How is biting like otitis externa?

August 31, 2017
Sarah Mouton Dowdy
Sarah Mouton Dowdy

Sarah Mouton Dowdy, a former associate content specialist for, is a freelance writer and editor in Kansas City, Missouri.

Behavior expert Dr. John Ciribassi uses an unlikely analogy to explain the veterinarians role in stopping the escalation of aggression in canine veterinary patients.

Getty ImagesIn his canine body language session at CVC Kansas City-now Fetch-John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB, paused when he came to the topic of biting and presented the following idea to attendees: Biting is like otitis externa.


“Let's say a 2-year-old dog you've seen since it was a puppy bites someone in your practice,” Dr. Ciribassi continued. “In my opinion, you've missed a lot of stuff along the way, and you've allowed a minor problem to turn into a major problem.”

So how does this story relate to otitis?

“Most cases of otitis-chronic, recurrent otitis-have an underlying cause. Most of the time, it's allergy-related (either food allergies or atopy),” Dr. Ciribassi said. “You see these dogs every couple of months and you throw Otomax (Merck Animal Health) or Panalog into the ear, or the owner may call up about another ear problem and you just send home more medication. But you never really treat the underlying cause.”

What happens over time, explained Dr. Ciribassi, is that the ears become chronically inflamed to the point of becoming calcified, and now you can't even get into the dog's ear. So what do you do? You do an ear ablation or a lateral ear resection.

“In my opinion, you've failed this dog, because you've allowed a manageable issue to become a chronic problem that needs surgery,” he said. 

Similarly, in the case of the 2-year-old patient you've cared for for years that suddenly bites, you've missed a problem that's been occurring over a long period of time and you've let it progress to the point where someone gets hurt. You've allowed a manageable issue to become a serious problem.

How can you avoid this?

First, Dr. Ciribassi said it's important that you and your team members know the signs of aggression. Here's a printable canine ladder of aggression handout you can discuss as a team and post in your breakroom.

Second, you can educate your clients on the signs of aggression too, as it's helpful to be on the same page. You can use the handout above and Zoom Room's video on canine body language (a favorite of Dr. Ciribassi's) as client education tools.

Finally, take better notes. Document the adjustments that need to be made (for example, maybe the dog does better on the floor or is calmer when it receives treats from the owner) so the next time it visits, you thoughtfully manage the dog's behavior and don't push it to the point that it bites.

All of this makes life better and safer for your team, your patient and your clients.