The canine ear is the perfect place for an infection to brew, and ear infections are one of the top reasons that pooches pay visits to the vet. Dogs with allergies and those with hairy, long, floppy ears (think cocker spaniels) can be predisposed to developing them.
Bacteria or yeast growth in a dog’s ears commonly cause ear infections. Other contributing factors include ear mites, moisture, wax buildup, excessive hair, allergies, and disorders such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s syndrome.
Because a dog’s ear canal is mostly vertical — unlike a human ear canal, which is horizontal — it is easy for debris and moisture to enter and remain there, resulting in infection.
Canine ear infections can be very painful. If left untreated, they can cause ear damage. If any of the following symptoms arise, a visit to the vet is in order:
- Scratching of or around the ear
- Brown, yellow or bloody discharge
- Odor coming from the ear
- Redness and/or swelling
- Crusting or scabbing on the inside of the outer ear
- Hair loss around the ear
- Head shaking or tilting
- Loss of balance
- Unusual eye movements
- Walking in circles
- Hearing loss
To diagnose an ear infection, your veterinarian will examine the ears and the ear canal. Most ear infections can be treated with a professional cleaning and medication given at the veterinarian office or over a period of time at home.
Some additional tests to identify the source of the infection may include an ear cytology, which is when the vet takes a sample from the ear and examines it under a microscope to determine if yeast, bacteria or other microorganisms are present; a culture to identify the type of bacteria; and in some cases, a blood test to rule out health problems such as hypothyroidism or an autoimmune disease.
Here are some tips on preventing ear infections:
- Keep ears clean.
- Check regularly for abnormal discharge, odor and/or redness.
- If the outer ear appears dirty, clean gently with a cotton ball using a dog-specific ear cleansing solution. Your vet can make recommendations on a solution and on how frequently to clean.
- Avoid moisture in the ears. Dry thoroughly after baths and swimming.
- If the dog has excessive hair in the outer ear canal, it should be removed. A groomer or vet can do this, or with the proper technique, this can be done at home.
- Seek treatment as soon as an ear infection is suspected.
Make sure to properly apply medication and complete treatment as specified by your veterinarian, even if symptoms appear to get better. And don’t skip the follow-up visit.
Ear infections are tricky. They can either resolve quickly or become chronic, depending on the underlying cause. Talk to your veterinarian about the best course of treatment and prevention for your dog’s ears.
Traci D. Howerton is the volunteer coordinator for Animal Rescue New Orleans, a nonprofit, volunteer-based, no-kill shelter. For topic suggestions, email firstname.lastname@example.org or for more info on ARNO, visit www.animalrescueneworleans.org.