Canine ear infections are most commonly associated with floppy-eared dogs like beagles and cocker spaniels, but all breeds are susceptible to this often quite painful condition. At any given time, 1-2 out of every 10 dogs are struggling with some form of ear disease, making it likely that your pet will experience one at some point.
Because early intervention is critical for preventing serious complications and hearing loss, it’s important that pet parents recognize the warning signs. Here’s what you need to know about treating and preventing ear infections in dogs.
Some ear infections may go undetected until you or your vet notice built-up wax or discharge from your dog’s ear. In most cases, however, the first sign of an infection is discomfort. Common symptoms include:
Canine ear infections are medically classified into three types: otitis externa, otitis media, and otitis interna.
Otitis externa refers to an infection of the outer, visible portion of the ear. If left untreated, the condition can progress to otitis media or interna, which are infections of the mid and inner ear, respectively. Otitis media and interna can threaten the delicate internal structures of dogs’ ears, causing (sometimes permanent) hearing loss and issues with balance.
In general, ear infections are the result of an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria. There are a few common situations that are likely to throw off the microbiome in your dog’s ears:
When it comes to ear infections, prompt, targeted treatment is crucial. Not only can worsening infections threaten your pet’s hearing, the scratching and head shaking that often accompany them put dogs at risk for painful aural hematomas — a condition that causes the ear flap to swell and fill with blood.
If you suspect an ear infection, visit your vet right away. Because treating the condition and preventing recurrences depends on identifying the underlying cause, it’s best to come armed with helpful information. Talk to your vet about your pet’s medications; exposure to potential allergens; and any recent swimming, bathing, or ear cleaning.
Depending on the results of the examination, your vet may sedate your dog for a thorough cleaning or prescribe medicated ear drops. To prevent infections from coming back or becoming medication-resistant, it’s important to follow instructions for home care exactly and finish the entire course of medication.
For dogs at average risk, keeping ears clean and dry and avoiding allergens are great steps toward keeping ear infections at bay. Unfortunately, some pets are predisposed to more frequent ear troubles.
Work with your vet to discuss products that can help control the buildup of yeast and moisture in your dog’s ears, and get instructions on proper home cleaning techniques. As with human ears, never attempt to use cotton swabs or other cleaning tools inside the ear canal — they can easily push wax and debris further into the ear and cause injuries that make infections more likely.