Ask the Vet: Dog Ear Infections

Can you hear me now?

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The other day a client came into my office, complaining that her sweet beagle, Bailey, was acting very strange. “Something is certainly bothering him,” she explained. “He keeps shaking his head, and I noticed a strange smell coming from his poor ears!”

I assured her that ear problems are very common, and asked her a few follow-up questions until one hit home:

“Yes, he loves the water!” she smiled. “We have a pond in our backyard, and he loves to swim. He even puts his head underwater to fetch the tennis ball,” she paused, considering. “Is that what’s causing his ear problems?”

“That’s certainly a factor,” I explained. Bacteria and yeast love warm, moist environments, so the inside of your dog’s ear, especially after swimming or bathing, is like South Beach in January – perfect.

Fortunately for Bailey, keeping some Swimmers Ear Solution on hand to rinse his ears after he goes in the pond should prevent any further water-related ear problems.

But, even dogs that don’t go near the water can get ear disease, which is frustrating to dog owners.

Canine Otitis Externa

Wow, that sounds scary. But really, it’s just a fancy medical term for inflammation of the ear that can be caused by many things.

The main offenders are:

  • bacteria and yeast
  • parasites, such as ear mites,
  • allergies,
  • autoimmune disease
  • trauma
  • and foreign bodies

What you can do to prevent ear infections in dogs

Knowing the common causes of these infections and being proactive about managing your dog’s risk will go far in preventing ear infections. Additionally, dog owners should be aware that certain breeds of dogs are more prone to ear infections than others.

Dogs with floppy, or pendulous, ears are notorious for ear problems. Those adorable floppy ears actually make it very difficult for the dog to get out anything that may be stuck. They also keep the ear canal nice and balmy. Just add water and BAM – a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

Dogs with lots of hair inside their ears are also prone to ear infections. Not only can foreign objects get stuck, but naturally occurring substances (namely dead skin and earwax) can build up over time and cause problems.

How you can identify canine ear infections

In most cases, if your dog has an ear infection, it will tell you, at least indirectly, like Bailey did.

Signs of an ear infection include

  • head shaking, scratching, or rubbing their ears
  • discharge, redness or swelling
  • a distinct odor

If you notice any of these signs, don’t put them off. If left unattended, the repeated, violent rubbing and scratching can irritate the ear, causing the area to swell and form a hematoma. A hematoma is a blood blister, and while generally not painful, it requires outpatient surgery to be removed.

If the infection has time to spread into the inner ear, the dog may exhibit balance problems and there may be some indication of hearing loss. They should be taken to the vet right away.

Treating a dog’s ear infection

There are different treatment options available depending on the severity and location of the infection. Your vet will examine your dog’s ear to determine the extent of the infection using an otoscope.

Examination of a dog's ear canal with an otoscope as performed by a veterinarian
Examination of a dog’s ear canal with an otoscope as performed by a veterinarian // CC BY-SA 3.0

The scope allows visualization of the ear canal and most importantly the tympanic membrane (eardrum). They will be able to see where the ear canal is swollen and irritated, and what is causing it.

If it turns out to be a bacterial or a yeast infection, your veterinarian will prescribe a course of antibiotics and/or an antifungal medication, and possibly some anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce the swelling and make your dog more comfortable.

How Activ4Pets Can Help

Not all canine ear infections are as straight-forward as swimmer’s ear.

If your dog has chronic ear infections caused an underlying condition like allergies or an autoimmune disorder, having all the records on hand can be a huge help, especially if you move or are traveling away from your regular veterinarian.

If your veterinarian participates, you may be able to discuss any new or changing symptoms with him via a virtual consult. Similar to Skype, your veterinarian can discuss your pet’s medical history, conditions and treatment options with you via video chat, and can let you know if the problem is serious enough to require and in-office appointment.

Your veterinarian may even be able to prescribe medication to be picked up at your convenience.

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Meet the Author

Clayton-Jones-DVM

Dr. Clayton Jones

Dr. Jones has 25 years of veterinary medical experience as a staff veterinarian and medical director of his own practice. He also is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Society and President of the US-Cuba Veterinary Cooperation Society.

 

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