Ear Infections in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments
By Henry Cerny, DVM, MS
Ear infections in dogs are common and most dogs suffer from this painful condition sometime in their life. Scratching and rubbing at the ear(s) and head shaking are common signs. You may also notice an abnormal odor from the ear or see redness or swelling. Most ear infections in adults are caused by bacteria and yeast, though ear mites are a common cause in puppies. Your veterinarian will take a sample from the affected ear(s) and examine it under the microscope to help identify what microorganisms are present.
Treatment for Dog Ear Infection
For successful treatment you must clean the ear with a gentle cleanser as the ear will be painful. An effective way to clean the ear is to fill the ear canal with the cleaning solution, place an appropriate-sized cotton ball in the ear canal opening, then gently massage the ear at the base. The cotton ball serves several functions. It acts as a lid to the allow the fluid to go back and forth in the canal, it absorbs the excess solution and it holds onto the debris as it comes up, letting you know what is down in the ear canal. As long as your dog tolerates it, you can clean the ear several times until the cotton ball comes out fairly clean. There are a few cautions when cleaning a dog’s ear. Do not use Q-Tip swabs as they may push debris deeper into the ear canal and rupture the eardrum. Do not use rubbing alcohol or other solutions that are irritating to inflamed skin (Think of the skin inside the ear of a dog with an ear infection as a rash), After the ear canal has been cleaned, allow it to dry for approximately 10 minutes. Then instill the medication(s) your veterinarian has prescribed (medicated ointment or drops). The length of treatment depends on the patient, severity of infection, and any changes to the ear (i.e., thickening of the tissue in the ear). In some cases oral medications are necessary (antibiotics, anti-yeast, anti-inflammatory). Your veterinarian will schedule rechecks to make sure the medications are working and the infection is cleared.
Causes and Prevention of Ear Infection in Dogs
Prevention depends on identifying the underlying cause of the ear infection. In some cases the ear canal becomes moist from bathing, grooming or swimming. This moisture fosters the growth of microorganisms in the ear canal. Prevention in these cases can be as simple as cleaning the ear as previously described to remove the moisture and prevent the infection. However, in many cases an underlying cause may not be so easily identified. Dogs that suffer from allergies, either environmental, such as pollens (grasses, trees and weeds), dust mites, molds or food (beef, chicken, fish, soy, etc.) are predisposed to ear infections. This is due to the microscopic inflammation that allergies cause in the skin allowing overgrowth of bacterial and yeast organisms that normally inhabit the skin.
What microorganism is causing the ear infection and what is the underlying cause? Routine cleaning with a gentle dog-approved ear cleaner may be necessary to reduce the frequency of recurrent ear infections in dogs with allergies. Cleaning your dog’s ears after a bath or grooming appointment may prevent any potential infections.