Long floppy ears are a trademark of the cocker spaniel. Unfortunately, they are also one of their biggest health hazards. Of all modern dog breeds, spaniels are among the most vulnerable to serious ear infections. They are often candidates for ear ablation surgery when infections become too severe to treat.
Ear ablation is a final fix for infections that cannot be managed with conventional methods. Vets normally treat ear infections by cleaning the canal thoroughly and prescribing antibiotic or anti-fungal medication. Cocker spaniels have an exceptionally large area of sensitive tissue leading to their ear canal compared to other breeds. The large ear flaps protect this sensitive area from physical abrasion and other damage, but they also increase the spaniel's risk of infection by trapping dirt and moisture for long periods of time.
Why Ear Ablation?
If your dog's ear infection is beyond the scope of cleaning and antibiotics, your vet may recommend a surgical operation to remove a large portion of the dog's inner ear. Ear infections cause skin irritation, head pain and dizziness, making it hard for your dog to move and navigate. Ear ablation may seem like an extreme operation, but it is probably the only one that will work on your spaniel. There is actually a less intrusive surgical option, called lateral ear resection, but it is rarely successful on cocker spaniels due to the dimension of their ears. In fact, one study found that the rate of failure of resection surgery was over 85 percent in cockers, compared to roughly 35 percent in other breeds, according to Mar Vista Animal Medical Center.
So what exactly is going to happen to your dog on the operating table? After the anesthesia kicks in, the veterinarian surgeon will shave your dog's head and clean his ear canals as much as possible. He will make several incision within your dog's ear down into his ear canal and remove some of the bone and sensitive tissue, including the canal cavity and ear drum. Your dog's ear flap will actually remain intact throughout the operation, and the vet will close the incisions with several sets of sutures to keep the original structure.
While the operation has a pretty good chance of succeeding, there is always a risk of complications arising during or after surgery. Between 5 and 10 percent of dogs require a second surgery after the initial ablation operation, according to Mar Vista Animal Medical Center. There is also a small risk of permanent facial nerve damage. While there is some danger, ear ablation can greatly improve your dog's quality of life, so be sure to talk to your vet about it and ask any questions that come to mind before making a decision.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.