Glue Ear in Dogs

Glue ear, also called primary secretory otitis media, is a condition that affects Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and other short-faced breeds with pushed-in faces, such as the boxer, the bulldog, the chow, the lhasa apso, the pug and the shih tzu. Let’s look at what causes the condition, what symptoms are present in affected dogs, and how the problem is diagnosed and treated.

How Glue Ear Develops in a Dog

Before we look at how glue ear develops, we need to know a little more about canine ear anatomy, particularly the Eustachian tube, which connects the back of a dog’s nose to his middle ear. Normally, this tube regulates the air pressure in and out of the middle ear so a dog’s eardrum can vibrate correctly and fluids that collect in the middle ear can drain through the nose.

In a dog with glue ear, however, the Eustachian tube does not do its job correctly, so the air pressure inside the dog’s middle ear is lower than the pressure outside it. This allows fluid to build up inside the middle ear and eventually create a mucus plug that continues to grow.

Watch for Glue Ear Symptoms

Dogs with glue ear will present with head tilt, a guarded neck position and moderate to severe head or neck pain. Affected dogs may also scratch their ears, cry out in pain or yawn excessively. Other indications of glue ear can include:

  • drooping ears or lips
  • facial paralysis
  • fatigue
  • hearing loss
  • rapid eye movement
  • seizures

How Glue Ear Is Diagnosed and Treated

If your veterinarian suspects that your dog has glue ear, he or she will likely rule out other possible causes for your pet’s symptoms first, then refer you to a veterinary neurologist or veterinary dermatologist. These specialists will probably conduct a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scan of your dog’s head and ears. In severe cases, glue ear can be diagnosed with x-rays or a visual examination of the dog’s ears for ruptured tympanic membranes.

Other diagnostic tests that may be used on your dog can include:

  • brain-stem auditory evoked response (BAER) test
  • impedance audiometry
  • pneumotoscopy
  • tympanic bulla ultrasonography

Once the problem has been diagnosed, a few treatment options exist. The most commonly performed procedure is a myringotomy, which involves cutting a small incision in the dog’s eardrum to remove the mucus plug and flush the middle ear. Corticosteroids and antibiotics are prescribed as follow-up treatment to the surgery, which may need to be repeated if the condition recurs. Veterinary researchers are refining this procedure to include the insertion of drainage tubes into the middle ear to relieve fluid buildup and possibly prevent the need for additional surgeries.

Another surgical procedure that can help resolve the problem is a ventral bulla osteotomy, which gives a veterinarian access to the dog’s middle ear from the underside of the neck. The middle ear is opened and cleaned as in a myringotomy.

In addition to the corticosteroids and antibiotics, some affected dogs benefit from receiving a mucus-thinning or expectorant medication as part of their post-operative treatment.