Dog getting ear checked at the vet

Dogs suffer from an ear infection at least one time in their life.

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How to treat a dog's ear infection?

By Justine Seraphin Country Manager

Updated on the

If you notice your dog is suffering from irritated or itchy ears, he is probably in distress from an ear infection. This common disorder that canines frequently suffer from, is typically the result of either a fungal or bacterial infection.

As a pet owner, it’s important to pay attention to the symptoms of anything more critical than just an itch in the ear, as neglecting these signs can possibly lead to further infection and complications.

What is a dog ear infection?

The canine ear is made up of an outer visible flap called the pinna. The inner part of the dog’s ear that you can view when you lift the ear flap is the external ear canal. This is connected to the vertical canal, which follows onto the horizontal canal. The eardrum constitutes a thin piece of tissue (tympanic membrane) which separates the dog’s inner and outer ear.

A dog’s ear infection usually begins in the external ear canal. The lining of both the horizontal and vertical canals produce wax and oil (sebum). When debris, moisture, hair, wax and oil collect in the ear canal, it becomes an amenable environment for bacteria and yeast to survive. This could lead to an infection.

Dog ear infection symptoms

Ear infections in dogs will usually display with specific symptoms. These include one or more of the following signs:     

  • Frequent head shaking     
  • Trying to scratch     
  • Smelly odour     
  • Discharge and debris    
  • Painful and irritated ears, showing redness    
  • Hair loss and scabs caused by constant scratching     
  • Head tilting (if the eardrum is ruptured)
  • Rubbing head on the ground
  • Reluctance to chew (due to pain in mouth and ear)
  • Loss of hearing
  • Loss of balance
  • Causes of dog ear infections

When excess yeast or bacteria develop in the ear canal, inflammation will occur (otitis externa). Certain breeds of dogs, such as Cocker Spaniels and Basset Hounds, are more prone to ear infections because their floppy ears restrict air flow.

Likewise, breeds that have lots of hair inside their ears and those that secrete lots of sebum and earwax will possibly develop an infection. A dog who suffers from allergies may also show symptoms of inflammation in his ears, as a secondary issue. Dogs that are frequently exposed to water are also more likely to trap moisture in their ears, therefore nurturing bacteria and leading to yeast growth.

Diagnosing your dog’s ear infection

At the first signs of any infection, you should take your dog to the vet. A swab test is likely to be taken from the dog to determine if the infection is bacterial or yeast related. When the sample is examined with a microscope, (a cytology test) the correct diagnosis will be made. If pus or a yellow-brown discharge is present, the diagnosis will be a bacterial infection. Black or dark brown debris signifies a yeast related infection.

Treatment of an ear infection

In the majority of cases, your dog’s infection will be treated by your vet or veterinary nurse, with follow up medication to take at home. The prescribed medicine could be topical or oral or perhaps even both, but it’s vitally important to follow the correct dosage. Both bacterial and yeast infections could have aggressive antibiotic or steroid medications prescribed. In more serious cases and if the infection has debilitated your pet, he may need hospitalisation for further tests and treatment.

Your vet may suggest that dog ear infection drops are placed directly into the dog’s ears. This procedure will be repeated several times daily. There are also holistic methods to treat a canine infection. An alternative approach to medicine involves altering a dog’s lifestyle and diet, which some experts combine with a conventional medicine as a long-term cure.

Preventing dog ear infections

Your pet’s day to day activities, such as grooming, swimming or bathing could be the cause of an infection. Any event where his ear canals become moist makes him prone to irritations. Keeping the ears and surrounding areas dry and clean is probably the most helpful means to prevent any contamination. A trip to the vet will be advised if your dog has any underlying health conditions.

Preventative methods such as ear cleaning can make a large difference in preventing recurring infections, but don’t be overly vigorous or clean the ears too frequently, so as to avoid damage to the ear canal. Keep your dog professionally groomed, especially if he has excessive hair around the outer canal area. You can use a cotton ball to clean your dog's ear, but never use cotton swabs or Q-tips to poke inside when cleaning them. You certainly don’t want to cause further damage.

Follow your vet’s recommendations

When it comes to managing dog ear infections, it’s vitally important to follow the vet’s instructions. Do not stop medication early, even if you feel that the infection has cleared up. Potentially irreversible health problems may develop. If you are unsure, consult with your vet for professional advice.

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