Because the ear canal in dogs is mostly vertical (unlike a human ear canal that is horizontal), it is easy for debris and moisture to be retained in the ear canal. Ear disease usually stems from over-production of wax as occurs in response to irritation. Allergic skin disease affecting the ears is one possible cause, especially in recurring cases; other causes of ear infections include ear mites; foreign bodies such as grass awns or foxtails; or hair growth deep in the canal, which is especially common in poodles and schnauzers. The moisture of the wax promotes bacterial growth and infection. Soon wax in the ears is joined by pus.
Symptoms of Ear Infection
The following symptoms may indicate that your dog needs to have his ears checked by a veterinarian: Odour in the ear, head shaking or head tilt, scratching of the ear or area around the ear, brown, yellow, or bloody discharge, circling, pawing and scratching the head, crusts or scabs on inside of the outer ear. If your dog is showing any of the symptoms described above, he should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Ear infections can be very painful and if left untreated can harm both the ear canal and middle ear.
Treating Ear Infections
Most ear infections are cleared up simply with professional cleaning followed by medication at home. If there is only mild debris in the ear canals, simple disinfection and washing of the ear is adequate; however, in many cases, a full ear flush is needed to even examine the eardrum. A sample of ear discharge is commonly examined under the microscope to assist in selecting medications for home use. After a couple of weeks of home treatment, the ear canals are rechecked to be sure the infection is gone. In most cases this completes treatment but for stubborn cases, we must proceed to the next step. Some dogs have chronic ear problems in which the infection is not controlled by general medication or returns when general medication is discontinued. In these cases, the ear discharge should be cultured so that the precise organism can be pinpointed and treated specifically. Regular treatment at home with disinfecting ear washes should become part of the pet’s grooming routine.
How to prevent ear infection in dogs?
Check your dog’s ears regularly for abnormal discharge, odour and/or redness
If your dog’s outer ear appears dirty, clean gently with a cotton ball dampened with a solution suggested by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can make recommendations on how frequently you should clean your dog’s ears.
After baths and swimming, be sure to dry your dog’s ears thoroughly.
If your dog has excessive hair in the outer ear canal, it should be removed. A groomer can do this, or you can ask your veterinarian to show you the proper technique for removing the hair.
Written by Mehran Baroughi, DVM