Let’s face it: a dog’s ear is the perfect incubator for all sorts of nasty organisms, which is why ear infections are one of the most common reasons our dog friends visit the vet! The general term for an ear infection is “otitis,” which is not specific to a disease but, instead, is a side effect of several different things that can cause an infection in the ear.
There are various causes of ear infection for dogs.
Some of the most common include:
- Conformation; much more common in dogs with large floppy ears
- Bacteria; usually secondary to another problem
- Yeast; usually secondary to another problem
- Ear mites (parasite)—especially in puppies; highly contagious among dogs
- Anatomical issues such as skin folds, narrow ear canal openings, growths, etc.
- Self-inflicted trauma from rubbing and scratching
- Foreign objects (moisture, seeds, hair, wax)
- Endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s syndrome
If your best friend has an ear infection, you might see—or in some cases smell—some of the following symptoms with regard to the affected ear:
- Unpleasant odor
- Hot and painful to the touch
- Wet sound when massaged, or the inside may seem abnormally moist
- Shaking of the head
- Scabs or inflammation
Ear infections can resolve quickly or become chronic, depending on the underlying cause. To diagnose an ear infection, your veterinarian will take a thorough history and perform a complete physical exam of your pet. They will also perform a careful examination of the ears, using an otoscope to look down the ear canal. Depending on what your veterinarian finds, other tests or procedures may be performed for an accurate diagnosis.
Some additional tests your veterinarian may recommend include:
- Cytology, which identifies if yeast, bacteria, or other microorganisms are present
- A culture to determine which type of bacteria is present
- Blood tests to rule out hypothyroidism, autoimmune disease, or other underlying problems
Treating ear infections can be very tricky, especially if allergies are involved. Treatment will depend on the cause, nature, and severity of the ear infection. Your veterinarian will recommend the best treatment for your dog’s particular situation. Treatment may include:
- Antibiotic ointments, drops, sprays, or creams for the ear
- Oral antibiotics
- Surgery—for dogs with repeated ear infections or no response to other treatment
Here are some suggestions you can follow to help your dog avoid ear infections or a relapse into infection:
- Keeping your dog's ears clean can help prevent infection; watch this video on how to clean a dog's ears
- Avoid moisture in your dog’s ears
- Treat an ear problem as soon as it’s discovered
- Understand how and where to put medication
- Do follow-up checks, as recommended by your veterinarian
- Complete all medication regimes, even if the ear looks better before the completion of treatment
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.