Ear infections are a very common medical condition for our canine friends. Some dogs may never experience one throughout their whole life whereas for other dogs it feels like a never ending problem.
Ear infections can be caused by a number of things and some dog breeds are more prone to them than others.
In today’s lesson we focus on the prevention of this condition, how to recognize it and when you should contact your veterinarian.
Now, what exactly is an ear infection?
To start with, you have to understand that there are 3 possible locations for an ear infection to take place. The first one, and also the most common one, is located in the external ear. This type of ear infection is also called “Otits Externa”.
An external ear infection happens when the cells covering the external ear get inflamed. The inflammation can be caused by:
Foreign bodies (for example dirt)
These factors, also called as primary factors, and multiple predisposing factors can cause the secondary infections, such as bacteria and yeast, to start multiply in the external ear causing the infection.
This means that not all the ear infections are caused by bacteria and might not need antibiotics as treatment! The majority of ear infections are located in the external parts of the ear.
However, sometimes the middle ear gets infected as well. This is called “Otitis Medialis” and it can become a chronic condition.
The infection may have spread from the external ear. This can happen when the eardrum (tympanic membrane) ruptures. The infection of the middle ear is more severe and needs early diagnosing and treatment.
Inner ear infections, also called Otitis Interna, are very rare in dogs.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the possible causes.
Allergies can be classified as food allergies or atopic dermatitis (contact allergies)Some dog breeds are more prone for food allergies than others. If you realize that your dog gets frequent ear infections, and perhaps has itchy paws, he might have a food allergy.
You should try feeding hypoallergic food, given that your veterinarian has not prescribed a diet. If your dog is on a hypo-allergic diet, remember not to give normal treats. You’ll be paying for a expensive diet without results!
Anatomical structure of the ear
Big, floppy ears are more likely to get an ear infection than small and pointy ears.
Small ear canals are more prone to it as well. Especially brachycephalic dogs such as bulldogs. Some dog breed owners should clean their dogs ears on a regular basis, depending on how much discharge the ears collect.
When the ear canal has a lot hair in it, there is a higher risk for infections. Some dog breeds might need plucking or trimming of the external ear. However, you should consult your veterinarian first because sometimes hair plucking can cause inflammations.
Excessive moisture – cleaning, swimming and washing
Especially warm and wet conditions cause yeast to multiply in the ear canal. This causes infections. You should avoid excessive cleaning of ears, avoid water splashing into the ear while washing the dog and properly dry the ears after swimming. Especially dogs with long floppy ears can’t handle water.
Their anatomical structure makes it hard to dry them.
Obstructions such as cysts and tumors
Ear infections can range from very mild to severe with neurological problems. When the ear infection is mild to moderate, your dog is likely to feel uncomfortable and perhaps in pain. You’ll notice from your dog’s behavior that something is off:
When his head is tilted to one side on a regular basis
When he’s trying to scratch his head and ears to objects such as furniture
When he scratches the ear more than usual
When he shakes his head a lot
When you have a closer look at the ear, you'll find that:
You can see a discharge inside the ear (often black-ish)
It smells bad
The ear is losing hair
The ear is red inside
If the condition gets worse and your dog starts to show neurological signs, you should go to your veterinarian immediately!
Watch out for the following neurological signs:
Moving around in circles
Extreme head tilt
In order to prevent ear infections, you should check your dog’s ears on a regular basis. As a general rule, your dog’s ears only need to be cleaned where there is dirt or water in them.
However, if you know that your dog is prone to ear infections, or has a medical history related to it, cleaning the ears on a regular basis is recommended. Follow the instructions below and your dog will be thankful!
Use only products specifically made for cleaning your dog’s ears. Ask your veterinarian or trusted pet-supply store for information.
Step 1: Squirt the cleaning product into the ear canal. Your dog WILL shake its head so squirting too much product into the ear canal is nearly impossible.
Step 2: Gently massage the base of the ear so you can hear the solution “squishing”
Step 3: Clean the excessive product using cotton pads. You can then repeat massaging the base of the ear while cleaning the debris, discharge and excessive product out of the ear.
Note: You should not clean your dog’s ears too often. If your dog has predisposing factors it is good to clean the ears every 2 weeks or as often as recommended by your veterinarian.
Dogs with pointy ears, no predisposing factors and no history of ear infections don’t need ear cleaning, unless you notice that the ear is dirty. NB! Never use cotton tips (q-tips) to clean your dog’s ears.
Note: If your dog experiences neurological symptoms such as circling, head tilt or disorientation, please contact your veterinarian immediately
Ear infections are a painful condition. When you notice signs of an ear infection (as described earlier) you should contact your veterinarian. It is important that the veterinarian takes samples of the ear to determine possible secondary infections and thus it is important that the ears have not been cleaned or put any product prior to going to the veterinarian.
Even if your dog never gets ear infections and the ears don’t require cleaning, it is recommended to teach them to tolerate looking and touching the pinna and the inside the ears.
When your dog gets a sudden ear infection and you need to go to the vet, you should use an Elisabeth’s collar. This will prevent the dog from scratching the ear and causing more damage while you make your way to the veterinary hospital.
Thank you for staying with me, I hope you've learned some useful information.
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