How To Care for a Dog Ear Infection

Dog Ear Infections

If you are suspecting your dog may have an ear infection, you are certainly NOT alone. In fact, about 20 percent of our canine companions have some type of ear disease. A dogs’ ears are not like a human’s ears. The dog has a L-shaped or J-shaped ear canal making them more prone to ear infections. The dog’s ears are sensitive by nature, and the wax and oil that inherently build up over time make them a prime candidate for ear infections. It is vital that preventative action is taken to ensure the safety, health and comfort of your dog is not compromised. If you think your dog may be suffering from an ear infection, call your dog’s veterinarian promptly to schedule a visit.

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Breed Qualities That Make Dogs Candidates for Otitis

Allergies and moisture and hair in dogs’ ears are also big factors in developing ear infections in your pooch. Dogs with small ear canals, hair in the ear canal, and dogs with long and floppy ears are all more prone to having chronic, or recurring, ear infections. There are some breeds that are predisposed to skin conditions like the Chinese Shar Peis.

Dogs Prone to Allergies

It is important to note that any dog may have allergies. It is also important that you understand there are different types of allergies, but the allergies that are most relevant to Otitis are food and environmental allergies. The Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Dalmatians, Boxers and Boston Terriers are breeds that are more predisposed to have allergies according the Merck vet Manual.

Dogs With Small Ear Canals

Some dogs breeds that are known for having narrow or small ear canals are Bulldogs, Chinese Shar Peis, and Greyhounds. These breeds, especially, the Bulldog, are sometimes referred to as “rose ears”. These breeds are just a few having narrow ear canals and require a daily ear cleaning regiment to prevent ear inflammation or infection.

Dog Breeds Having Hair in the Ear Canal

These breeds of dogs are remarkably furry altogether, so its pretty simple to point them out. Some examples of the hairy-eared breeds include Bichon Frise, Maltese and Poodle. Some veterinarians will recommend plucking or shaving the ear hair regularly while being groomed.

Dogs With Long or Droopy Ears

These breeds are most prone to have yeast microbials that grow in their dark, moist ears. While other sources of infections are viable, yeast loves the dark and moist setting that naturally occurs in breeds like Bassets Hounds and most other hounds, Cocker Spaniels, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the Springer Spaniel. With their pendulum-shaped, heavy ears, theses breeds are predisposed to allergies that make a good proponent to external ear infections.

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Addressing The Types of Infections

Symptoms of Otitis

There are some tell-tale signs of a canine ear infection like head shaking, scratching with the back legs, and whining, but those are only the beginning. Many dogs may not display signs of infection other than wax build-up or a discharge in the ear. Please know, though, a dog who is suffering from an ear infection is going to be extreme discomfort. Here are some symptoms of an ear infection in your dog:

  • Head shaking that is abnormal or repetitive
  • Rubbing ear(s) on furniture or the floor
  • Scratching the top of the head, neck, and ear(s)
  • Excessive pawing or scratching at the affected ear(s)
  • A foul-smelling discharge in the ear(s)
  • A red coloring and swelling in the ear canals
  • Holding one ear lower than the other in an unusual manner
  • A discharge in a variety of hues; yellow, black, green, brown, or a white pus-filled ooze
  • Scabs in the ear
  • Not allowing for you to touch affected ear or yelping in pain when contact is made
  • In the more severe cases there will be blood in the ear canals

If you and your dog are losing sleep from the constant head shaking and itching, it is about time you call the dog’s vet.

A scientific article explaining the growth of otitis

Causes of Otitis

While there are plenty of causes for an infection in your dog’s ear, some of the most common are yeast, bacteria, and ear mites to start. Also, the long “L” or “J”- shaped ear canal that goes downward then hooks a left at the dog’s skull causes infections frequently. Naturally, your dog’s ears are an inevitable place for wax (or cerumen) to build and moisture to be trapped resulting in Otitis. Finally, one of the biggest causes of Otitis is environmental and food allergies.

