Ear infections are a common health problem among canines and can have several different causes. It’s always best for pet parents to take notice of their dog’s symptoms early so treatment can begin as soon as possible for this uncomfortable canine condition. If left untreated, an ear infection in your dog can potentially lead to worse health issues. But what are the signs of an ear infection in dogs? Are some dogs more prone to them than others? Let’s answer these questions here and find out how to treat and prevent an ear infection in your precious pet.
What Causes Ear Infections in Dogs?
Canine ear infections are most commonly caused by bacteria or yeast (or a combination of both), that gets trapped in the dog’s ear canal. Other less typical causes can be ear mites, sand or dirt in the dog’s ear, excessive wax build-up, polyp growths in the ear canal, or an endocrine disorder such as hypothyroidism.
How prone a dog is to getting an ear infection also has certain contributing factors:
BREED: Yes, some canine breeds are more likely to develop ear infections than others. Floppy eared breeds such as Cocker Spaniels or Basset Hounds with long heavy ears that do not allow for good air circulation inside the ear are at greater risk.
Likewise, those breeds that have hair growing in the ear canal such as Lhasa Apsos, Poodles, Old English Sheepdogs, Bichon Frises (and quite a few others), are also more vulnerable to trapped microbes in the ear canal.
Some dog breeds such as Shar Peis, Bulldogs, and Pugs, along with some toy breeds, have naturally tight ear canals, which makes it easier for yeast and bacteria to set up shop.
ALLERGIC DOGS: Chronic ear infections are an unfortunate symptom of highly allergic dogs. The tendency for dogs to develop allergies is often hereditary and can be passed down to puppies no matter what the breed.
But certain breeds are known to be particularly susceptible to allergies. Some common breeds prone to allergies are German Shepherds, Cocker Spaniels, Chinese Shar Peis, Labrador Retrievers, the Bichon Frise, and Golden Retrievers.
Many dogs that live in moist, warm weather all year round tend to suffer more from allergies so climate is also a factor.
WATER EXPOSURE: Moisture down in your dog’s ear can create some prime real estate for bacteria and yeast to thrive and reproduce. So if you have a dog that swims on a regular basis or even occasionally, after-swim-care is important to avoid a potential ear infection.
The same is true if you have a pet that you bathe frequently. The idea is just to make sure that the inside of your dog’s ears are completely dry after water exposure. Ideally, the ‘wet-dog-shake’ would completely dry the ear canal but sometimes that’s not the case. A vigorous, affectionate towel rub or a gentle cotton ball swipe around the inner cartilage of the ear can go a long way as a preventative measure.
What are the Signs of an Ear Infection in Dogs?
- One of the most obvious signs is your dog frequently scratching or pawing at one or both ears.
- Persistent head shaking and whining are also indications that an ear infection may be taking hold in your pet.
- Sometimes the animal may rub the whole side of his head along the carpet or a couch in an attempt to alleviate the ear discomfort.
- If you decide to investigate any of these above symptoms and have a look in your dog’s ears, you may see some redness and/or swelling. You may even notice hair loss around the ear area.
- Usually, a distinct, unpleasant odor accompanies a canine ear infection.
- There may be a brown or yellow discharge down in the ear.
- The ears themselves will often feel warmer than usual to the touch.
What Should I Do if I Suspect an Ear Infection in My Dog?
You should always take your dog to the veterinarian if you suspect an ear infection. The canine ear is tender anyway and especially sensitive at this time. As much as you may want to try to relieve your pet’s discomfort yourself, there is a right way and a wrong way to treat a canine ear infection. If you don’t know the correct way to go about cleansing and medicating your dog’s ears, you may do more harm than good.
Also, these infections are painful for your dog and the last thing your faithful friend wants you to do right now is mess with his or her ears.
Your veterinarian will likely need to restrain your pet somewhat either with the help of a vet assistant, or a muzzle, or both. Any good vet will be sure to demonstrate to the client (you) how to properly flush and clean the ears, as well as show you how to administer the medication(s) you will be sent home with.
After the good doctor cleans and medicates the ear, you will need to continue applying the ear treatments for a week or two until the infection is cleared up. But after the ear is thoroughly cleaned and medicated by the vet, your dog will be able to tolerate your ministrations at home much better.
What Are the Treatments for a Canine Ear Infection?
Your veterinarian will prescribe whatever treatments are needed according to how bad your dog’s infection is. He or she may just send you home with an antibiotic/anti-inflammatory ointment to use daily; or you may also need to flush the affected ear(s) a couple times a week with an antiseptic ear solution.
In more severe cases, your vet may also prescribe oral antibiotics to be given at home, as well as an anti-inflammatory drug to reduce the swelling around the ear canal and relieve your pet’s discomfort.
Do follow the doctor’s instructions closely and be sure to return for any recommended follow-up visits. Always finish the full course of your dog’s medication, even if the animal seems to be getting better. Lapses in your dog’s treatment or failure to complete the full course of treatment can lead to a recurrence of the infection, or worse, a resistant bacterial strain.
Can I Prevent Ear Infections In My Dog?
As with most things in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To help prevent ear infections in your pooch, it’s important to keep the ears clean and dry. You can use a general ear cleanser on a regular basis (once or twice a week) to keep yeast and bacteria from growing in the ear canal.
Excess moisture in the ear will also predispose your dog to recurrent ear infections so be sure to dry your dog’s ears thoroughly after bathing, swimming, or a run in the rain. See my review on the best cleansing and drying agent for routine use to keep your pet’s ears clean and healthy.
Let your veterinarian address any underlying conditions which may be making your dog prone to ear infections, such as canine allergies, a hormonal imbalance, or diabetes. If this is the case, treating the root cause as well as the ear itself is essential.
If you have a breed of dog with hair growth in the ear canal, have your vet or groomer pluck the hair out every so often. They have instruments to do that virtually painlessly.
Your veterinarian can also show you how to gently pull the fine ‘growing-back-hairs’ a couple of times a week to keep your pet’s ears free of hair. This keeps good air circulating and constantly dries your pet’s ear canal. And with no hair and moisture to encourage growth of fungally yeast and bacteria, your pet ears will remain healthy!
A Dog with Healthy Ears is a Happy Dog!
Now that you’ve learned the signs of an ear infection in dogs (as well as a few other canine-ear-related facts), hopefully your early notice of symptoms will make it all much easier on you and your cuddly canine companion. You can begin treatment sooner and eliminate the more serious problems that could potentially occur.
Always take your dog to the vet for the initial ear cleaning and topical medicine applications as well as any injections the veterinarian might want to give. Follow the good doctor’s instructions to a T, and be sure to go back for any recheck visits. Your veterinarian should also discuss with you whether this is a simple case of bacteria/yeast growth in your pet’s ear canal or whether there may be an underlying cause, such as canine allergies.
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