Ear infections are common in dogs, especially those who have floppy ears. This can be irritating and painful for your dog. However, proper care, treatment, and prevention measures can help keep your dog’s ears free from infection.
But first, what exactly is an ear infection and how do you know if your dog has it? What are the signs to look out for and what should you do if you start noticing them?
This article was reviewed by our expert veterinarian, Chris Vanderhoof (DMV).
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Ear Infection?
According to research, an ear infection can be defined as excess bacteria or yeast inside your dog’s ear. Often, this is due to an underlying issue such as your dog having ear mites, skin allergies, too much cleaning, wax buildup, and growths.
Usually, ear infection cases only affect the ear canal’s outer layer. However, the infection may go deeper if it isn't addressed, possibly reaching your dog’s middle ear or further into your inner ear.
Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs
The anatomy of a dog’s ear is characterized by a more vertical ear canal than that of humans. Because of this, dogs are more susceptible to ear infections. Most of the time, ear infections are a result of yeast, bacteria, or both. Ear mites may also be a cause of infection when it comes to puppies.
Among the factors that may make your dog more prone to ear infections are:
- Moisture in the ear, which may lead to an increase in the growth of bacteria and yeast;
- Allergies. 50% of dogs who have skin diseases and 80% of dogs who have food allergies develop ear infections;
- Having an autoimmune disease;
- Having endocrine disorder (ex. thyroid disease);
- Foreign bodies in the ear;
- A buildup of wax;
- Ear canal damage;
- Too much cleaning of the ears.
Types of Dog Ear Infections
These are tiny, microscopic parasites that may make their way to your dog’s ear. When you view an ear mite with a microscope, you will probably see a tiny 8-legged parasite.
Ear mites like staying in dogs’ ear canals, which may lead to inflammation and infection. Cats and dogs are commonly affected by the mite Otodectes cynotis, which is a type of mange. These tiny parasites feed on the oils and wax on your dog’s ear and may cause constant itching.
Even if they are called ear mites, they can also spread around other parts of a dog’s body. And while the parasites don’t actually bite your dog’s skin, they can cause serious secondary damage if not addressed early on. And since ear mites can spread quickly, it is advised to have your dog checked by the vet and treat it as soon as it is diagnosed so as not to cause your dog further irritation, pain, and hair loss.
Another cause of ear infections in dogs is a yeast infection due to a fungus called Malassezia pachydermatis. This is common, and if ever it affects your dog, a few such fungi may be present in the outer ear canal and superficial cutaneous parts of your dog's ear.
Malassezia pachydermatis is commonly associated with Malassezia dermatitis, which is usually secondary to skin conditions such as allergies, endocrine diseases, and bacterial pyoderma.
Note from Dr. Vanderhoof: Malassezia dermatitis does not occur secondary to bacterial pyoderma, but may develop at the same time for the same underlying reasons.
Dogs that have demodectic mange are more susceptible to dog ear yeast infection because of the damage caused to the skin by the mange mite.
Symptoms of Dog Ear Infections
There are dogs that don't exhibit symptoms apart from having wax buildup and a discharge in their ear canal. On the other hand, many dogs with ear infections experience discomfort and exhibit the symptoms below:
- Ear scratching;
- Shaking their heads;
- A brownish or dark discharge;
- Inflamed ear canal;
- Foul odor;
- Scabs or crusts in their ears.
When it comes to finding out if your pet has particular health conditions such as ear infections, an interactive pet camera such as the Petcube Cam would be helpful to catch the symptoms early on. The Petcube Cam enables you to keep tabs on your pet all the time so you know whether something’s amiss.
If your dog exhibits any of the symptoms above, it is best to bring them to the vet to be checked as early as possible. And if it is confirmed that your dog has an ear infection, treatment would be needed not just to ease your dog's discomfort/pain, but also to prevent the infection to spread further into their ear. Before trying anything at home, be sure to consult with your vet first to make sure that it is safe.
