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.
How ear infections start
Dogs have a disadvantage when it comes to preventing ear infections. Their ear canals drop down from the top of their heads, then turn in about 45 degrees to the ear drum. When water, wax or parasites get into the ear, they can easily get trapped.
Some ear infection symptoms are easy to recognize. Others aren’t so clear. Signs of an ear infection include:
- Scratching or rubbing the ears.
- Shaking the head.
- Smelly ears.
- A brown, yellow or bloody discharge.
- 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 most prone to ear infections. Breeds with erect ears like German shepherds or boxers have fewer problems. Dogs like schnauzers that grow a lot of hair in their ears tend to get more ear infections. Dogs with allergies also are more likely to get ear infections.
Diagnosing an ear infection
A vet won’t have a problem diagnosing an ear infection. Because a dog’s ears may hurt, it may be necessary to sedate or anesthetize the dog so the vet will can look inside the dog’s ears. He or she may take samples from the ears to look at under a microscope.
This may show signs of:
- Ear mites. These parasites pierce the skin of the ear canals to feed. Even 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.
Treating a dog’s ear infection
Treatment depends on the cause of the infection. Cleaning the ears may be a first step. Ointments or drops may be prescribed for mites, yeast or bacteria infections. Sometimes antibiotics, anti-fungals or anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling due to allergies, will be prescribed as well.
Your vet will instruct you in how to clean your dog’s ears and how to use any treatment. Cleaning the ears of wax, dirt and cell debris may be required before using drops or ointments. This helps the medication reach the affected areas more directly.
Some veterinarians recommend putting a gentle cleanser in the dog’s ear and then putting a cotton ball at the opening of the ear canal. By gently massaging the base of the ear, the cleanser flows across the surface of the ear. The cotton ball keeps it from escaping. The cotton also absorbs excess cleanser and holds on to any debris as it comes up.
Actually applying any treatment may be a challenge. If your dog has a painful infection, he may be very sensitive to touch. He may fight the process.
Once the ears have been cleaned, the ear should be allowed to dry for about 10 minutes. After that, you can use the ointments or drops your vet recommends.
What to avoid
Never use cotton swabs (such as Q-Tips) to clean a dog’s ears. 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. The longer an ear infection goes untreated, the more difficult it is to treat. A severe ear infections can make a dog deaf or hard of hearing.
Be sure to follow your vet’s instructions carefully. Go through the full course of treatment even if your dog seems to be getting better.