Is your dog shaking her head a lot, or scratching and rubbing at her ear? It’s possible she has an ear infection.
Ear infections are one of the most common minor ailments for dogs. And although ear infections are treatable, they can cause a lot of discomfort!
Read on to learn the warning signs of an ear infection, and how to treat your dog.
What causes ear infections in dogs
The most common cause of dog ear infections is bacteria or yeast in the ear canal. Dog ear canals are mostly vertical (rather than horizontal, like human ears). This makes it easy for moisture to get stuck in the ear canal, and excess moisture makes a prime environment for bacteria and yeast to grow!
Other possible causes of canine ear infections include:
- Ear mites
- Thyroid disorders
- Wax buildup
- Over-cleaning (For most dogs, a monthly ear cleaning enough)
In addition, some dogs are more susceptible to ear infections than others. These include dogs with floppy outer ears, like basset hounds and spaniels, and dogs with excessive hair growth in their ear canal.
Dog ear infection symptoms
The most obvious symptom of ear infection in dogs is ear scratching or rubbing. But how do you tell the difference between ear irritation and ear infection? These symptoms mean it may be time for a vet visit:
- Scratching or rubbing the ear or surrounding area
- Head shaking or head tilt
- Redness and/or swelling in the ear
- Odor in the ear
- Scabs or crusting in or around the ear
- Hearing loss
- Loss of balance or walking in circles
When to go to the vet for an ear infection (and what will happen when you do)
If your dog is showing any signs of ear infection, don’t hesitate to visit the vet. In addition to being very uncomfortable, ear infections can spread from the outer ear to the middle and inner ear, leading to a much more serious and painful condition.
When you take your dog to the vet for a potential ear infection, the vet will ask the typical questions about your dog’s recent activity, behavior, and diet. They will likely assess your dog’s pain level by touching and examining the outer ear, and look into your dog’s ear with an otoscope (a magnifying ear cone device). They may also examine a sample of ear discharge to test for parasites, yeast, or bacteria.
Because there are many potential causes for ear infections in dogs, it’s very important to see a vet for an accurate diagnosis.
How to treat your dog’s ear infection
You should always consult a veterinarian before treating your dog’s ear irritation. Your vet will diagnose the root cause of the infection and prescribe an appropriate treatment, whereas home remedies that don’t target the appropriate cause can make ear infections worse.
Ear infections in dogs are typically treated with a professional cleaning at the vet’s office, and a course of medication given at home. Depending on the cause of the infection, treatment may be topical (i.e. a spray, salve, or drops applied directly to the ear) and/or oral medication.
Ear infections frequently recur, so be sure to use all medications as directed, practice good dog ear hygiene, and revisit the vet if symptoms don’t improve.
Prevent future ear infections
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To prevent future ear infections, you can:
- Gently clean the outer ear with a cleansing solution provided by the vet. Your vet can recommend how frequently to clean your dog’s ears, but once a month is a good general estimate
- Dry your dog’s ears thoroughly after bathing or swimming
- Trim excess hair in the outer ear canal with special grooming scissors (or have a groomer or veterinarian trim it for you)
- Check your dog’s ears for abnormal odor, redness, and/or discharge
Ear infections are no fun, but they’re incredibly common. If your dog develops an ear infection, don’t worry! Get to the vet, follow treatment instructions, and your dog’s ears will be back in business soon.