“Scurf” & Ear Tip Lesions

Copyrighted by Susan Dunivant

Many dogs are prone to ear tip trauma, particularly those with large or long, drooping ear tips, such as the Basset hound or even the Beagle. However, the Kerry Blue Terrier may also develop an irritation at the ear tip, which may then progress to infection. The usual itching which accompanies these infections may cause the dog to scratch the ear, shake it’s head or rub the ears which repeatedly opens the wound allowing further bacteria to enter. This quickly develops into a chronic condition, whereby the dog repeatedly re-injures the site, resulting in a progressive involvement of the ear.

A major causative factor which may begin this chronic condition resembles a waxy or sometimes a dry white dandruff-like scaly condition at the ear tips. The ear tip may also appear somewhat thickened and this very likely is the result of what appears to be an overgrowth of cells at the follicle base. Examined under the microscope (or even magnifying glass) one sees this white dandruff-like scale forms around the hair at the follicle base. This is what is sometimes referred to as a “scurf,” and develops on other animals besides dogs. “Scurf” is just a slang term for what is likely an overproduction of skin cells and/or oil around the follicle, which leads to a sort of waxy, dry folliculitis. This folliculitis may sometimes result in further itching or irritation of the ear tip, followed by a secondary bacterial infection, which aggravates the original condition. More quickly than seems possible the ear tips become bloodied from constant scratching and head shaking, and the condition accelerates into a chronic trauma induced wound situation as any closed lesions are constantly opened anew.

Treatment is very simple, and rarely requires any sort of oral antibiotics. Indeed, although the ear has a strong supply of blood, very evident by the way the dog has “painted” the walls while shaking it’s head, there are areas where the supply is not as plentiful. The ear tips are the thinnest part of the ear, with a small blood supplied covering of skin over rubbery ear cartilage. Therefore topical treatment is usually the most effective. Oral antibiotics may be necessary if the condition has progressed rapidly into a very bad wound, which has moved up on the ear into a better blood supply. However, be aware that allowing the condition to be unsuccessfully treated which results in this more serious progression will likely result in damage to the ear and cartilage…so early treatment is the best treatment, less costly in all respects.

The very first and critical treatment I recommend is to wash the wound twice daily with a betadine surgical scrub. You may be able to get this at your veterinarian or pharmacy. A very good source online may be found at:
www.stratfordsafety.com Stratford has Betadine Scrub for as little as $4.07(US) for 16 ounces to $22.76(US) for a gallon. Wash gently, do not rub or further irritate the area. If the wound is very large, merely pour the scrub on (or use betadine solution without a soaping agent) and then rinse off. Sometimes this treatment alone, aids in complete healing of the smaller lesion. However, there are several “over the counter” balms/lotions which may speed the process. One of the best tonics I’ve found is “Happy Jack Spot Balm” produced in my home state of North Carolina here in the US. A good online source is: www.vetvax.com This site has a number of the Happy Jack products, including the “Skin Balm” for other skin irritations, but I recommend the “Spot Balm” which is particularly formulated just for the crusty, scurfy ear conditions. “Spot Balm” retails for under $5.00(US).You may also find it in local feed and seed stores, pet stores and even in small pet supply displays in the pharmacy. A cautionary note for us humans… “Spot Balm” has a green dye in it (so you can see where it’s applied on the animal) which will dye your skin green too, so wear gloves or make sure you apply it on St. Patrick’s Day!

The following instructions are VERY important to insure a successful treatment. The ear with a wound ,which is being repeatedly reopened by the dog, MUST be either pasted up, or taped to the head in such a way that the
wound is open to the air to promote healing, AND so the dog cannot break the wound open repeatedly by shaking it’s head. This pasting/taping doesn’t have to be done very long, only a couple of days or so, but it is absolutely necessary to immobilize the ear to prevent the dog from re-injuring it by shaking the head (beating the ears against it’s head) or scratching. If you find you have taken down the ear prematurely, and the wound breaks open again, simply continue your treatment, and re-paste or tape the ear until it heals adequately.

As a “preventative” treatment for the waxy, folliculitis type scaling on ear tips you may do the following. When bathing your dog on a regular schedule simply use the betadine scrub to soap up the ear tips, rinse well and the problem should never occur. Using a “stripping knife” with long teeth, (a coarse knife for stripping out wire haired breeds) or a flea comb gently on the ear tips while soaping with the scrub helps remove stubborn scale…but be gentle, don’t set up an irritation by too rough handling of those tender ear tips! If you prefer not to soap up the ear tips with betadine, you might consider applying a few drops of betadine solution (no soaping agent) to each tip, then rinse. Betadine solution is also available at VetVax.

It has been my observation that ear tip “scurf” seems to occur seasonally, perhaps more in winter than in summer. Also, it’s seems more likely to occur if the hair is allowed to grow long on the ears between grooming, perhaps speeding the overproduction of follicle cells around the hair shaft. Regardless of whether the condition is seasonal, it will in most cases improve dramatically with a clean clipping of the ear, a few soapings with the scrub, prevention of re-injury and a regular regimen of maintenance care to insure continued ear health.

Cleaning the ears

In addition to the commercial products you could buy, below is another suggestion from s Kerry breeder, Gene Possidento.  It was first published on the uskb-list @uskbtc.com email listasnd is published here with his permission.

asked me for this homemade ear cleaning solution. I have had great results with it. I have to special order the Gentian Violet locally.

Purple Stuff For Cleaning Dog’s Ears
RECIPE: 16 drops of Gentain Violet (available from your pharmacist) 4 tablespoons boric acid 16oz.rubbing alcohol
Mix ingredients together and shake well. Shake before using. If the dog doesn’t mind you squirting stuff in their ears, squirt a little in each ear and rub them gently. Wipe clean with a cotton ball. Otherwise apply the solution generously to a cotton ball and use this to clean the dogs ears. Use as needed one or two times a day just as you would a commercial ear cleaner for dogs. All the ingredients can be found at your local drug store and most drugstore pharmacies will carry Gentain Violet. The cost for the solution is less than $10 and will make enough to share.
WARNING: Gentain Violet will stain most anything it touches. So be careful when using it. Once the it is mixed with alcohol it’s staining properties lessen but it will still stain. Be cautious when using it.

L