When consulting with your vet, remember to be prepared with the information needed regarding your dog’s medical history as well as the symptoms they’re experiencing. Among the questions that your vet might ask are:
- When did your dog start to experience symptoms such as head-shaking, itchiness, pain, swelling, odor, and discharge?
- Is your dog currently on any medication?
- Does your dog have underlying medical conditions?
- Does your dog have allergies?
- What is your dog’s current diet?
- How often do you clean the ears of your dog and do you use any products to do so?
- What were your dog’s recent activities?
- Did your dog already have an infection before? When was that and what was the treatment given?
After getting to know your dog’s history, your vet will perform physical examinations to obtain a more complete diagnosis. Both ears will be examined, and the examinations may include the following:
- Check for swelling, redness, or discharge;
- Pressing the ear gently to determine the pain level;
- Using an otoscope in order to study your dog’s ear canal as well as eardrum;
- Swabbing their ears and using a microscope to check the swabs;
- Samples for bacterial culture of your dog's ears in your dog’s ears;
- Sedation / X-rays / Biopsies in severe cases.
How To Prevent Ear Infections in Dogs?
Like what they say, prevention is better than cure. So how can we prevent ear infections in dogs? For one thing, a common cause of ear infection in dogs is too much moisture in the ear, so making sure to dry out their ears after taking a bath or swimming may help prevent that.
Meanwhile, if your dog has recurring ear infections, it is important to determine and manage the underlying conditions such as allergies or skin conditions in order to prevent the recurrence of any infections.
Regular cleaning of your dog’s ears may also help prevent the occurrence of ear infections. An option is to use a dog ear cleaning solution by filling the ear canal with it and gently massaging it. Using an absorbent gauze, wipe the canal.
Avoid using cotton or paper towels as this may cause irritation in your dog’s ear. Cotton buds may be used in cleaning the external flaps of your dog’s ears, but don’t use them in the ear canals because this may push dirt and debris further inside the ear canal.
Note from Dr. Vanderhoof: Pushing a Q-tip/cotton tipped applicator too deep can damage the sensitive ear drum.
It is common in dogs to have ear infections (many of which are recurrent), but with your vet’s guidance, you can help keep your dog’s ears free from infection, thus preventing discomfort and pain which are common symptoms of ear infections.
If you detect signs that your dog may have an ear infection, contact your vet immediately to consult how it can be addressed, and prevent the condition from becoming a serious issue.
Having the support you need when it comes to your dog’s health is essential. Petcube’s Pet Emergency Fund offers the best pet insurance alternative without breaking the bank to help you protect your pet in case they get sick. Not only that, but it also gives you access to the Online Vet service that allows you to talk to licensed vets 24/7.
How to treat a dog ear infection without a vet?
Ear infections must be given the proper treatment to prevent the spread and further damage to your dog’s ear. Not to mention, the discomfort it might be causing them. With this, it is important to consult with your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
While there may be some home remedies that can help eliminate and prevent infections, it is important to consult with your vet first to know whether it is safe to use.
One home remedy for a dog ear infection is an apple cider vinegar and water solution, which is said to help treat a dog ear infection but do consult with your veterinarian first to make sure that it is safe and if it can be used in conjunction with other medications or treatments.
What are the options for dog ear yeast infection treatment?
If the yeast infection affects your dog’s outer ear canal, a topical antifungal ointment or cream may be prescribed by your veterinarian. Among the common antifungal medications that are said to be effective are miconazole and ketoconazole.
If the infection affects the middle ear canal, injections or tablets may be given. In some cases, surgery may be needed. Also, it may take up to 6 weeks for the infection to be fully healed. Full cleaning of your dog’s ear canal may also be suggested by your vet. Special cleaning and ear-drying solutions may also be recommended.
Is brown discharge a dog ear infection symptom?
Brown discharge may be a sign of a dog ear infection, especially if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as odor, inflammation, and itchiness, among others. For a proper diagnosis, have your dog checked with a veterinarian and discuss the treatment options available.