How Do I Know If My Dog Has an Ear Infection?
If your dog is profusely shaking their head or they can’t seem to stop rubbing or scratching their ears, either with their paws or on the ground, then they’re likely suffering from an infection in the ear. Dogs with otitis externa suffer from inflammation of the external ear canal. Other signs of ear infection can include a generally unhappy (see inappetence, restlessness or maybe even people-avoidant behaviour) or irritable mood (head shyness and tilting of the head, and/or snappy/aggressive behaviour), as infections of the ear are often quite painful. Should you notice your dog displaying any of these behaviours, don’t fret – otitis isn’t an uncommon affliction in dogs and with the right veterinary care, they’ll be back to health in no time.
Wait – How Did My Dog Get an Ear Infection in the First Place?
Anatomically speaking, the answer is simple: dogs are predisposed to suffer from otitis at some point, with certain breeds being more susceptible than others. The ear canal of a dog is L-shaped, making it difficult for any material that gets into the canal to get out.
As mentioned, otitis externa is an infection of the external ear canal. It can, in turn, progress to the condition of otitis media (an inflammation of the dog’s middle ear), if gone untreated for too long. When it turns into otitis media, your dog will experience a fluid build-up behind their eardrum, which can be the cause of great pain and pressure. Vets see and treat canine ear infections regularly, so plenty of safe and effective treatment options are available.
Some of the Dog Breeds That Are Especially Prone to Developing Ear Infections Include:
- Basset Hounds because of their long, floppy ears
- Cocker Spaniels
- German Shepherds
- Shar Peis, due to their narrow ear canals
The Most Common Otitis Externa Causes Seen in Dogs
Puppies will often suffer from an infection of the ear caused by ear mites, which is an all too common parasite. They cause horrible itchiness and are often accompanied by a thick, brown discharge.
Mature dogs will likely develop otitis as a result of allergies, i.e. an increased sensitivity to something in their environment or a specific food. This is true for nearly 90% of cases seen. A rash somewhere on their body, while they’re suffering from an ear irritation, is a good indicator.
Another possible (and common) cause of ear infections is the presence of a foreign body. This can be something such as a seed or blade of grass that has become stuck in a dog’s ear canal. It serves as a constant irritant to the dog’s ear, resulting in inflammation and pain.
Some Other Possible Causes and Predispositions of Canine Ear Infections Are:
- A poorly-functioning thyroid
- An underlying and untreated skin condition
- Bug bites
- Hormonal issues
- The improper cleaning of the ears (e.g. use of sharp objects)
- The presence of fluids in the ear that can’t escape the ear canal
The Tell-Tale Signs of Ear Infections in Dogs
It can be difficult to tell what the matter with your dog is when they’re feeling unwell. You’ll have to keep a close eye on them to identify the classic signs and symptoms of an ear infection. These can include:
- A discharge coming from their ear(s)
- A strange odour coming from inside the ear(s)
- Persistent scratching at their head and ear(s)
- Redness of the ear canal(s)
- Sudden aggression caused by the pain – this is especially the case when you go to touch their head; alternatively, they can grow head shy and will start avoiding having it touched
- The constant shaking or tilting of their head
Should the cause of the otitis be allergies, some of your dog’s other body parts may also be affected. Look for signs of inflammation, itchiness or a rash on their inner legs, paws, and face.
Otitis caused by a foreign body entering the ear canal can have sudden-onset symptoms. Your dog may start aggressively shaking their head to get whatever has entered the ear canal out. Foreign body ear infections are also far likelier to only affect one of the ears at a time.
The ear infections that’re caused by parasites are typically chronic. They take time to develop and symptoms will worsen over time. A yeast infection in dogs’ ears is typically accompanied by a foul odour. The same is true for bacterial infections in the ear.
Early Detection Is the Best Dog Ear Infection Treatment
If you have a suspicion that your four-legged friend is suffering from an ear infection, don’t hesitate to contact your vet and make an appointment ASAP. Should your dog have an acute infection that lingers over a long period, there’s a chance that it may evolve and become chronic. This may have dire consequences for the glands found in the ear canal. In turn, it can predispose the dog to secondary infections or even worse – long-term hearing issues.
Canine Otitis Treatments
A dog’s ear infection is primarily treated by attending to two factors. Firstly, the inflammation that is the cause of your poor dog’s discomfort and secondly, the actual infection or underlying condition itself. Your vet will also go ahead and determine what the possible underlying factors were that led to the development of your dog’s specific ear infection. In the majority of cases, a dog will be treated by providing anti-inflammatory therapy, to reduce the itchiness and pain, regardless of their individual cause of otitis.
If the ear infection is recurring then dogs may be tested for possible allergies at a later date, to correctly identify whichever trigger is the cause of their otitis. If an infection is suspected, your vet may perform a swab test to confirm a diagnosis. The vet will prescribe an appropriate medicine as soon as they have the results. Treatment for the infection can include antibiotics and/or allergy medications.
Should your vet find a foreign object lodged in the ear canal, they will carefully remove it and then treat your dog’s otitis, as required.
In cases of severe ear infections, the vet will likely clean out your dog’s ears thoroughly before administering the treatment. By cleaning your dog’s ears, your vet is breaking up any biofilm or encrustation present, which may be blocking or covering their ear canal’s lining and will keep the treatment from being effective.
A dog diagnosed with any ear infections will probably have to have a follow-up evaluation to determine whether treatment is effective or not. It’s also necessary to confirm that any and all of the perpetuating and predisposing factors which caused the ear infection are no longer present.
Preventing Ear Infections in Your Dog
As mentioned, the best way to prevent your dog from developing any serious ear infections is the early detection of any predisposing factors. These include:
- Anal sac disease
- Climatic variation
- Ear canal maceration
- Obstructive ear disease
- Systemic disease
- Treatment errors
A dog that faithfully attends their annual physical exams, which include an ear canal examination, will help your vet to detect any signs of mild or early-onset ear infections. From a clinical point of view, there are few truly effective preventative measures you can take. However, there are some things owners can do to decrease the odds of their dogs developing ear infections:
- Making sure the dog’s ears are completely dry after bathing them (be sure to avoid getting any water in the ear canal)
- Speaking to the vet about cleaning a dog’s ears on a regular basis if they are prone to developing ear infections (over-the-counter ear cleaners like Oto-Aid can also be bought from local vet shops or vets)
- Having a dog with long or thick hair in their ears’ hair trimmed frequently by a groomer or vet
- Bringing the dog to all of their scheduled follow-ups and also precisely following instructions given for medications and topical treatments
Should your dog develop an ear infection, it’s of the utmost importance that you do your best to prevent any further complications from developing. There’s a chance that you can prevent your dog from developing issues like chronic otitis, otitis media, blood blister formation (othaematoma), ear disease and hearing loss if you watch out for the signs and follow vet-provided instructions to a T.
For additional credible information on the topic, read Ear Infections and Otitis Externa in Dogs in the online MSD Veterinary Manual.
Treat Ear Infections Caused by Mites With Bravecto®
Infestations and infections are always a nasty business to deal with, whether they affect parts of the ear or another part of the body. Your dog deserves to feel good and healthy at all times. As mentioned, some common ear infections are caused by ear mites. Bravecto® is a fast-acting and long-lasting treatment that’s effective in preventing and combating ticks, fleas and mites in dogs.
Your dog will remain protected against fleas and ticks for 12 weeks with a single dose of Bravecto® Chew and the Bravecto® Spot-On for Dogs will keep your pal safe from ticks for 4 months and fleas for 6 months, also with a single dose!
Keep the parasites at bay and your dog feeling on top of the world with Bravecto®.