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Ear Infections in Dogs

Posted by Mary Ida Young on
Ear Infections in Dogs
Think back to summer camp as a kid—playing tag in the woods, swimming in the lake, and eating all the yummy foods Mom would never allow in the house. Upon coming home with a sunburn and scrapes as battle scars, you would suddenly develop an earache. This is a typical childhood memory most people can relate to, and surprisingly, your dog can too. All of your rambunctious summer camp activities also happen to be some of your four-legged friend’s favorite hobbies, often leading to an earache. Ear infections in dogs are one of the most common reasons for a trip to the vet, so as a responsible dog parent, it is important to be aware of the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention methods.

Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs

There are a number of ways your dog can develop an unpleasant earache. The most frequent cause of ear infections in dogs is an imbalance of bacteria or yeast. While bacteria and yeast both exist naturally in your dog, when they become out of balance, an infection can begin making itself at home. A change of environment, moisture, or a fluctuation in hormones can reduce your dog’s natural ability to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria, sparking the infection. As all of these sources are relatively commonplace, it is understandable how Fido could develop a few earaches over the years. Your dog may also be hosting a few pesky pets of his own that are leading to the ear infections. Ear mites are another cause of infection, and although they are more typical in cats, they can be found in dogs - especially in puppies. Ear mites are not externally visible, and are transmitted from animal to animal. If your pup is a social butterfly, some unwanted visitors might be causing the ear infection. Another potential cause of ear infections in dogs is the presence of foreign objects in the ear canal. Unlike humans with our tiny, vertical ear canals, our dogs have large ear canals that go flapping in the wind as they chase some poor unsuspecting squirrel down the driveway. The nature of their anatomy makes it easier for dirt, debris, and other foreign objects to get lodged in their ear. These objects eventually work their way into the ear canal, sparking a painful infection. A larger issue that could be causing earaches in your dog is hypothyroidism. This is a relatively common disease found in middle-aged dogs, with some breeds more susceptible than others. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland, primarily responsible for monitoring metabolism, is under producing. Although this disease can produce a wide array of symptoms such as lack of energy, hair loss, and weight gain, an ear infection can also be one of the side effects. In addition to external factors, your cocker spaniel’s adorable floppy ears might be one of the culprits leading to unpleasant ear infections. By nature, long eared dog breeds are more susceptible to ear infection because it is easier for moisture and foreign objects to get caught inside the ear. Similarly, dogs with long hair around their ears can also be at higher risk compared to dogs with short hair and upright ears. There are a number of elements that can lead to ear infections in our canine companions, so unfortunately there is not one simple solution. The best way to eliminate an earache is to have a veterinarian take a peek in your dog’s ear and find the root of the problem. However, there are a several symptoms that you can be on the lookout for to ensure that your dog is as happy and healthy as possible.

Symptoms of Dog Ear Infection

Although it would be amazing if our furry pals could simply tell us that their ears are hurting, unfortunately, we aren’t all Dr. Dolittle and need to be aware of the warning signs of an ear infection. Most dogs will get an earache at one point in their lives, so it’s important to know the symptoms. There are a handful of actions or habits that your dog might pick up if he has an ear infection. You may notice physical actions such as shaking the head, tilting the head to the infected side, rubbing or pawing at the ear(s), or excessive scratching around the ear area. In addition to your dog pawing at his ear, you may notice a lack of balance or walking in circles, indicating an infection. Sometimes the pain is so intense, that your furry friend will refrain from opening his jaw or eating because it triggers the pain of an ear infection. Keep an eye out for uncharacteristic habits in your dog to identify an ear infection. Besides odd behavior, there are also visible symptoms that may indicate that your dog has an earache. Redness, swelling, and scabs in or around the ears can all be signs of an infection. You also may notice brown, dark yellow, or bloody discharge in your dog’s ear. Do not mistake this for earwax, as these symptoms are not normal and should be treated. Finally, one of the most common symptoms is one that you can neither see nor observe in your dog’s actions. Tap into your own dog-like super-smell and see if your dog’s ear is giving off an unpleasant odor. If you notice an unusually pungent scent coming from your dog’s ear, this is often a key indicator of an infection. Next time your pup starts pawing at his ear, don’t take it as an opportunity for an adorable Snapchat, as this is a symptom of an ear infection. Being aware of the signs is part of responsible dog parenthood so that you can spot the problem and prevent your dog from dealing with unnecessary pain. Ear infections originate from a variety of causes, so your veterinarian can prescribe the best treatment for your dog’s specific case.