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A Note on Ear Mites

There is some confusion about the occurrence of ear mites in dogs, and many dog owners will assume that their dog has ear mites, rather than infection. While there is a patten of contagion among dogs, it does not amount to the contagion amongst cats. Therefore, it is not going to be the cause of a dog’s ear infection. Ear mites are an insufferable problem in cats mostly. There is a plentitude of the magic ear medication on the market convincing you that your dog is suffering from ear mites, but don’t fall for it. When in doubt, call the vet!

A Yeast Infection in Dogs’ Ears

Yeast is a naturally occurring spore-producing fungi, that dwells in a dog’s ear along with various other types of bacteria. The abnormality happens when the conditions are ripe for the spores to begin to consume each other. When the yeast spores begin to overgrow the normal flora, therein lies the infection. The same is true for the growing bacteria microbes in the dog’s ears, and the dog can absolutely be cross infected by the yeast and bacteria.

Swimming or bathing will expose your dog to the risk of a yeast infection, so you will want to dry their ears afterward.

Another cause of a yeast infection is allergies. Just like in humans, there are foods that will disrupt your flora and cause an uncomfortable yeast infection, there are food allergies that will disrupt your dog’s flora, but in their ears. There are other allergens to be blamed for a yeast infection in the dog’s environment.

Click here to view an example of a prescription yeast infection a vet may prescribe otitis caused by yeast.

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A Bacterial Infection in Dogs’ Ears

Your pup’s ears are made of the same skin that covers their body, and a normal amount of bacteria lives on your dog’s skin that aides in keeping her healthy. Whenever there is inflammation or an irritation to the dog’s skin, the protective layer of skin is broken. When this happens, the bacteria take full advantage of the opportunity to multiply, creating an infection in the skin. This also multiplies the scratching and the inflammatory response in the dog, thus furthering the cycle of more infection, more skin irritation and more inflammation.

The process of creating an infection can be attributed to scratching from an allergic reaction or even a bug or any other intrusive thing in the dog’s ear. Even scratching from an existing yeast infection can create cross infection from the bacterial response.

A yeast infection and a bacterial infection is not contagious from dog to dog.

The Allergens That Can Cause a Canine Infection

The fact is that allergens are all around you and your pup, although the allergens do not infect directly, they are an underlying condition that permits the infection to start or get worse. Here are a few of the major allergens that wreak havoc on dog’s ears:

  • Certain food and even specific ingredients in dog food
  • Pollen
  • Grass
  • Dander of other animals
  • Dust mites
  • The spent skin cells of humans
  • Foxtails and other grass awns

It may be important to keep track of the flare ups if they are recurring. You can keep a journal to describe your pup’s symptoms, how long the symptoms have been noticed and if you have taken any preventative actions, like plucking the hair in the ear or gave any over-the-counter topical medication.

It is also good to keep in mind that typically, a food allergy will spike year-round, while an environmental allergy will flare in specific seasons.

Photo Source: ShutterStock

Other causes for a dog ear infection

  • Moisture in the ear
  • Allergies to food and environment
  • Thyroid insufficiencies
  • Certain cancers
  • Build up of cerumen (ear wax)
  • Foreign objects in the ear canal
  • Cleaning or licking ears constantly
  • Any types of injuries to the ear
  • Autoimmune deficiencies
  • Idiopathic Seborrhea in animals

These are underlying conditions that cause a dog ear infection and some others which are the environmental factors. You can play in big part in alleviating the recurrence of these infections. Some of these dogs have a predisposition to ear infections with autoimmune disorders and thyroid disorders. No matter what the cause, a veterinarian will have all the answers for you.

Diagnosing a Dog ear Infection

When you suspect your furry friend has otitis externa -or worse- otitis media or interna, you should call the vet immediately. At the veterinarian’s office you will want to have some background written down, or memorized, but it will serve your pup better if you have everything written down. The doc may pose a lengthy list of inquiries to you:

“When did the symptoms begin?”

“What symptoms are your dog exhibiting?”

“What has the pup been eating?”

“Does your dog have any allergies?’

“Do you get the dog groomed and do you pluck the hair in the ears?”

“Is your dog on any medications relevant to the ears or otherwise?”

“Do you clean your dog’s ears? If so, how often? What products or equipment do you use for the job?”

