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Dog Ear Infection:

Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention


Dog Ear Infections are a rampant problem among dog owners. Over 89.7 million dogs live in our homes in the United States, according to the 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey (APPA). That equates to more than 60% of households with one or more dogs as their fur-baby of choice.

Ear infections in dogs are one of the most concerning problems. They’re so common that nearly every dog will experience an ear infection of some kind at least once in his or her lifetime. They can strike any time of year and without warning. Some dogs are plagued with chronic infections that cause pain, itching, oozing, and inflammation over and over. For some, when an ear infection goes untreated, their hearing can be permanently affected. However, even the earliest symptoms can be strong enough to gravely affect our dog’s ability to live out their daily activities comfortably. There are several causes, and luckily for all of us, several treatment options. Some solutions are faster and more effective than others.

This guide to ear infections in dogs will help guardians across all experience levels understand one of the most common, and most painful, health challenges dogs face today. Probably more importantly, guardians will learn about the options available to dogs for fast relief when an infection is taking hold.

1. Causes

When you’ve noticed Fido is showing the early signs of an ear infection, it’s vital to monitor them and work closely with your veterinarian. As a dog guardian, you must also understand the underlying causes or contributing factors in the development of this painful and frustrating condition. The following list includes some of the most common causes of ear infections in dogs.

1.1 Allergies.

Allergies are one of the most common causes of ear infection in dogs. They can come in several forms. They may be environmental, such as pests, dust, houseplants or other specific items in a dog’s surrounding area that may cause an allergic reaction. It could be seasonal, such as grass or pollen from plants that bloom at a particular time of year.

Or it could be food allergies. Commercial food can be difficult for some dogs to digest and can contain allergens that cause significant discomfort for many dogs. In this case, you may want to consider nutritional supplements for dogs that can help their immune system fight the infections that can result from allergies.

The inflammation in the ear that is caused by allergies can be a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi, which can grow out of control. This can lead to

1.2 Ear Mites.

Ear mites are tiny parasites, similar to spiders, that live on or just under the skin. They populate the outer ear area quickly and cause severe itching for dogs.

Ear mites are tiny parasites, similar to spiders, that live on or just under the skin. They populate the outer ear area quickly and cause severe itching for dogs. While ear mites don’t infect the ear canal, infestations do cause skin lesions, along with frequent itching that can break the skin. This can allow bacterial growth that results in ear infections that go deeper along the ear canal. Ear mites are not visible to the naked eye, and while they don’t affect humans, they can quickly infect other dogs living within proximity to the infected dog. It’s best to consult your vet right away if you suspect your dog has an ear infection.

1.3 Thyroid disorder.

Certain thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism can cause many health problems and an array of symptoms.

Hypothyroidism in dogs produces side effects such as hair loss, Staphylococcus bacterial infections, and chronic ear infections. Thyroid disorders are more common than people realize and are easily overlooked if dogs are not taken to their annual exams. In addition, the symptoms, including chronic ear infections, are very similar to allergies, which can make them challenging to diagnose.

1.4 Trauma.

Physical trauma, such as head injuries during accidents, can also lead to inflammation and ear infections. If there has been a recent trauma and your dog is displaying ear infection symptoms, be sure to consult a veterinarian. Treating the ear infection without understanding and caring for the head injury can naturally lead to other, more dangerous results.

1.5 Aspergillus.

Aspergillus is a common fungus. Its spores can be found in the very air we breathe. However, it doesn’t cause infections in healthy people or animals.

Instead, it typically causes trouble in those with weakened immune systems. Aspergillus infections can be invasive and exacerbate existing infections, so it’s essential to keep ears clean and to correctly apply an ear infection remedy at the earliest sign of infection.

1.6 Malassezia.

Malassezia is a common fungus or yeast, that is found in your everyday life, including on skin: human, animal, and of course, dogs.

