Most dogs will get an ear infection at some point in their lives. Mites, bacteria, yeast, water and allergies may all play a part in setting off an ear infection in a dog.
Dogs have a disadvantage when it comes to preventing ear infections: their ear canals drop downward from the top of their heads before turning inward at about a 45 degree angle to the ear drum. When water, wax or parasites get into the ear, they can easily get trapped.
Some symptoms of ear infections are easy to recognize; others are not so clear. Signs of an ear infection include:
- Catch or rubbing the ears.
- Shaking the head.
- An unusual odor coming from the ear.
- A discharge that is brown, yellow or bloody.
- Crusts or scabs on the outer ears.
- A loss of balance.
- Walking in circles.
Floppy-eared dogs, such as spaniels, golden retrievers, poodles or some terriers, are more prone to ear infections than dogs with erect ears like German shepherds or boxers. Dogs like schnauzers that grow a lot of hair in their ear canals also are more likely to get ear infections. Dogs with allergies — whether to environmental factors like pollen or food allergies — tend to get more ear infections as well.
Diagnosing an ear infection in a dog isn’t difficult. Because the condition may be painful, a dog may have to be sedated or put under anesthesia. The veterinarian will need to look inside the dog’s ears and take a sample of any material in the ears to be examined under a microscope.
Microscopic examination may show signs of:
- Ear mites. These parasites pierce the skin of the ear canals to feed. Only a few mites can cause a severe reaction in sensitive dogs. Ear mites usually affect puppies and young adult dogs. They are highly contagious.
- Inflammation from allergies.
How an ear infection is treat depends on the cause of the infection. Medications to kill mites might be prescribed. Yeast and bacteria can be treated with ointments or drops formulated specifically to kill yeast or a particular bacterium. Sometimes pills, such as antibiotics, anti-fungals or anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling due to allergies, will be prescribed as well.
Your veterinarian will explain how and when to give your dog necessary medication. He or she may also recommend cleaning the dog’s ears. This is usually done before any drops or ointments are used on the ears. This clears wax, dirt, cell debris and other materials that could cover mites, bacteria or yeast and keep the medication from reaching them.
Some veterinarians recommend putting a gentle cleanser in the dog’s ear and then putting an appropriate sized cotton ball at the opening of the ear canal. When you gently massage the base of the ear, the fluid flow across the surface of the ear, but the cotton ball keeps it from escaping. The cotton also absorbs excess cleanser and holds on to any debris as it comes up.
This process is easier to read about than to do. With a painful infection, your dog is going to be very sensitive to having his ears touched and may fight the process.
Once the ears have been cleaned, the ear should be allowed to dry for about 10 minutes before using any ointments or drops the vet may have recommended.
You should never use cotton swabs (such as Q-Tips) to clean a dog’s ears as they may push debris deeper into the ear or harm the ear drum. Never use alcohol or other irritating solutions to clean a dog’s ears. Having an ear infection is a lot like having a rash with open sores. It needs to be handled gently.
Consult your vet at the first sign of an ear infection. They longer they go untreated, the more difficult they can be to get rid of. Severe ear infections can lead to hearing problems for a dog. Be sure to follow your vet’s instructions carefully and go through the full course of treatment even if your dog seems to be getting better.
This is the fifth post in the 2015 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. Beginning with A and continuing on to Z, we’re committed to writing posts using the letters of the alphabet in order from Monday through Friday. Check back tomorrow for “F is for fish oil for dogs.”