Ear infections in dogs are generally not difficult to detect. Some dogs can become extremely uncomfortable when suffering from an ear infection. There are also some breeds more prone to ear infection, especially those with long floppy ears. While dogs cannot tell us their ears hurt, there are several symptoms to look out for. And, depending on the cause of the ear infection, there are several ways to go about treating ear infections in dogs.
Symptoms of Ear Infections in Dogs
Ear infections in dogs can range from mild to quite severe. Symptoms most commonly seen with ear infections in dogs include:
- shaking the head
- scratching at the ears
- an odor from within the ear canal
- a discharge from within the ear canal
- redness and inflammation inside of the ear canal
- scabs and inflammation in the skin surrounding the ear
Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs
Ear infections in dogs can be caused by many different organisms, including:
- ear mites
Though ear mites are usually a contagious parasite which results from contact with another infected animal, yeast and bacterial infections often are secondary infections. Allergies to food, fleas or other items often play a role in the development of an ear infection for a dog and often result in secondary types of ear infections. Canine atopy also can predispose a dog to develop secondary ear infections.
Diagnosing Ear Infections in Dogs
The diagnosis of an ear infection in a dog will likely need to be made by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will need to examine your dog and take a closer look at your dog’s ears.
It will likely be necessary to examine samples collected from within your dog’s ear canals to determine the cause of the infection. Your veterinarian will examine these samples under a microscope, often using special stains to help identify yeast and bacterial organisms in the samples. This is known as an ear cytology study.
Additional diagnostic tests may be required also depending on the results of preliminary testing, the severity of the infection within your dog’s ears and the response of your dog’s ear infection to treatment. Additional tests may include:
- a culture and sensitivity of the discharge removed from your dog’s ears to further identify bacterial infections and determine which antibiotic or other medication may be best used to control the infection
- blood testing to rule out systemic disease which may contribute to ear disease
- radiographs or other imaging (MRI, CAT scan) of the tympanic bullae (a specific part of the ear of the dog)
Treatment for Ear Infections in Dogs
Treatment of your dog’s ear infection will depend to a large extent on the cause of the ear infection. Specific drugs may be used to target bacterial or yeast infections and may include:
- ketoconazole, itraconazole or similar drugs to treat yeast infections
- various antibiotics to treat bacterial infections
On occasion, anti-inflammatory medications, such as prednisone, prednisolone, dexamethasone, or another type of steroidal medication, may be needed to help reduce the inflammation within the ear canal of an infected ear. NSAID medications are sometimes used for this purpose as well.
Your dog’s infected ears will need to be cleaned and flushed properly at some point during the treatment process as well. Your veterinarian may recommend doing this immediately or may advise trying to reduce some of the inflammation in the ear before proceeding to a thorough clean and flush of the ear canal.
In addition, your veterinarian may need to sedate your dog to clean and flush the ear properly initially. Sedation may also allow your veterinarian to examine the tympanum (eardrum) of your dog’s ears more thoroughly. If the inner ear is involved in the infection, your veterinarian may need to use specialized techniques and equipment to flush the inner ear as well as the rest of the ear canal.
Treating Your Dog’s Ear Infection at Home
Be certain to follow your veterinarian’s instructions carefully in treating your dog’s ear infection. As part of the treatment for your dog’s ear infection, you may be required to:
- clean your dog’s ears
- apply topical medication to your dog’s ear canals
- give oral medications (drugs to kill yeast and/or bacteria, anti-inflammatory medications)
- administer medications to treat ear mites if present
Most ear infections can be cleared up with a round of medication. However, in severe and chronic ear infections, surgery may become necessary to ablate the ear canal and may be the only option available to keep your dog comfortable.