Veterinarians see a multitude of ear infections each year. A common ailment, an ear infection will occur in most dogs at some point during their lives. When those ear infections become chronic or go untreated, your buddy could experience serious pain and could even lose his hearing. Do not delay treatment.
The Canine Ear
The canine ear is not linear like the human ear. A dog's ear canal is long, narrow and shaped like an L. The nearly 90-degree bend at the deepest part of your buddy's ear makes airflow difficult. With little ventilation, the canine ear canal is damp, dark and prone to bacterial and fungal growth.
Signs of Infection
Symptoms of an ear infection include ear-scratching, head-shaking, abnormal discharge, visible waxy buildup, a foul or yeasty smell, swelling, warm or hot ears, constant head-tilting, redness and inflammation, sores or crustiness in the ears, hair loss around the ears, thickening of the ear canal, painful ears, dizziness, hearing loss and loss of balance. Consult your veterinarian immediately if your dog shows any signs of an ear infection.
A multitude of environmental factors, organisms, foreign bodies and even excess hair can reduce airflow, irritate and inflame your dog's ears, leading to infection. Parasites such as fleas, lice, mites and ticks bite and irritate your pup's ears, causing him to dig and scratch. This creates a pathway for bacteria and fungi, yeast being the most common. Grasses, thorns and other plants are the most common infection-causing foreign objects. Bits can get lodged inside your dog's ear canals, causing irritation and inflammation and encouraging bacterial growth. Dogs prone to allergies are prone to ear inflammation and infection. Meanwhile, hot, humid weather or just a quick swim can create the moist, warm environment right for fungi and bacteria to flourish.
Though a dog of any breed can experience ear infections, breeds with heavy, low-hanging ears are predisposed. Beagles, spaniels, retrievers, basset hounds and dachshunds all have long ear flaps over their ear canals that foster dark, moist environments for bacteria and yeast. Breeds with excessively hairy ears such as poodles and schnauzers are at higher risk for ear infections.
If left untreated, canine ear infections will only get worse; they can leave lasting damage. Otitis externa, infection of the outer ear canal, can progress into otitis media, inflammation and infection of the middle ear. At this point the suffering dog's ears are thoroughly infected and swollen, with very narrow ear canals. The pain and itchiness associated with progressive ear infections are torture to your dog. Such infection can lead to completely blocked or ruptured eardrums.
Treatment and Prevention
Treatment first involves veterinarian-monitored ear cleaning. Your dog may need to be sedated if the procedure causes him pain. Once the ear canal is clean, your vet will apply topical medications to treat the underlying cause of infection. Oral medications such as antibiotics may be necessary depending on the severity of infection and whether or not a ruptured eardrum is present. Anti-inflammatory medications can help quell the inflammation and itchiness. Surgery is sometimes necessary in advanced cases. Regular ear cleaning and veterinary checkups can help prevent ear infections and catch allergic flare-ups quickly.
By Christina Stephens
About the Author
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.