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It strikes insidiously, with a shake of their furry heads, a flip of their floppy ears: the dreaded ear infection in our doggo. Ear infections are quite common, can be very frustrating, and in the long run can cause permanent damage. It is always important to recognize the signs and symptoms of different ear infections, to treat the infection appropriately, and to prevent further infections in your pooch.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THEIR EARS
Ear infections can be caused by four different sources; correct treatment depends heavily on the source.
Bacterial infections are fairly common for those long, floppy-eared doggos who swim on a regular basis, and are similar to “swimmer’s ear” in humans. While wet ears are not the only cause of bacterial infections in dogs, it is one of the most common. Water becomes caught in the ear canal and brings bacteria who love the warm, dark, moist environment of your pup’s ear. The ear canal becomes irritated and red, the afflicted pup may shake his or her head around, and the pup may frequently scratch or rub at the affected ear. Without proper treatment, these infections can cause further damage and spread more deeply into the ear.
Treatment comes in many forms for these pesky bacterial ear infections depending on the actual bacteria growing, so it is important to consult your veterinarian if you think your pup has an infection.
Prevention is key for these types of infections, and there are a variety of ear rinse products on the market, but ultimately the goal is to keep your dog’s ears dry after a swim, to eliminate debris as needed, and to maintain an acidic environment within the ear to prevent bacteria growth. Dry, clean, and acidic ears are happy ears!
These pesky little guys are another common cause of ear infections, especially among puppies and dogs who have spent time in a dirty and/or crowded environment such as a pet store or a pound. Pups with ear mites will show the same symptoms (such as pawing at the ears or shaking their heads), with the addition of the presence of what looks like coffee grounds in the discharge of the ears (the ear wax). Ear mites produce waste that looks very similar to fine espresso grounds. Your veterinarian can examine the discharge to confirm the presence of mites, and again, there is a variety of products to eliminate the bugs on the market, but always trust your vet’s recommendations!
Prevention includes maintaining a clean environment for your dog, and keeping his or her ears clean on a regular basis.
Similar to a bacteria, yeast is a stubborn foe to face. This is another microbe that enjoys the moist, dark, warm environment of your doggo’s ears, but this one is a type of fungus rather than a bacteria. It is common with dogs who are blessed with long floppy ears or tight, deep ear canals. The difference between this infection and a bacterial infection is that yeast is notoriously difficult to get rid of and extremely resilient.
A key symptom of yeast infections is the odor; yeasty ears smell like raw dough or under cooked bread. My lab mix suffers from chronic yeasty ears, and it is quite a distinct smell! Just like with any suspected infection, the veterinarian will take a scraping of your dog’s ears to confirm a yeast infection and prescribe an anti-fungal either topically (aurally, or in the ears) or systemically (a medication taken by mouth).
Heads up! Yeast infections take longer to treat because this common fungus is so very resilient and adaptable. Diet can also play a key role in preventing yeast infections as yeast thrives on sugar and starches! Consulting your vet is a good idea if yeast infections are suspected, and sometimes local pet stores have excellent diet recommendations for low-sugar foods and treats.
My poor little lab suffers from these, and oh boy, do his ears react! Some dogs, just like people, cannot tolerate certain foods as well as most. For dogs, allergies can manifest as red and itchy ears. A key to determine the difference between an infection and an allergy is the discharge. With allergies, there may not be any discharge being emitted from affected ears, while with other infections, discharge is usually present. While there may not initially be discharge, keep in mind that infections can develop on top of allergies.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, consult your veterinarian if you think allergies are affecting your furry buddy. You can also help your pup by performing an elimination diet to try and discover what he or she may be reacting to. Common allergens are grains, poultry, additives, or environmental aspects (pollen, grass, etc…)
Always, always consult your trusty veterinarian for guidance and expertise! With some dietary changes and possibly some anti-histamines, your pup’s ears will stay just as healthy as the rest of him.
While ear infections can be extremely frustrating to both you and your pup, they can usually be easily treated or managed. My lab has terrible chronic yeast infections and multiple food allergies, so we have tried the gambit of ear infection treatments and he lives a happy life now! There are many different products on the market, and I’d be happy to share what we have found successful! Simply comment below and I can send you the links to our remedies.
Remember, dry ears, clean ears, a healthy diet, and consulting your veterinarian when there may be an issue are all key to keeping your furry friends’ floppies healthy, hearing, and happy!
Ears hoping you have a lovely day! 😉
Mohnaky Animal Hospital Staff
Interviewed in person by the author
Journal of Small Animal Practice
Canine Ear Disease
Fraser W. W. Gregor C. P. Mackenzie J. S. A. Spreull A. R. Withers
First published: December 1969 https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-5827.1969.tb04013.x
American Kennel Club
Dog Ear Infections: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention
Nov 24, 2015
Hailing from sunny Southern California, Brianna is a Registered Nurse, former dog foster mom, and Marine Corps spouse. She enjoys beach trips, hikes, and any other various adventures with her two rescue pups, Kibeth and Ajax, as well as writing or reading about anything canine.
Dogs give us the purest physical example of unconditional love and pure unadulterated joy in the world.