A bit more of the questions and answers will happen, and your vet will perform a physical examination on your pup, then the doc will use an otoscope to thoroughly examine the ear drum and ear canal. How the otoscopy works for treating your furry friend

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Typically, the doc will use some diagnostic tests to get the infection under control. One of the diagnostic tests is commonly called an “ear swab”, or ear cytology. This handy test can be done on a weekly basis until your pup is all better. The vet will use a long-tipped cotton swab to get a sample of the infection and all it entails. The vet will take the sample and smear it over a glass slide and put it under the microscope to see what organisms are present and what is causing the ear infection. Read more about the ear drainage culture test, ear cytology here.

Your dog will undergo a case and sensitivity study in which the vet will gather a pus-sample from your pups ears. The discharge from the dogs ears will be studied to see any fungi or aerobes or any resistance to antibiotics, especially in cases of chronic ear infections. Diagnosis of otitis externa with diagnostic images

In the most severe and chronic ear infections, a biopsy will be done to get a deeper look at what is putting a pup in so much discomfort. In the worst cases, it may be best that the ear drum and pinnae are surgically removed.

Treatments for Otitis Externa, Media and Interna

Topical Therapy

The vet’s choice of medication to heal your dog’s ears is dependent upon the capabilities or status of the tympanic membrane, the adverse effect chances, whether the dog’s owner will adhere to the schedule of dosage, and the cost of the medication. The treatment of your dog’s ears largely consists of discovering the underlying and predisposition of the infection, cleaning the ear or ears, and identifying the right course of treatment. There is a world of medications for a dog’s external ear and depending on the type of infection and the source of the infection the vet may choose to start the dog on a topical medication. A topical medication is usually an ointment (that may or may not be a corticosteroid) that you should apply with clean hands or gloves, following vet’s instructions precisely.

Systemic Therapy

Systemic therapy will be used in conjunction with topical therapy in dogs. The systemic use of an anti-inflammatory or anti-microbial will make the infection heal much more quickly. Typically, the systemic use of antibiotics is disapproved of. Glucocorticoids are great for relieving pain and fighting inflammation. In fact, glucocorticoids are a naturally produced hormones and also curb appetite and bust fat cells. Glucocorticoid treatment from Chewy is only filled with a prescription from your veterinarian.

How to Properly Clean Dogs’ Ears

Cleaning your dogs ears can prevent ear infections and will get your dog more comfortable with you touching her or his ears and head. You will want to make the inspection of the ears a weekly or bi-weekly thing. Cleaning should be a monthly ritual, but no more than that. You can over-clean your pup’s ears leaving opportunity for irritation to set in. You can buy an over-the-counter ear rinse for your dog and when you use it you will a clean towel, paper towel or a cotton ball. Lift the flap of the dog’s ear and squeeze a small amount of the ear rinse into the ear. You should massage the base of the ear for about 10-20 seconds before using your drying agent, like the cotton ball, and then dry the excess liquid with the drying agent.

The proper care of your dog’s ears should be a priority, especially if your dog has a predisposition for Otitis Externa. Clean ears means a happy healthy pup!

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Photo Source: ShutterStock

Homeopathic Remedies- DEBUNKED!

The world is full of these homeopathic remedies for a dog’s external ear infection, and the one word of advice pertaining them, is DO NOT! If you are not sure as to why you should not, stick around.

Vinegar sounds like a great plan. Let’s face it, vinegar is known to be a cure all! However, in reality, vinegar is half water. When you drip it into your pup’s ears, even with wiping the excess vinegar, you are leaving the water based solution in the ear canal. And you now know that H2O is a big cause of infections in dogs ear.

Hydrogen Peroxide also seems promising, but the same problem arises as with the vinegar. Not only that, but the bubbling action that peroxide is famous for, will startle your furry friend forming trust issues between you and him (or her.) The lack of trust from one incident will make it nearly impossible to get your pup to let you near his ears.

These are just a couple of instances of remedies that are proven to be false. There are many more myths about magical remedies for a dog ear infection like cooled green tea, olive oil or rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol. You could think of the horror with alcohol being dripped in your pup’s ears! The tea and the olive oil is so unsanitary that it is NOT recommended! 

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