Ear infections: how to diagnose and treat your dog

April 9th, 2017
dog ear infections

Both annoying and painful, ear infections can cause our pets great distress, Carrol Baker writes

If you’ve ever had an ear infection, you’d know how horrible and painful they can be. Our canine friends can suffer from ear infections, too, often more frequently than us humans do. Just like people, there are many reasons why dogs get ear problems. Among the most common are foreign materials such as grass seeds entering the ear, allergies and ear infections caused by microorganisms.

Dr David Mason from Adelaide Vet says there are three common types of infection that can develop in a dog’s ear canal. “These include yeast, a staphylococcus-based infection, or rod-shaped bacteria (pseudomonas) — and each of these are treated differently.”

Dogs with allergies can also have problems with their ears. According to Dr David, an ear problem can actually indicate an allergy. “The skin inside the ear is a little warmer and more humid and, in some dogs, the ear canal can be the first point where we see a skin allergy,” Dr David says. Allergens can be ingested, inhaled or caught on contact and they may include different types of food or be caused by parasites, fleas or mites. Just to cloud the issue further, there can sometimes be a secondary infection involving bacteria because of the allergy, so both the allergy and infection need to be treated.

If your dog has an ear infection, there are telltale signs to watch out for. “The most common is head shaking, scratching and pawing of the ear, or the dog might hold their head on the side,” Dr David explains. You may also notice an unpleasant smell, redness and discharge from the ear.

The shape of things

In humans, the ear canal is virtually horizontal, but dogs have a horizontal section and a vertical section, making it easier to trap moisture and harder for debris to escape. Ear infections very rarely go away on their own. If your happy hound has an ear infection, it’s important to make an appointment with your vet as the problem can worsen if it’s not treated promptly and appropriately.

Breeds and ear infection

Some dogs are also more susceptible than others. “Dogs like Cocker Spaniels with floppy ears that hang down over the ear canal, or dogs with hairier ear canals such as Poodles, may be more predisposed,” Dr David says. For a dog that is susceptible, your vet can put in place a management plan to reduce the risk of repeat infections.

Touching your dog’s ears

When dogs are puppies, it’s important they become accustomed to their ears being touched, stroked and played with, so they are used to the sensation. “Familiarise yourself with your dog’s ears and by regularly checking them, you’ll know when something doesn’t quite look right,” Dr David says. Dog ear wax is very dark in colour, almost black, and the ear should have a normal skin-tone colour and not appear red and inflamed — if it is, it’s time for a trip to the vet!

What your vet will do

Your vet will give your dog a thorough examination and may take a sample from inside the ear canal. That sample is then popped under a microscope to determine the type of infection so they can prescribe the right treatment. Dr David says one of the biggest issues with ear infections is not treating them with the right type of medication and not treating them for the right length of time.

“Some ear infections will require a couple of weeks’ treatment, but some can take four to six weeks to clear up,” he says. “There is a risk if an ear infection is undertreated that we can end up getting bugs in the ear canal that are resistant
to antibiotics.”

After a dog has had an ear infection and followed a course of treatment prescribed by the vet, a follow-up visit to the vet will confirm the infection has been thoroughly cleared up.

This article was originally published in DOGSLife #142. Click here to subscribe to our pawsome magazine.

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