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Love Your Pet: Dog Ear Infections

One of the common sights we see at our hospital is dogs with ear infections.

Dogs are more prone to ear problems than are humans due to the shape of their ear canals. A dog’s ear canal is longer and vertical, so wax, debris and fluid are more likely to accumulate and can sometimes be hard to eliminate. Dogs with long, floppy ears, like Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels, can get ear infections more easily. We also see it more often in breeds with a lot of hair growth in the ear canals.

Signs that your furry loved one has an ear problem include shaking the head, scratching at the ears and a painful reaction when you touch around the pet’s head or ears. The ear canal may look red and have a lot of debris in it. Many times there is also a bad odor associated with an ear infection. Groomers are often quick to notice these things.

In people, an inner ear infection can cause dizziness or nausea. In dogs, this can be true also but is usually not noticeable. If your pet gets an inner ear infection, it can be very serious and cause facial paralysis and deafness.

The most common cause of ear infections we see is underlying allergies. The ear canal surface can become inflamed, and the heat from the inflammation can cause an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast. Other possible causes include ear mites or water or dirt getting in the ear. Some dogs will get an infection if too much water is left in the ear after a bath or swimming.

The most urgent cause of ear infections, however, usually occurs in the summer. Grass can become dry, and grass awns, called foxtails, can fall inside a pet’s ear. Foxtails can cause serious damage and pain. They have sharp points that fan out and are difficult to remove. Most of the time, we need to use sedation or an anesthetic to remove foxtails deep in the ear to try to avoid rupturing an eardrum.

The most common cause of ear infections we see is underlying allergies.

Other lesser causes of ear problems include autoimmune disease, a low thyroid level, and growths in the ear canal.

Prevention and early detection are key. If you notice signs that your dog is shaking his head, is in pain or has an odor coming from the head area, seek veterinary help. Besides the exam, we sometimes need to examine the discharge in your pet’s ear and culture it to start the best treatment. If your pet is in a lot of pain, you should not feed it before the examination since it may require some sedation for the exam and ear flushing.

In some cases, it helps to get x-rays of the skull to see the inner ear space. Most of our patients go home with an ear cleaner and topical medication to use in the ear canal. Some also have oral antibiotics or anti-fungal and pain medication. There is also a long-acting topical treatment that can be applied to your pet’s ear canal after it is cleaned out. Avoid using alcohol or hydrogen peroxide in your pet’s ears. Do not use any cotton swabs in the ear canal since this can push debris in further. If the ear canal becomes too damaged, surgery may be needed – but this is not common.

Call your veterinarian if you have any concerns. And keep your eyes on those ears!

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