Treatments for Canine Ear Infection

It is always safest to consult a certified professional before diagnosing your dog or attempting to treat the ear infection. Even though your intentions are good, this could escalate the problem if incorrectly diagnosed or improperly cared for. There are a number of potential reasons that the earache originally formed, and your vet can provide you with the right solution to help make your dog feel as good as new. A bacterial infection is one of the most typical causes of an earache because it can be sparked by a number of external factors. If your veterinarian determines that the root of the problem is a bacterial infection, he or she will professionally clean the ear and prescribe antibiotics. For some mild cases, your vet may recommend a simple cleaning routine; however, if the bacterial infection is more serious, antibiotics may be necessary to get rid of the earache once and for all. Since antibiotics are something that should be treated carefully, it is important to strictly follow the provided instructions and follow through with the prescription. Another common doggie diagnosis is an infection caused by an imbalance in yeast. Although one might assume that antibiotics are the solution, your vet will actually recommend an antifungal solution. If the infection is only in the outer canal, they will clean the ear and provide you with a topical solution. However, if the yeast imbalance has caused the infection to spread to the inner canal, further treatment such as tablets or injections may be needed. With infections caused by bacteria or yeast, your vet may prescribe an additional anti-inflammatory to supplement the antibiotics or antifungal treatment. If some pesky, unwanted visitors are the culprits behind your dog’s ear infection, your veterinarian will provide you with a parasiticide to put the ear mites out of business. One of the primary complications with ear mites is that that they can easily spread from animal to animal and can live outside a host for a period of time. Due to these factors, one of the keys to eliminating the ear mites is to shut them down at all sources. This includes getting your other dog checked for mites and thoroughly cleaning your living area, specifically areas that your dog likes to frequent. In addition to the medication, your vet may recommend a thorough ear cleaning, which can be administered in the veterinary office. It is important to eliminate ear mites as quickly as possible because their presence can cause your pup to scratch so much that further ear damage is incurred. It may seem like a bit of a no brainer, but if your veterinarian finds a foreign object such as a burr lodged in your pet’s ear, they will remove it. It is important that a professional does this so that no harm is caused during the removal process. The tricky part is then assessing what damage the foreign object has done. Your vet will assess the situation and see if antibiotics or another form of treatment is required after the object has been removed. In some cases, the earache may be a side effect of a larger problem such as hypothyroidism. If this is the case, your veterinarian will diagnose the problem and provide proper treatment. In the case of hypothyroidism, a regular dose of artificial thyroid hormones will balance your furry friend’s hormones and return him to his normal self. Because a larger systemic issue such as hypothyroidism could be the root of the problem, it is important not to play doctor and do the diagnosing yourself. Although long, luscious locks and bouncy, floppy ears might bring all the dogs to the yard, unfortunately these characteristics also make your pup more susceptible to infections. This is a naturally occurring cause based on your dog’s anatomy, so you can help out by participating in prevention methods such as cleaning to keep your dog’s ears squeaky clean!

Preventative Measures for Dog Ear Infections

Whether your dog’s breed is more prone to ear infections or not, almost all dogs will get an ear infection at least in their lifetime. However, preventative measures can be taken to stop the infection in its tracks. The best preventative step you can take is to make a habit of checking your dog’s ears on a weekly basis. Keep an eye out for physical symptoms such as extreme redness, swelling, or abnormally dark earwax. Remember small amounts of wax are normal, and shouldn’t cause alarm. When checking your dog’s ears, take a quick whiff of those puppies to ensure that there isn’t any unusual odor. By keeping an eye on your pup, an infection can be stopped before going too far. In addition to keeping an eye out for the symptoms, there are a few additional steps you can take to avoid unpleasant earaches. Since trapped moisture is a common cause of infection, make sure to thoroughly dry your dog’s ears after swimming and bathing. If your dog’s long hair is locking in moisture, have your groomer trim the hair around the ears. Finally, if your dog is a repeat offender when if comes to ear infections, you can talk to your veterinarian about an at-home cleanser that you gently apply with a cotton swab. Although cleaning often seems like the answer, it is important to check with your vet first because over-cleaning can have an adverse effect, drying out the ears and leading to an unintended imbalance. It was never fun spending the week after summer camp with a debilitating earache, and your dog couldn’t agree more. There are a number of causes that can spark an ear infection, so it is important to be aware of the symptoms so that you can stop the infection in its tracks. Although ear infections are an uncomfortable ailment, they can be easily treated with a quick trip to the vet, some TLC… and a few extra treats during recovery doesn’t hurt either!

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