Fido’s been shaking his head a lot lately. It could be he’s rocking out to doggie tunes, but more likely he’s suffering from an ear infection. Fido’s certainly not alone – ear infections for dogs were the No. 1 medical condition last year.
According to petplace.com, a dog’s ear canals have three sections: external, middle and internal. The external ear canal goes from the outer ear lobe to the eardrum. The middle section starts at the eardrum and extends to the ear’s bones and nerves. The inner section is close to the brain and contains organs that help your dog maintain his balance.
“If the inner ear is not functional, the animal feels dizzy and the brain is not able to determine if he is standing, turning, lying down, spinning,” according to the website. “The most common abnormality associated with the middle and inner ear is inflammation, which is referred to as otitis media or otitis interna. Otitis is the Latin term for inflammation within the ear. Media and interna refer to the parts of the ear that are inflamed. Otitis externa refers to an external ear canal inflammation or infection.”
What are the Symptoms of Ear Infections in Dogs?
If your dog shows any of these symptoms, earinfectionsindogs.com recommends you should have his ears examined by a veterinarian.
- Itchy, inflamed ears
- A strong, foul smell from the ear
- Scratching at his ears
- Frequently shaking his head
- Cocking his head in an unusual manner or angle
- Tenderness when the ear is touched
- Excessive wax discharge
- Balance problems – This is a symptom of an inner-ear infection. You should take your dog to the vet immediately.
While an ear infection may not seem like too serious a malady, you should take care of it immediately since even a simple ear infection can develop into sarcoma, which is a tumor that forms on the ear canal and requires surgery to remove. It can also lead to other types of tumors, including hemangiosarcoma and malignant melanoma.
In a worst-case scenario, an untreated ear infection can lead to deafness, which occurs when the dog’s inner ear is damaged. In rare cases, bacteria from the ear canal can make its way to the dog’s brain stem, resulting in bacterial meningitis, an infection that is very difficult to treat.
What Causes Ear Infections in Dogs?
Unlike humans, who only have a horizontal ear canal, dogs also have a funnel-shaped, vertical ear canal that easily collects water and debris. So in the event of an infection, pus accumulates in the vertical canal.
These are some of the most common causes of ear infections in dogs, according to earinfectionindogs.com and the Long Beach Animal Hospital:
- Anatomy: Deep, vertical ear canals and long, floppy ears create a warm, moist environment in which bacteria and fungi thrive.
- Breed: Floppy-eared breeds, such as Cocker Spaniels, and breeds with hairy ears, such as Miniature Schnauzers, Poodles and Bichon Frises, are prone to ear infections because moisture is easily trapped in their ear canals.
- Bacteria and yeast: Contaminated water can accumulate in the ears of retrievers and other breeds that frequently swim, causing tougher infections.
- Allergy: In addition to causing itchy skin and hair loss, allergies can also cause ear problems.
- Low thyroid: Occasionally a low thyroid hormone level can cause ear infections.
- Parasites: Ear mites are a frequent cause of ear infections in young dogs.
- Drug reactions: Any drug can cause a reaction that inflames the ear.
- Hygiene: Dirt and debris that accumulate in the ear canal can cause an infection.
- Tumors: Older dogs are more prone to tumors developing in the wax glands.
- Cushing’s Disease: Also known as hyperadrenocorticism, this is the most common hormone disease found in older dogs. It occurs when the adrenal glands secrete an excess amount of cortisone.
How are Ear Infections in Dogs Diagnosed?
The Long Beach Animal Hospital website notes that your veterinarian will likely take the following steps to diagnose the problem before determining the treatment:
- A physical exam is typically performed, because ear infections can indicate problems in other areas of your dog’s body.
- Using an otoscope, the vet will examine your dog’s external ear canal and ear drum. This tool can also be used to retrieve foreign matter such as foxtails from the ear canal, and to check for tumors.
- The vet will swab your dog’s ear to get a sample of the discharge, and examine it under a microscope to determine if the infection is bacterial or fungal. Sometimes a culture of the discharge will also be taken to see what bacteria or fungus is causing the infection.
- A blood sample may be taken to check your dog’s thyroid level and, if necessary, to check for allergies your dog may have to food, plants or other substances.
How are Ear Infections in Dogs Treated?
The treatment for your dog’s ear infection depends on the type and cause of the infection. According to the Long Beach Animal Hospital, most vets routinely prescribe two medications: one to gently clean and clear the ear canal, and the other to kill bacteria, fungi or parasites. Both usually also contain anti-inflammatory ingredients to soothe your dog’s ear. Your vet may prescribe oral medication to clear the infection and decrease the inflammation.
To apply ear drops (ideally a two-person job), vetinfo.com recommends you do the following, and suggests asking your vet to demonstrate the procedure:
- Have someone hold your dog, since you’ll need both hands to apply the drops. Make your dog sit, and have the helper hold down his two front legs. If you’re doing it alone, try to hold your dog between your knees. To calm your dog, you can wrap him in a warm, dry towel beforehand.
- Lift your dog’s ear and hold it between your thumb and index finger. With the other hand, put the drops in his ear. Be careful not to touch his ear with the bottle — it may be cold and startle him.
- After applying the drops, hold your dog’s ear with one hand while massaging it with the other to make sure the medicine gets into his ear canal.
- Wipe the side of your dog’s head with a tissue to blot up any excess medication.
- Reward your dog with lots of praise, a nice tummy rub and yummy treats!
According to earinfectionindogs.com, in severe cases or if the infection is caused by a foreign object, your dog’s ear may need to be flushed out by the vet. Your dog will be sedated and your vet will use a warm, cleansing solution to remove the debris. For ear infections caused by tumors, surgery may be necessary.
The following two natural treatments can be tried at home with your vet’s approval, suggests earinfectionsindogs.com.
- Warm compress: If your dog’s ear infection is visible from the outside (as indicated by inflammation and redness), apply a warm compress on the affected area several times a day to help ease the pain.
- Apple cider vinegar: Add two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to a cup of water and have your dog drink it all twice a week. This solution can also be used externally to clean your dog’s ears.
Adding a supplement such as Reishi with Green Tea to your dog’s diet can also help decrease inflammation and irritation in his ear.
What Can be done to Prevent Ear Infections in Dogs?
If your dog doesn’t have floppy ears, it’s not necessary to clean them regularly since nature will generally do the job for you. In fact, if you clean the ears too much, you can actually damage them.
If your dog’s ears are floppy or hairy, here are some steps you can take to ensure they stay free of infection:
- Check your dog’s ears regularly for foreign matter.
- Make sure your dog is always properly groomed. The small follicles of hair that grow in his ears can block air circulation, which is crucial in maintaining the health of dogs’ ears. These hairs are often overlooked by pet owners and only trimmed when the dog visits a professional groomer.
- When you give your dog a bath, avoid getting water in his ears.
- After a bath or swim, be sure to thoroughly dry your dog’s ears.
- Check your dog’s ears for excessive amounts of ear wax. Normal ear wax is almost odor-free, so if you smell something foul in your dog’s ear, it may be infected.
- Gently clean your dog’s ears by dipping cotton balls or pads in an ear-cleaning solution you can obtain from your vet. Never use cotton swabs since they can push infection and foreign objects deeper into the ear.
- If your dog has fleas or mites, purchase medication from your vet that will eliminate these bacteria-producing pests.
For More Information
Further information about treating dogs’ ear infections can be found at these websites:
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.
Has your dog ever had an ear infection? How did you treat it?