Canine Ear Infections

Ear infections are one of the most common conditions in dogs. An estimated 20 percent of dogs have some form of ear disease. The canine ear canal is vertical, forming an L-shape that tends to easily hold fluid. This makes dogs more prone to ear infections. In addition to conformation, things such as moisture, allergies, wax build up, foxtails, excessive hair, trauma,  certain medical conditions and excessive cleaning can increase the risk of your dog developing an infection. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the length and severity of these episodes for your dog.

Some dogs show no symptoms of an ear infection aside from a buildup of wax and discharge in the ear canal. But ear infections more often cause significant discomfort and affected dogs may show signs such as: head shaking, scratching the ears, dark discharge, odor, redness and swelling of the ear canal, pain, itchiness and scabs in the ears.If your dog is showing any of the common signs of ear infections, quick treatment is necessary not only for your dog’s comfort (these conditions can be painful!), but also to prevent the spread of infection to the middle and inner ear.

Your veterinarian will request a thorough history including the duration of any symptoms, if your dog has any allergies or other medical conditions, their diet, if your dog is on medication, if you clean their ears and which products do you use, any recent swimming or grooming and have they had ear infections before. Your veterinarian will then perform a physical examination including both ears. In severe cases, the doctor may also recommend sedating your dog to facilitate examination and deep cleaning within the ear canal. Sedation may be required due to the level of pain or if your dog is unable to hold still.

A microscopic exam is needed to determine the type of bacteria or yeast that may be involved. If diagnosed with an infection based on the microscopic results, your veterinarian will thoroughly clean your dog’s ears using a medicated cleaner and prescribe treatments. These may include ear medication, an ear cleaner or a long lasting infusion so you don’t have to treat the ears at home. In severe cases, your vet may prescribe oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. Most uncomplicated ear infections resolve within 1–2 weeks but severe infections or those due to underlying disease may take months to resolve, or may become chronic problems requiring lifelong management. It is important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions closely and return for any recommended recheck appointments to confirm resolution.

As with most diseases, prevention is always best. Excess moisture is a common cause of ear infections, so be sure to thoroughly dry your dog’s ears after swimming and bathing. If your dog is prone to chronic or recurrent ear infections, identifying and managing any underlying causes such as allergies can help prevent new infections from occurring and your veterinarian may prescribe a preventative ear cleaner.Ear infections are a common and often recurrent problem in many dogs and with your veterinarian’s help, you can keep your dog’s ears clean and comfortable.