If you notice your pooch constantly scratching at his ears, whining and shaking his head on a frequent basis, that his ears are red and swollen or that pus is emanating from one or both of them, he may have an ear infection. Ear infections are extremely common in canines and just as they are when we experience them, they are uncomfortable. Unfortunately, if your pooch is prone to infections, he is likely to get them all the time and from just about any sort of trigger, including bacteria, yeast and mites. Fortunately, treating an infection in a dog is relatively straightforward, and there are ways to prevent future occurrences. At the United Veterinary Center, our doctors want to help you get your pet’s infections under control. While we do this partially through careful diagnosis and treatment, we also educate dog owners so that they can plan an active part in their pet’s health too.
If your canine is susceptible to infections, this post is designed to tell you everything you need to know about dog ear infections, including the different types of infections, symptoms to look out for, possible causes and treatment.
Common Types of Ear Infections in Dogs
Dogs can develop three types of conditions of the ears: otitis externa, media and internal. Each of these is fairly common in all canines but are especially common in dogs with floppy ears such as Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels. However, 20 percent of all dogs, across all breeds, are plagued by infections.
Otitis externa means that the inflammation lies on the outside, in the lining of the external portion of the canal. When you, your child or your pet experiences pain in the ear, it is most likely due to otitis externa. Most problems start out as otitis externa but if not treated, it can travel to the inner and middle portions of the canal, causing otitis media and interna. If allowed to progress this far, it could result in deafness, facial paralysis or vestibular disease. To prevent any of these conditions befalling your precious pooch, it is imperative that you have him examined and treated at the first signs of otitis externa.
Signs Your Dog Has an Infection
Signs of an ear infection are relatively obvious and hard to miss. They can include:
- Scratching on or around the ear
- Redness or swelling
- Crusts or scabs as a result of aggressive and continuous scratching
- Hair loss around the area
- Rubbing his head on the carpet, your leg or pieces of furniture
- A bad smell
- Pus or discharge
- Brown, yellow or bloody discharge
- Constant head shaking or drastic head tilt
- Loss of balance
- Weird eye movements (disorientation)
- Walking in circles
- Hearing loss
Hopefully you’re able to informally diagnose an ear condition by the first few signs, such as scratching, scabbing and pus, but if you do not, your pet will continue to demonstrate signs that gradually worsen as the infection does.
Possible Causes of Ear Infections
There are usually triggers for infections, as most don’t just arise out of nowhere. Some possible and common causes for your dog’s condition could be any one of the following, or even a combination of a few of these:
How you raise your dog, what you allow him to do and what you feed him all play a role in his overall health. For instance, if you let your dog go swimming or splash around in the tub, he could have water trapped in his canal on a constant basis, which could result in the canine equivalent of “swimmer’s ear.” If you feed your dog human foods and neglect a more natural diet of raw meats and vegetables, he may not be receiving the nutrients he needs to fight off infections, thereby making him more susceptible to certain problems and conditions. If you let your pup trollop through the woods after you while you’re on a walk or go foraging through brush, he could get foxtails in there that you may not notice until they have already wreaked havoc.
Diet goes hand in hand with lifestyle but we feel it deserves its own point. Canines need a diet full of protein and natural veggies, and one that is limited in carbohydrates. If the food you feed your furry friend contains a lot of carbs, it could contribute to yeast infections or trigger a food allergy you’re unaware of.
If you have hay fever, you likely know all about the tingling sensation you get in your ears right before your allergies come on full force. Dogs react in much the same way when they’re struck by an allergy attack. However, in order to resolve your dog’s problems if allergies are the cause, you will need to get to the root of his allergies first.
Your dog’s ears themselves may be the very source of his problems. If your pooch has floppy ears, it is up to you to clean them regularly to eliminate buildup, discharge or yeast growth.
On the other hand, if you clean your dog’s ears too much you may accidentally prevent the growth of good bacteria. Wax is meant to protect your dog, and a little goes along ways towards keeping out the bad stuff. Additionally, overusing cleaning substances, no matter how natural, can result in irritation and actually aggregate an existing condition. As with most things in life, moderation is key.
Mites are a common parasite infection and type of mange that normally attacks dogs. Like louse, mites are extremely contagious and commonly affect the young. They itch terribly, causing young canines to scratch excessively at their heads until they bleed. You can usually rule out (or diagnose) mites by simply inspecting your dog’s ears. If he has mites, you’ll notice little black bumps in the ear and along the outer edges.
Other chronic conditions such as hypothyroidism or auto-immune disease can result in ear infections in dogs as well. If this is the case with your pooch, be prepared to deal with a lifelong battle, as it’s difficult to eradicate entirely problems that stem from chronic disorders.
Your pet may also have a hematoma, which is a pool of blood between the cartilage of the ear flap and the skin.
Diagnosing Canine Ear Infections
A veterinarian can usually tell right away if a dog suffers from an infection, and via a quick examination of their canal and drum. In fact, you are probably familiar with the procedure and tools required of it, as vets use the same magnifying cone on dogs as doctors do on humans. However, whereas you’re likely to sit still while your doctor probes your ear, your pooch is not. The vet may request to have your dog sedated so she can get a thorough look at your dog’s canal and drum. If necessary, they will take a sample of the discharge to determine whether bacteria, yeast or parasites is the cause of your pet’s pain. Most vets have to send their samples out to a lab but because we have a lab here at the United Veterinary Center, we can run it over and have the results back on the same day.
Treating a Dog’s Infection
Depending on the cause of your dog’s condition, treatment may vary. Your vet may prescribe a topical ointment if she determines that the infection is still outside the ear and caused by something external, like mites or foxtails. However, if the cause has to do with allergies, diet, lifestyle or some other chronic condition, your vet may recommend systematic antibiotics to kill the source of the infection for good. As with people antibiotics, it is imperative that your dog receives the recommended dose each day in order for his antibiotics to do their job.
There are natural remedies you can try out on your pooch such as cleaning your pup’s ear with apple cider vinegar and then squirting a mixture of the vinegar with water into your dog’s canal. Mullein is a plant with antibacterial properties that supposedly works great for infections, as is oregano oil, calendula and coconut oil. However, there is no scientific backing behind any of these home remedies, just hearsay. If you want to swiftly and effectively resolve your pet’s issues, it is best to seek the medical help of a trained veterinarian.
Preventing Dog Ear Infections
In order to prevent canine ear aches you need to know what is causing them. Sometimes prevention is as simple as wiping down your dog’s ears after he gets a bath or goes swimming, while in other cases it’s a bit more complicated, such as identifying food allergies and eliminating those foods from his diets. A trained vet can help you identify the cause of your dog’s chronic infections and devise a way to get rid of them once and for all.
If your pooch suffers from chronic ear aches, know that he is not alone. However, just because dogs are susceptible to infections doesn’t mean your pooch should have to live with them. If you notice any of the signs of a problem—scratching, redness, swelling, pus or any of the others—schedule an appointment with the United Veterinary Center to get to the root of your dog’s issues and to get him on the path to optimal health today.