to ensure foreign matter and debris removal. Then he will prescribe certain oral medications and local drops.
If the cause was infection your dog will probably have to receive oral antibiotics for several days. If the inflammation is severe it is indicated to combat the infection with anti-inflammatories or corticosteroids. Some cases of eardrum rupture require surgery in order to restore the hearing ability.
Ruptured eardrums in dogs usually heal in 3 to 4 weeks. The exact prognosis depends on the cause of rupture, the severity of the condition and the response to treatment. If caught early and properly treated, ruptured eardrums usually heal in 3 to 4 weeks and leave no permanent damage. However, complicated cases may lead to permanent hearing loss and even neurological changes.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. She is a certified nutritionist and is certified in HAACP food safety system implementation.
She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.
Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.