7 Things You Need to Know About Ear Infections in Dogs

Dogs’ ears are one of the most sensitive parts of their bodies. They are also vulnerable to a variety of issues, most commonly, ear infections. All dogs’ ears have an internal shape that allows water, wax, dust, dirt, and any other object that will fit in there to collect and fester. This makes them vulnerable to ear infections.

Dogs’ ears are one of the most sensitive parts of their bodies. They are also vulnerable to a variety of issues, most commonly, ear infections. All dogs’ ears have an internal shape that allows water, wax, dust, dirt, and any other object that will fit in there to collect and fester. This makes them vulnerable to ear infections. Some dogs are more susceptible than others because of the type of ears they have. No matter the breed, size, or age of your dog, being familiar with the signs and symptoms of an ear infection is a good idea. An ear infection that goes unrecognized and therefore untreated, can lead to chronic ear infections and ultimately, permanent hearing issues. Here are 7 things you need to know about ear infections in dogs:

What are the Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs?

I am neither a veterinarian nor a medical professional. The information in this article has been researched and sourced at the end of the post. All medical issues or questions regarding your pet’s health or symptoms should always be brought to the attention of your veterinarian for clarification, assessment, advice and treatment.

There are several ways that a dog’s inner ears can become irritated which eventually leads to a painful infection. One of the most common causes is dampness that is not properly dried. When the water remains in the ear, the dampness causes bacteria to grow, and infection sets in.

This initial infection occurs in the outer ear (Otitis Externa) but according to pets.webmd.com, is, 

“usually a secondary development in up to 50% of chronic otitis externa cases.”

While water seems to be the leading source of ear infections, your dog may have many other irritants causing the infection to set in. Other causes to be aware of are:

Ear Mites – small parasites that are found on the surface of the skin in the dog’s ears. Ear mites are contagious to other pets through direct contact.

Yeast – mostly caused by dampness or humidity. Other causes are related to the consumption of grains, sugar and taking antibiotics.

Dust, dirt, and debris – when small particles become trapped in the dog’s ear, it can cause irritation that leads to infection.

Polyps – bumps that grow in the ear. They can be brought on by allergies, or excessive amounts of earwax that causes the ear to become irritated and inflamed. Polyps develop causing a blockage or partial blockage in the ear, making it easy for fluids to become trapped, leading to bacterial or yeast growth.

Ultimately. All dogs are susceptible to contracting ear infections given their surroundings, but they are especially problematic for dogs with floppy ears, including:

Golden Retriever face with ears hanging.
Dogs with floppy ears are prone to ear infections. Photo by: M. Shea

Basset Hounds

Beagles

Cocker Spaniels

Dachshunds

Saint Bernards

Poodles

Afghans

Golden Retrievers

This is because the ear covers the ear canal keeping the area moist, resulting in bacterial or yeast growth.  

Is Grooming Associated With Ear Infections?

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There is definitely a connection between grooming your dog and ear infections. Because your dog is being bathed while at a groomer, the likelihood of water becoming trapped in the ear is a distinct possibility. A professional groomer who is properly trained to bathe a dog will watch for this and will address it.  

Cleaning your dog’s ears should be part of the grooming process. While the groomer is removing the excess fur in the ear canal, they will be careful to avoid any debris falling into the ear canal and will gently wipe any wax build-up from the area with a cloth.  

Both of these situations, if not done properly, could result in water or fur entering the canal and a build-up of wax that could block the debris and moisture in.

This is why you should be sure to use a well-trained groomer to care for your dog. It may seem like a simple task, but bathing and grooming your dog requires a skilled professional to avoid issues related to the grooming process.

Can Swimming Cause Ear Infections In Dogs?

Just as with bathing, swimming can cause water to enter the ear canal and become trapped. This is known as Swimmer’s Ear. When your dog is swimming he may put his head underwater. Even if your dog’s head appears to stay above the water line, waves splash up around your dog’s head and can enter the ear canal. If you are spending the day at the beach, water is not the only concern. Sand and debris can easily enter then ear canal and become stuck.

Dogs who are prone to ear infections will be more susceptible to Swimmer’s Ear, but it can occur in any dog after a day at the beach. Cleaning your dog’s ears with a Veterinary approved ear cleaner will help to clear out dirt, sand, or debris and will help to evaporate any remaining fluids left in the ear canal.

The following video demonstrates how to use ear cleaning solutions and supplies safely and effectively when caring for your dog’s ears:

Video from: Forever Home Initiative

What Are The Symptoms of Your Dog’s Ears Being Infected?

When a dog’s ears become irritated, they will begin showing signs of discomfort. Your dog may begin to shake her head repeatedly or scratch at the affected ear. Some dogs may rub their heads along the ground in an effort to ease the itching and burning.  

As the infection progresses, the dog may wince or pull away from you when you touch the ear area. If you look into the ear, you may see red skin inside the ear flap, dark-colored fluid coming from inside the ear canal and there may be a foul odor emanating from the ear.

Inside of a Golder Retriever's ear showing redness and irritation
Ears may become red and irritated.
Photo by: M. Shea

If you see any of these indicators, you should visit the vet immediately to have your dog checked out by a professional.

How Does the Vet Test Your Dog For a Potential Ear Infection?

The vet will inspect the dog’s outer ear, looking for visible signs of infection. Then she will use a tool called an otoscope to look into the ear canal to see if there are any obstructions and to ensure that the eardrum has not been damaged or perforated.  

A sample of the discharge from the ear may be collected to learn the cause of the infection.

What Kind of Medication Will Your Vet Prescribe?

Depending on the type of infection, the vet may prescribe medicated drops, topical cream, or a prescription ear cleanser to treat the infection. Something that has been lodged in the ear canal and is causing the infection, may have to be removed surgically.

What Happens if Your Dog’s Ear Infection Goes Untreated?

Aside from the severe pain your dog will experience, untreated ear infections will cause permanent damage to your dog’s hearing. In severe cases, the damage may result in deafness. Your dog could also experience a permanent loss of balance as ear functionality is directly related to equilibrium. 

Many DIY, home remedies, and natural methods suggested for use in treating ear infections, can cause more harm than good. Some cause skin irritations, others might exacerbate the problem by leaving dampness in the ear canal.

A veterinarian or a professional Naturopath, if you prefer, will provide your dog with the best treatment methods.

Summary

A dog’s ears are complex and sensitive. Caring for your dog’s ears is a vital part of your dog’s wellness routine. It is important to be aware of symptoms of ear pain and discomfort. Seek treatment immediately if your dog appears to be uncomfortable, especially after swimming or bathing. Using veterinary recommended ear cleaners can help to prevent buildup in the ear canal that can cause blockage or bacteria to grow.

Protecting and caring for your dog’s ears will prevent permanent damage that will affect their lifestyle. 

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