Dog Ear Infection – Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, And Prevention

ear-infection-in-dogsAn ear infection is something that you are likely have to deal with at one time or another if you have a dog as a pet for any length of time. Having a little upfront knowledge about these infections can save you both time and money in the long run, and save your dog from having to deal with the discomfort and even pain some of the more common infections can cause. Knowing the more common causes of these infections can go a long way toward preventing many of them from happening in the first place. You should also be aware of the fact that some breeds are more prone to these infections than are others, so you might know what to expect from your own pet in this regard.

Knowing how it is possible to tell if your dog has an ear infection will often allow you or your vet to treat it before complications can set it. Your dog will often tell you, but you have to know what to watch for. Some infections can be treated at home; others should be left up to the vet to treat. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about dog ear infections (otitis). You will find the answers to be helpful in giving your pet the help it may need and certainly deserves.

Before asking and answering these questions, a brief look at the anatomy of a dog’s ear can prove helpful.

The Anatomy of a Dog’s Ear

Of primary concern here is an infection in the outer ear of a dog. As is the case with humans, dogs have an outer, a middle, and an inner ear. The geometry of a dog’s outer ear is quite different from that of a human’s however, and it is that difference in geometry that often can be the source of a problem. The outer canal of the human ear is, for the most part, horizontal. If a human gets something in his or her organ of hearing, whether it is water, a foreign object, or simply an excess of wax, it can usually be cleared out without too much difficulty.

dog-listeningThe canine external auditory canal is different. In a dog, the ear canal initially descends vertically (or, in some cases, at a 45 degree angle), takes a sharp turn, and then proceeds in a horizontal direction until the eardrum is reached. It is the vertical portion of the external auditory canal that can allow substances, including water, to accumulate in the horizontal segment of the canal. Most dogs are very good at shaking their heads rather violently, which often clears the external auditory canal out. That may not always be the case however, especially for those dogs that have an earflap, called the pinna, that has a tendency to allow whatever may be in the auditory canal that doesn’t belong there to stay there.

What Are The Most Common Causes of Otitis In Dogs?

The most common causes of dog ear infections are bacteria and fungi, but it’s really necessary to take a step back to see how bacteria or fungi are allowed to accumulate in a dog’s external auditory canal in the first place. The four most common causes of infection are trapped water, ear mites, a foreign body in the ear, and an allergy. Secondary causes include hypothyroidism and an accumulation of earwax. In many cases, infections are preceded by inflammation. Scratching the pinna can sometimes lead to a secondary infection, but if yeast or bacteria are involved and allowed to multiply, infections can be expected to occur without the dog’s claws helping matters along.

dog-bathWater Accumulation – Dogs that are taken for frequent swims or are bathed frequently are more prone to developing infections. The skin that forms the walls in the outer ear canal is naturally rather dry, even though it is lubricated by oils. If water becomes trapped in the horizontal segment of the ear canal, the combination of warmth and moisture can make the canal an ideal place for bacteria or fungi to thrive. The situation is likely to be even worse if the dog’s hearing organ is a floppy type, where the flap covers the external auditory meatus and does not allow it to dry out.

Bacteria and Yeast – There is always a presence of bacteria and yeast in a dog’s outer ear, but they are both normally kept in check. If conditions allow them to multiply, or if some foreign pathogen enters the external auditory meatus, the result can be an infection. Malassezia is the most common type of yeast infection in a dog’s ears, while bacterial infections are usually caused by staphylococci and pseudomonas.

Mites – Otodectes cynotis mites, or ear mites, are a fairly common occurrence in dogs. There are several different types of mites than can take up residence in your dog’s organ of hearing, but in most cases, it is O. cynotis that is the source of the problem. While these mites generally go about minding their own business by feeding on earwax and oil secretions, they have a habit of causing both irritation and infections. These infections usually result in a brown discharge, which, in some cases, can block the external auditory meatus.

Why Are Some Breeds of Dogs More Susceptible to Otitis Than Others?

