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Ear Problems & Food Allergies

Ear Problems & Food Allergies

Plus, Clipping In Hot Weather; Lameness.

Question:I have a six-year-old golden retriever that I work every day for an hour or two and hunt him up north on grouse for two to four days straight at a time (three to four times per year) and out west for pheasants for three days at a stretch (once a year).

He is full of energy and in excellent condition (of course, after three days of hunting, he is slowing down and, at 70, so am I). My vet always comments on how he looks the way a dog ought to look, weight and conditioning-wise.

His only problem has been a chronic one--excessive wax build-up in his ears, more one than the other but to some extent in both. I can tell he is uncomfortable at times when he shakes his head and scratches at them or rubs them on the ground.

About once every one to two weeks, I have flooded his ears with ear cleaning solution (typical mild acid solutions) then use cotton balls (no Q-tips) soaked in the same stuff and go down as far as I can. I generally get a fair amount of wax out that way but the problem continues. I have often wondered whether I should have the vet put him under and take a good look to see if there is any debris in there, but I hesitate to risk that procedure, and the vet doesn't seem too anxious to do it, either--he suggested the flooding technique mentioned. Should I have him checked?

For years, I had been feeding him a premium dog food with 30 percent protein and 20 percent fat because I was under the impression he needed a lot of meat and fat, especially during the hunting season, and he seemed to love it too. But thinking maybe his ear problems were caused by an allergy, I switched to another dog food about a month ago; this one has no meat at all (soybeans, rice), with 21 percent protein and 10 percent fat.

His ears do seem to be improving--I don't see the wax build-up anymore and he shakes his head less. I should add, I often buy straight hamburger, cook it and mix some of it into his dog food; I have done that with both dog foods and am still doing it. I give him about a cup a day of hamburger but not every day. I also continue to give dog biscuits (three per day), and he also gets a piece of whatever I eat frequently--bananas, apples, and a million other people foods--not much of it, but some here and there.

So my next question is, what does a working dog really need in terms of fat and protein?

He is a naturally thin dog and, like all the goldens I have owned (four since 1970), I leave his food out all day and he eats whenever he wants. For some reason, my goldens have never overeaten and they have never been remotely close to being fat, so I don't have to control how much. But I would guess he eats maybe two to three cups per day.

Is the dog food I'm currently feeding enough for him, and should I have his ears checked anyway? I would feel really stupid if there was something in there all these years and I had done nothing about it€¦what makes me wonder is that one ear has always been worse than the other. --JC

Answer: I feel that foods containing 30 percent protein and 20 percent fat are good rations to feed to working dogs, especially during periods of increased work and/or cold weather conditions. However, I caution clients to take their dogs off this ration during periods of inactivity and warm weather. I recommend feeding a product in the 24 percent protein and 10 to14 percent fat range during this season of the year. Typically here in central Iowa this plays out as feeding the high protein, high calorie diet from mid-October to the first of April. Obviously, in selected patients I may modify this plan.

What about food, allergy and ears? Certainly dog diets can cause allergy problems in our canines. The difficulty comes in proving both the fact that the food is causing the allergy and that in fact the problem we are seeing is the result of an allergic reaction.

To do a feeding trial for potential allergic responses to food the dog must be fed a special diet restricted with a specific novel protein source. This means no treats, no people food, and no medications in a meat-based carrier for a minimum of 30 days and up to 60 days.

Then the dog is evaluated to see if the allergic signs have changed.

I see ear reactions that vary from excessive wax production to severely inflamed ears and many of these reactions can be allergy induced. The problem lies in diagnosing the exact cause and most people opt to treat and see how well the animal responds. In your dog's case it sounds like cleaning helps.

I think I would be willing to accept that and not go any further if there is no accompanying inflammation of the ear. Also, your veterinarian should be able to examine the dog's ear canal clear down to the eardrum with just an otoscope, even in the awake animal.

Question:My husband and I are having a disagreement about our two wirehaired pointing griffons. We live where it is very hot and humid for at least four to six months each year. During those months, most people here wear very little or very light clothing outside and even in air conditioning. If a human being wouldn't be comfortable wearing a fur coat, or even a light sweater, outside in 80- to 95-plus degree humid weather, or in air conditioning inside, how can a longhaired dog fare any better?

I want to shave the dogs for those very uncomfortable months. My husband is totally against the idea because he once had a longhaired German shepherd who was shaved one time with a sad result. The story goes that the poor dog was so embarrassed he refused to come out from behind the couch (except when nature called) until his hair grew back.

Our dogs get free running and swimming exercise daily for a total of about an hour or two, but because of their long hair we have to be careful to take them out only very early or very late in the day. My husband is also fearful that if they're shaved and they were to be taken outside during other parts of the day they'd get sunburned, which would be a disaster. I can see his point about that but not about the other.

I've spoken with other owners of longhaired dogs and their dogs were fine after being shaved. Our vet says that many longhaired dogs are shaved without any adverse reaction. Can you settle this dispute, in our dogs' favor, whatever that may be? --AB

Answer: Bottom line: Clip your dogs. Keep in mind, however, that your husband might have some underlying reason for not shearing them. The thing about the German shepherd is something that I usually discount. I feel it is more an owner perception than a real problem with the dog.

Most owners incidentally report to me that their dogs love to get rid of that old coat for the summer and seem to enjoy being clipped. Also, you could compromise and instead of clipping the dogs down to their skin, use a guard on the c

lipper and cut the hair down to ½ inch or so. I do agree with your husband that you need be very careful that shaved dogs are not exposed to excessive direct sunlight and potential sunburn.

Question:I have a 10-year-old Lab, a Senior Hunter. We primarily hunt ducks and geese on the Texas coast. He is a great dog in fine shape. He runs one to three miles most days year-around and during duck season we get out an average of once a week.

This year he started slowing down. He limps some mornings on his front leg. Everything is fine once he gets warmed up. I'm about to drive up to the Texas Panhandle to hunt ducks and geese in the mornings and pheasant the rest of the day. It's a two-day marathon.

I'm just wondering if I should be prepared with something to ease the expected pain he will be in on the second day of our trip and on the way home. We have done this for about six years in a row and when we get home he pretty much is immobile for a couple of days. This year will likely be worse than ever for him. Should I give him aspirin or ask my vet for a prescription for something else? --CL

Answer: There are currently available several new drugs for pain and anti-inflammatory relief in the dog. Most of these are similar to human compounds and fall into either the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory or synthetic opioid class of drugs. These drugs are given either singly or in various combinations, depending on the severity and cause of the pain.

I suspect you are assuming that this dog has a problem with arthritis but have not had the lameness worked up by your veterinarian. I would suggest you do this before starting any pain med program. In a dog this age several things could be causing the lameness, including fungal infection, tumors, degenerative osteoarthritis, or chronic injury. I would encourage you to get a good geriatric physical for this dog and then have your veterinarian prescribe appropriate therapy.

As always I can be reached at

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