This yeast remains balanced under normal circumstances, but it can develop into an infection. It’s especially common in sebaceous areas and where ear wax builds up. That means it can lead to an ear infection in dogs. Together, the Aspergillus fungus and Malassezia yeast account for about 20% of ear infections in dogs.

1.7 Foreign objects.

Foreign objects are one of the most overlooked causes of ear infections. Many people notice the symptoms, but don’t take the time to use a flashlight to look inside the ear. The trauma of any kind inside a dog’s ear can produce lesions and inflammation that can lead to an infection.

1.8 Polyps or Tumors.

The presence of tumors and polyps in Fido’s ear canal may lead to inflammation followed by infection. A veterinarian is the only person who can successfully diagnose this with the proper tests. While they can cause chronic infections, polyps and tumors in the ear canal are relatively rare.

1.9 Breed.

Some dogs are more susceptible to ear infections than others. Health conditions, lifestyle, and their environment can all play a role, but genetics is also a big factor. Some breeds are prone to chronic ear infections for a variety of reasons. For example, dogs with short legs and long, floppy ears will end up getting more dirt in their ears because they are closer to the ground. Dirt and moisture will be trapped in their ears and build up, causing more infections than in other dogs. Following is a list of dog breeds that are prone to ear infections. Creating a regular, preventative ear cleaning regimen for all dogs, particularly the ones on this list, will help to keep their ears free of infection-causing debris and moisture.

  • Basset Hound
  • Beagles
  • Bloodhound
  • Bull Mastiff
  • Cavalier King Charles
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Coonhound
  • Dachshund
  • Doberman
  • Great Dane
  • Saint Bernard
  • Shih Tzu
  • Springer Spaniel

2. Diagnosis

2.1 Signs and Symptoms

Identifying the signs and symptoms of any canine ear infection is easily recognized by those with dogs who have chronic ear infections. The following list is not comprehensive but provides the most common signs you’ll notice if you’re paying attention to their ears and general health. Being able to speak to the symptoms your dog is experiencing will also allow your vet to quickly choose the right tests, if any are indicted, to correctly diagnose the type of ear infection and recommend the most effective treatment.

  • Shaking or tilting his or her head
  • Leaning toward the side of the infected ear
  • Ear discharge that may be yellow, bloody, or brown
  • Swelling or redness around the ear entrance
  • Foul odor coming from the ears
  • The appearance of scabs or crust on the inside of the outer part of your dog’s ear
  • Rubbing ears and the side of the head against the furniture, floor, or any object
  • Excessive scratching or rubbing of the ear
  • A noticeable swinging of the head from side to side
  • An unwillingness or inability to chew, particularly on the side with the inflamed ear
  • Apparent pain when he or she opens their mouth or yawns
  • Visible loss of hair around the ears
  • Nystagmus, or and unusual, rapid involuntary eye movements
  • Vertigo or loss of balance
  • In extreme, untreated, or chronic cases, deafness or loss of hearing
  • Wobbly body movements
  • Grey, bulging eardrums
  • Walking in circles
  • Nausea or vomitingv
  • In severe, untreated, or chronic cases, the inability to blink, or paralysis that indicates facial nerve damage

2.2 Diagnostic Procedures and Examinations.

If you suspect an infection, visit your veterinarian as soon as possible. Both ears will be examined to determine the cause, severity, and the appropriate treatment.

What does your Vet need to know?

Here are a few common questions most vets will ask during the interview and exam. Think about these ahead of time and be prepared to answer with clarity. If you don’t know an answer, say you don’t know. It’s better to get accurate information with missing pieces than to have incorrect information.

  • What were your dog’s recent activities involving water including bathing, visiting the groomer, or swimming?
  • What signs and symptoms have you noticed and for how long?
  • Is your dog on any medications?
  • Does your dog have any allergies that you know of?
  • Describe your dog’s diet?
  • Were there any dietary or environmental changes that have happened recently?
  • Is there a history of dog ear infections? If so, when and with what frequency? How was it treated?
  • How frequently do you clean your pup’s ears, if at all?

