Hard to Hear: The Facts of Canine Ear Infections

While ear infections are pesky conditions that affect many species, dogs are especially at risk because of the shape of their ear canals.

Dr. Lori Teller, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that diagnosis and treatment should always be handled by a veterinarian, but dog owners should still be informed on the nature of this condition to keep their furry friend in tip-top shape.

“There are multiple causes of ear infections (otitis externa), including allergies (most common), ear mites, a foreign body (this can include polyps or neoplasia), excess hair in the ear canal, anatomic changes in the ear canal, excess moisture in the ear canal, injury, immune-mediated diseases, endocrine disease, and excessive cleaning,” Teller said. “Any of these causes allow for bacteria and/or yeast to overgrow in the ear, leading to the infection.”

Symptoms of canine ear infections include head shaking, scratching at or rubbing the affected ear, discharge, bad odor, redness inside the ear, swelling of the ear canal, pain, itchiness, and crusts or scabs inside the ear or along the ear margin. Owners who suspect that their dog may be suffering from an ear infection should seek veterinary help immediately, as these infections can become more severe if left untreated.

Once diagnosed, your dog’s treatment plan will depend on what caused the ear infection in the first place.

Teller said that topical ointments may be used to treat bacteria and yeast present in the canal. Severe infections or those involving the middle or inner ear canal may be treated with oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. Medicated ear cleansers to clear away discharge and debris from the infected canal may also be prescribed.

“Dogs that develop ear infections frequently will need to have the underlying cause addressed,” Teller said. “Some may require therapies to control allergies. If a food allergy is a cause of the problem, then switching to a hypoallergenic or limited-ingredient diet may prevent future problems. It is very important to work with your veterinarian before switching your dog’s diet.”

Dogs that swim frequently are also more prone to ear infections, and special care should be taken by owners to appropriately clean and dry their pet’s ears after being in the water. Cotton swabs should never be used in the inner canal of a dog’s ear. Teller also advised that dog owners should not allow other dogs to lick their pet’s ears.

To diagnose your pet, a veterinarian might sample ear discharge or look through the ear canal to observe the state of the eardrum. Your dog may need to be sedated for this procedure, depending on the situation.

Although the prospect of a canine ear infection may be daunting, timely veterinary intervention can prevent permanent damage from occurring. Proper care will have your pooch back to their super-hearing self in no time!

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

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