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Ear infections in dogs (Canine otitis)

What is an ear infection?

An ear infection is an inflammation of the external ear canal usually caused by a yeast or bacterial infection.

What are the symptoms of an ear infection?

Some or all of the following symptoms may indicate your dog has an ear infection and needs to be looked at by your vet:-

  • Scratching the ear or the area around the ear
  • Rubbing the ear on the floor or furniture
  • Shaking or tilting head
  • Walking in circles
  • Discharge from the ear
  • Odour from the ear
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Hearing loss

If an allergy is the primary cause of the ear infection, you would expect to see related symptoms such as wheezing, scratching and sneezing.

Where the cause is a yeast infection, you can also expect to see dry flaky skin in the ears, which may also have spread to the face and paws.

What are the causes of an ear infection?

Ear infections are generally caused by a bacterial infection, yeast infection or as a result of an allergic reaction to types of food, pollen or dust. Bacteria and yeast thrive in a warm, moist environment.   An ear infection can occur secondary to an allergic reaction which, in such a case, causes the ear canal to become inflamed, trapping moisture and providing perfect conditions for a yeast or bacterial infection to develop.

Due to the irritation caused by an infection, your dog may try to find relief by shaking his head. If an ear infection goes untreated and your pet continues to violently shake his head, he may develop an aural hematoma.  This is where a blood vessel in the ear flap bursts leaving a blood-filled sack under the skin of the ear lobe. This will have to be treated by your vet and may involve surgery.

If an ear infection is left untreated and spreads to the middle and inner ear your pet could suffer hearing loss, facial nerve paralysis and vestibular damage (affecting balance and eye movement). It is, therefore, very important that you take your pet to be checked out by the vet at the earliest sign of symptoms being shown.

What are the risk factors of an ear infection?

Both yeast and bacterial infections enjoy a moist, warm environment.  Certain breeds of dogs with long, floppy or hairy ears are prone to ear infections. Also, if your dog enjoys swimming this can add ear moisture and the likelihood of infection.

How are ear infections diagnosed?

If your dog is showing signs of an ear infection, take him to your vet at the earliest opportunity.  The vet will ask for details of any symptoms your pet has, conduct a physical examination and take an ear swab.  The swab will be examined under a microscope to determine if yeast or bacteria is present.

What treatment is there for an ear infection?

Your vet is likely to clean your dog’s ears and remove any excessive hair.  Ear drops are likely to be prescribed together with any antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatory and antifungal medication the vet feels is necessary to clear and relieve the symptoms of the infection.  You should also be shown how to clean your dog’s ears and be advised to do so regularly.

If the infection is a result of an allergic reaction the vet will also advise you on how to manage your dog’s allergies.

How to prevent ear infections

Regardless of the cause of the infection, the best thing you can do to prevent any reoccurrence of an ear infection is to regularly check and clean your pet’s ears. If it is felt that excessive hair in the ear canal is part of the problem, expect to be advised to pluck them every 2 months or so.  If you are not comfortable doing this, your pets groomer should be able to.