It is natural to assume that breeds having floppy ears would be more prone to ear infections, and that assumption is a correct one. There are two additional reasons why some breeds are more apt to experience otitis than others.

beagleFloppy Ears – The term used to describe a floppy type of ear is pendulous ear. Pendulous or floppy, the shape can create problems that have already been mentioned. The pinna covering the meatus can make it harder for any canine to dislodge foreign objects and will also tend to keep water that has accumulated in the auditory canal warm and bacteria or yeast-friendly. The longer the flap, the more prone the breed is to having a problem. Breeds having pendulous ears include Basset Hounds, Bloodhounds, Beagles, Irish Setters, Cocker Spaniels, and one breed that can spend a lot of time in the water, the Labrador Retriever.

Allergies – Almost any breed of dog can have an allergy or two, but there are some breeds that for whatever reason seem more prone to having them. These are mainly food allergies, but hay fever and food insensitivities can also be a cause of otitis. If you have one of the breeds that is prone to having allergies, the best protection is usually one of avoidance; keeping the animal away from whatever it appears to be particularly sensitive to. Breeds that are known to be prone to allergic reactions are Dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, and German Shepherds.

poodleHair in the Ears – Some breeds have a great deal of hair on the inside of their ears and other breeds have little or none. The obvious concern with hairy ears is that foreign bodies that can cause infections can more easily be lodged in the animal’s ear. Dogs having an abundance of hair around their sound-detecting organs can have a problem as well, but the breeds having hair in or at the entrance of the external auditory meatus are the ones that are most prone to ear infections, and these are Poodles, Schnauzers, the Bichon Frise, and the Lhasa Apso.

How Can You Tell if Your Dog Has an Ear Infection?

In most cases, if your dog has an ear infection, it will tell you, at least indirectly. When the lining of a dog’s ear canal has become inflamed, irritated, or infected, the dog will usually try to do something about it. That something usually takes the form of head shaking, scratching, or rubbing. These are the more common ways of finding out there is a problem since not too many dog owners check the ears of their pets on a regular basis. It would be somewhat unusual for a dog to completely ignore an infection unless that infection is not causing any discomfort. You can also look for discharges, redness in the skin, or, in some cases, swelling. If there is a discharge, it will often be brown (usually caused by mites), yellow, or bloody.

In instances of a more serious infection, the ear or ears may have a distinct odor, or crusted skin may have formed near the flap. In severe cases, which can indicate the infection has progressed to the middle or inner ear, the dog may exhibit balance problems, walk in circles, or exhibit an indication that there has been some hearing loss. If it is at all apparent that the infection is a severe one, the dog should always be taken to a veterinarian for treatment.

How Are Dog Ear Infections Treated?

dog-ear-problemIn many instances, simply cleaning the ear out will be sufficient, especially if the infection is due to a foreign object or trapped water. It still may be necessary to administer anti-bacterial or anti-fungal medication. In most cases, this medication is administered topically, but it is always best to check with a veterinarian to see what is safe or appropriate to put in the dog’s ear. If the eardrum has been ruptured or damaged, the veterinarian should decide the course of treatment. Once treated, a damaged eardrum will normally heal within a few weeks, but in the meantime, let the veterinarian determine what should be used to flush out the ear or medically treat the infection.

Are There Ways to Prevent Ear Infections in Dogs?

dog-with-stethoscopeGiving your dog a healthy diet and keeping its surroundings, especially its bedding hygienically sound can go a long way towards avoiding ear infection problems. The real secret, of course, is to know the more common causes and avoid them whenever possible. An indoor dog is much less likely to have ear infection problems than an outdoor dog, especially where ear mites and moisture are concerned. Some breeds should not be bathed or taken for a swim too often; others who are subject to allergies might benefit from eating dog food that is recommended by a veterinarian. Giving your pet a routine inspection can help, too. A routine inspection may not always prevent an infection from occurring, but can at least keep one from getting out of hand.

Paying prompt attention to any unusual behavior is important, too. Your dog may give you some indication of irritation in its ears before an infection has had the opportunity to take hold. A periodic gentle cleansing of the ear will also help. Ask your veterinarian the best way to go about cleaning your dog’s ear in a manner it will most easily tolerate.

In some ways, dogs are a little like houseplants except they tend to be a lot more affectionate. No matter how closely you attend to your houseplants, they can suddenly come down with leaf drop, wilting, or an infestation of aphids or spider mites, just as your canine pal can come down with a case of mites, or an infection from some unknown source. The good news is that if an invasion or an infection in your dog is caught early on, it is usually easily treatable.

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