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Fido’s been shaking his head a lot lately. It could be that he’s rocking out to some doggie tunes that our dull human ears can’t hear, but more likely he’s suffering from an ear infection. Fido’s certainly not alone—ear infections are among the most common reasons dogs are taken to the vet. In this article, I’ll tell all you dog owners out there how I relieve the symptoms of and treat dog ear infection (with veterinarian advice, of course).
- Symptoms of ear infections in dogs include itching, inflammation, foul smell, head shaking, balance problems, tenderness, excessive wax, and ear sensitivity. Prompt treatment is important to prevent complications like tumors, deafness, and bacterial meningitis.
- To treat dog ear infections, your dog may be prescribed anti-inflammatory medications, among other types of treatment. In severe cases or when caused by foreign objects or tumors, flushing or surgery may be needed.
- Prevent infections through regular ear checks, grooming, dry ears after water exposure, and gentle cleaning. Use vet-prescribed medication for fleas or ear mites. You can also make use of DIY means to fend off parasites that cause infections, such as by scattering dog hair around your yard.
As a lifelong dog owner, I’ve dealt with my fair share of ear infections in my furry companions. If you and your pup are going through something like this yourselves, take some solace in the fact that it’s quite common, and so, it’s fairly easy for vets to treat ear infections, and for dog owners to give their pets the appropriate amount of care before and after treatment.
Just like us humans, dogs have intricate ear canals composed of three sections: the external, middle, and internal. And just like with us, all three sections can become infected in dogs, resulting in otitis externa, otitis media, and otitis interna, respectively. Unlike us, however, dogs are much more susceptible to ear infections because of the shape of their ear canal, and because of their keen sense of hearing, dogs are also much more sensitive to ear infections. Around 20 percent of dogs face some form of ear disease, impacting one or both ears. Ear infections are particularly common in dogs with floppy ears, like Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels.
How Ear Infections Affect Dogs
Otitis externa, the most common type, inflames the external ear canal and leads to itching and discomfort. But when an ear infection strikes the inner section — otitis interna — it can disrupt your dog’s balance and leave them feeling dizzy. They may struggle to determine whether they are standing, turning, lying down, or even spinning. Otitis media can be even worse, as it affects the middle ear and can lead to complications like deafness and facial paralysis.
What Are The Symptoms Of Ear Infections In Dogs?
If your dog shows any of these symptoms, I recommend having 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 doggy 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 worst-case scenarios, an untreated pet 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 dog ear infections:
- Anatomy: Deep, vertical ear canals and long, floppy ears create a warm, moist environment in which bacteria and fungi thrive. Keep in mind that chronic ear infections can still develop under your nose for years, even if your floppy-eared dog has never had any ear infections.
- Breed: Floppy-eared dog breeds, such as Cocker Spaniels, and breeds with hairy ears, such as Miniature Schnauzers, Poodles and Bichon Frises, are prone to recurrent ear infections because moisture is easily trapped in their ear canals.
- Bacteria and yeast infection: Contaminated water can accumulate in the ears of retrievers and other dog breeds that frequently swim, causing tougher infections.
- Allergy: In addition to causing itchy skin and hair loss, allergies in dogs can also cause ear problems.
- Low thyroid: Occasionally a low thyroid hormone level can cause dog ear infections, particularly otitis externa, because of an increased susceptibility to parasites and yeast infections.
- Parasites: Ear mites are a frequent cause of ear infections in young dogs. Ear mites are extremely infectious parasitic parasites that dwell on dogs’ skin and in their ear canals. Because of how diverse ear parasites are, they’re likely to either cause inner ear infections (otitis interna) or outer ear infections (otitis externa).
- Drug reactions: Any drug can cause a reaction that inflames the ear.
- Hygiene: Dirt and debris that accumulate in the ear canal can also cause dog ear infections.
- 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.
What’s my dog allergic to? A blood sample may be taken to check your dog’s thyroid level and find out any allergies he may have to food, plants or other substances.
How Are Ear Infections In Dogs Treated?
The treatment for dog ear infections 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.
Relieving The Symptoms of Dog Ear Infections At Home
Just because it takes a veterinarian’s expertise to truly clear out dog ear infections doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do to relieve the symptoms. Here’s what I always advise dog owners to do to make things easier for their pup when they’re going through ear infections.
Warm compress: If your dogs 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 as a homemade dog ear cleaner.
Adding a supplement such as reishi with green tea to your dog’s diet: This can also help decrease inflammation and irritation in your dog’s ear canal. Reishi is a mushroom that can enhance your dog’s immune system, while green tea contains antioxidants that reduce inflammation, and gives the immune system a bit of a boost as well.
Applying Ear Drops
To apply ear drops (ideally a two-person job), I recommend doing the following, and suggest asking your vet to demonstrate how to clean dog ears:
- 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!
In severe cases or (severe dog ear infection cases), 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.
How To Prevent Ear Infections In Dogs
If your dog doesn’t have floppy ears, it’s not necessary to frequently keep your dog’s ears clean 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 home remedies 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.
Calendula is a flower that can aid with pain relief and reduce inflammation. It also has antibacterial qualities, which can help prevent infection.
General Canine Ear Care
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 ear mites, purchase medication from your vet that will eliminate these bacteria-producing pests.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I treat my dog’s ear infection at home?
Maintaining regular ear hygiene for your dog is crucial, which can be achieved by using a gentle ear cleaner specifically designed for dogs. Additionally, there are natural remedies that can help treat ear infections. It’s important to note that you should never insert anything into your dog’s ear canal to avoid causing harm.
What can I give my dog for ear infection?
Antibiotics are commonly prescribed by veterinarians to treat ear infections in dogs. Some examples of antibiotics used for this purpose include Augmentin (amoxicillin) and Enrofloxacin. It’s always best to consult with your vet to determine the most suitable medication for your dog’s specific case.
Do dog ear infections go away on their own?
Most dog ear infections do not go away without proper treatment. If left untreated or if ear infections occur frequently, the problem can worsen and potentially lead to permanent hearing loss. In some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary, which can be costly and invasive.
What is the best natural remedy for dog ear infection?
Using an ear comb can be an effective way to clean your dog’s ears. Another natural remedy is apple cider vinegar, which can be used as a cleaning solution. However, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian before using any natural remedies to ensure they are safe and suitable for your dog’s condition.