Ear infections are one of the most common reasons dogs visit the vet. Therefore, it is worth every owner learning how to recognise, prevent and treat them. Just like in humans, a dog’s ear is made up of 3 parts: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The outer ear consists of the auricle and the ear canal, the middle ear is a space filled with air, while the inner ear, is the most complex part of the ear and contains the auditory nerve, the 3 semicircular canals and the cochlea.
Symptoms of ear infections in dogs
The fact that your dog is experiencing discomfort related to his ears is not difficult to notice. First of all, he often shakes his head and scratches the painful ear, whining and whimpering in the process. The dog may also rub against the floor or other objects to relieve the itching. The inside of the ear is also redder than usual and there is an unpleasant smelling discharge. It is important not to underestimate any worrying symptoms. Continued itching and scratching can lead to the formation of a haematoma. In addition, in cases of untreated external otitis, the inflammation spreads to the inner ear, resulting in the so-called vestibular syndrome. Untreated chronic otitis can eventually lead to deafness.
Otitis externa is chronic, inflammatory and affects the external ear canals. Certain breeds of dogs are characterised by an anatomical shape of the ears that is more prone to the development of infection. Examples include the basset or cocker spaniel. These beautiful dogs have large, heavy-hanging auricles that restrict airflow in the ear canals. Some quadrupeds (regardless of breed) may also have very narrow or hairy canals, which also impede the free flow of air. The warm, moist environment provides ideal conditions for bacteria to grow.
Ear mites living in the ear canals of dogs are extremely contagious and cause severe itching and intense scratching of the auricles, which can lead to bloody wounds, nodules and blisters. Mites can therefore be the cause of secondary bacterial or fungal infections. Other parasites that can contribute to ear inflammation in the dog are ringworm, scabies or ticks. It could also be a foreign body that has entered the dog’s ear, e.g. while bushwhacking in tall grass.
Food allergies or allergies to dust and pollen can also cause red and itchy ears in your dog. Inflammation in the ear canal can allow bacteria and fungi to multiply.
Often, the infection develops without a specific cause, which is very difficult to pick up and unequivocally identify. It may even be caused by excessive grooming (e.g. too frequent bathing or injuries caused by cotton buds and swabs used by owners to clean their dog’s ears). It is therefore worth observing and reacting to any potential symptoms of ear infection.
In the treatment of ear inflammation, targeted therapy is very important, as inflammation can be caused by fungi, yeasts or bacteria.
Treat the infection. Clean your dog’s ears regularly with a mild, targeted product, which will help remove secretions and excess wax. Your vet will prescribe drops, containing antibiotic and antifungal ingredients, to be administered into your dog’s ear canal once or twice a day (depending on the type of product) for about 2 weeks. Beforehand, however, an ear swab and an antibiogram should be performed to use the product with the antibiotic to which the bacterium is most sensitive. These drops, usually also contain an anti-inflammatory drug to help relieve pain and itching. It is very important to complete a full course of treatment. Otherwise, the infection is very likely to recur.
Treat the cause. Try to find out and get rid of the cause of your dog’s ear problems. If you don’t, the infection will likely return. To do this, look at your dog for allergies and/or remove excess hair from the ear canals. In dogs with an anatomical anomaly, surgical treatment of the ear canal may help, allowing for better drainage and airflow.
Short-haired dogs with erect ears, such as the Australian Shepherd Dog or German Shepherd Dog, and mixed breed dogs similar in appearance, are less likely to require additional ear care unless they have allergies that promote ear problems. In such dogs, allergy treatment usually makes the ear infection disappear.
If the dog has a hairy ear canal, excess hair can be removed from it. Do not do this if the dog is healthy. However, if the infection is a recurring problem, then removing the hair will make it easier for the medication to reach the ear canal.