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Dog ear infection treatment

Ear Infections (Otitis) In Dogs

Dogs have a variety of reasons they tend to develop ear infections more often than people. The shape of the ear canal, hair in the ear canals, allergies, wax build-up, and moisture in the ears are all possible contributing factors. Continue reading to learn more about ear infections (called otitis), symptoms, diagnostic tests, treatments, and preventative care for your dog!

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Otitis Externa: The Most Common Type of Ear Infection in Dogs

This article is focusing on otitis externa, meaning ear infections in the ear canals and not the middle or inner ear (the parts behind the eardrum). Dogs have a very long ear canal compared to people. The ear canal dives down, then moves inward toward the skull, giving it an “L” or “J” shape. This means there is more surface area for wax to accumulate, moisture to get trapped, and infection to develop. There can even be foreign material trapped deep in the ear canal, like plant material or insects!

Moisture and excess wax give the normal yeast and bacteria in the ear material to feed on and overproduce, leading to inflammation, pain, odor, and discharge.

Ear mites also infect the ear canals and burrow into the skin, causing bleeding and pain.

Symptoms of Ear Infection (Otitis Externa) in Dogs

  • Shaking the head
  • Scratching the ears
  • Rubbing ears on the ground or other surfaces
  • Holding one or both ears lower than usual
  • Redness to the ear canal entrance
  • Yellow, brown, black, or pus-like discharge in the ear canals
  • Pain when the ear is touched

How to Tell if Your Dog Has an Ear Infection

If your pet is showing symptoms of an ear infection, they need to see their vet as soon as possible. The vet will take a sample of the discharge to evaluate under the microscope to look for ear mites, yeast, bacteria, and inflammatory cells. Your vet will also use an otoscope to look deep into the ear canal to be sure the eardrum is still intact and appears healthy. They can also look for any foreign material that may be present.

If there is too much wax and infected material in the ear, your dog may need to have the ears flushed and cleaned out at the vet clinic. This may require sedation as the ears can be very painful due to the infection and inflammation.

How to Treat Dog Ear Infections

Based on the ear exam and cytology test, appropriate medication will be started. Treatment is typically recommended for 2 to 3 weeks, then the ears need to be rechecked to ensure the infection has resolved.

Oral medications, like steroids, may be used to reduce pain and inflammation along with topical ear treatments.

Not all dogs tolerate ear medications at home, so discuss long-acting ointments that your vet can instill at the clinic that can stay in the ear for weeks.

Ear infections that recur or do not resolve with treatment may have an underlying allergy component or have a resistant strain of bacteria present. Your vet will discuss the next steps, often submitting a sample of the discharge for culture and sensitivity testing to ID the exact bacteria types that are present and determine which antibiotic is the next best option. Dogs with allergic otitis will have intermittent flare-ups and need to be on a consistent home ear cleaning routine and perhaps allergy medications and special diets to reduce the frequency of flare-ups.

Additional Information

There is a risk of deafness with dog ear medications. Certain antibiotics and steroids are more commonly implicated. This risk is higher if the eardrum is torn or ruptured. If you notice your dog is not hearing as well during treatment for an ear infection, let your vet know immediately. They will likely recommend stopping the medication and coming in to get the ear canal flushed out thoroughly with sterile saline to remove as much medication as possible. Luckily, this is often a temporary deafness and the hearing comes back in a few weeks to months.

Read more:

10 Facts About Your Dog’s Ears

What to Do if Your Dog Has a Wound on the Ear

Swelling of the Ear (Aural Hematoma) in Dogs and Cats

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