What are the diagnostic procedures involved?

Your veterinarian will also perform some simple procedures to understand better what’s going on in Fido’s head. Here are a few of the most common.

  • Visual Assessment: To identify any signs of swelling, blood or discharge, redness, debris, or scabs.
  • Otoscopic examination: Your vet will look more deeply into your dog’s ear to look for impacted wax, debris, ticks, fleas, and foreign objects. They’ll also look for eardrum damage and will check the extent of the swelling and inflammation.
  • Palpation: To assess the level of pain when gently palpating your dog’s ears.
  • They’ll check for other symptoms on the body, such as skin infections, weepy eyes, and other signs that the cause may be a more significant infection, allergies, or an illness with similar symptoms.
  • If mites are suspected, your vet will take a quick, painless sample of earwax and discharge to look for mites under the microscopic.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the head might be necessary if a head injury is suspected.
  • Radiographs or x-rays may also help the vet look for signs of trauma if all other possible causes have been ruled out, or if your dog was recently in an accident or dogfight.

3. Treatment

Depending on the severity of the ear infection, your vet will provide you with the right intervention and treatment. Nearly all infections can be treated in the comfort of your home. Only in severe cases will a pup need to be monitored more closely, such as trauma, injury, or underlying diseases or conditions. Here are a few of the most common treatments and remedies vets will recommend.

3.1 Ear Cleaning

While cleaning is a preventative measure, it’s also part of most treatment processes to help keep the infection from the building. Prior to giving your dog the actual treatment, you’ll clean and dry Fido’s ear with a gentle cleanser.

Usually, your vet will clean your dog’s ear once at the office to show you how to do it correctly. To get fast relief for your dog’s ear infection (48-hours on average), you can try out Vet Organic’s EcoEars Dog Ear Cleaner. It’s 100% natural and works on fungal, bacterial, yeast infections, ear mite infestations, and other causes.

3.2 Natural or Home Remedies

Natural or home remedies are far less expensive and safer alternatives to many prescription treatments. Be sure to check with your vet to make sure the home remedy you want to apply will work for the type of infection your dog has. For example, coconut oil may soothe the itch, but will not clean the ear, and can often leave a moist environment that encourages some infections. Filtered, diluted apple cider vinegar can be useful for cleaning ears and is effective against many types of infections. Some home remedies call for yogurt but keep in mind that it must be completely sugar-free or you’ll actually be feeding many fungi and bacteria, making the infection worse. Also, yogurt can introduce other ingredients that may feel soothing but can exacerbate some infections. Though they are natural or all-organic, be sure not to put anything in your dog’s ear unless directed by your veterinarian. Treatments and recommendations are based on the condition, cause, and severity of the infection. The wrong home remedy can make things worse. In many cases, Vet Organic’s EcoEars Dog Ear Cleaner is a cleaner and remedy all-in-one. It’s been specially formulated to fight infections and mites while being gentle on your dog’s sensitive ears.

3.3 Prescription Treatments

In most cases, the goal of prescriptions is to eliminate the infection and reduce the worst symptoms, such as searing pain and inflammation.

Antibiotics may be used to attack the growth of bacteria. Antifungal medicated creams and ointments may be prescribed in the case of yeast or fungal ear infections. It is also crucial that you follow the dosage and treat your pup for the entire recommended duration to achieve the best results and to avoid building a tolerance to antibiotics. Also, watch out for any adverse reactions. Your vet can give you a different form of medication or antibiotics if needed.

3.4 Surgical Drainage

Your dog can become a candidate for surgical drainage only when he or she is very susceptible to recurring ear infections, especially if aggressive antibiotics aren’t working. It’s considered a last resort and is only used in the most extreme cases.

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*Results may vary based on factors such as age, size and physical condition of your pet.