Dog chronic ear infection

Why does my dog keep getting ear infections?

The anatomy of a dog’s ears is unique. They have long ear canals with horizontal and vertical “branches”, that create a J or L shape where debris can easily be trapped and moisture can accumulate. This can increase a dog’s risk of developing ear infections. If your dog has chronic or recurrent ear infections, keep reading to learn how you can help your canine friend.

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Types of Ear Infections in Dogs

Ear infections are listed as among the 6 most common health problems in dogs.

The ears of a healthy dog do not have an abnormal buildup of ear wax and/or debris. A small population of bacteria and yeast are normal inhabitants of the outer ear canal. When something upsets the condition of the ear canals, the microbial population overgrows and causes an infection.

A dog’s ear canal is divided into the outer/external ear, middle ear, and inner ear. There are 3 types of ear infections in dogs; they are classified based on the location.

  • Otitis externa - inflammation of the outer ear canal
  • Otitis media - inflammation of the middle ear canal
  • Otitis interna - inflammation of the inner ear

Among the 3 types of ear infections in dogs, otitis externa is the most common because it occurs in the part of the ear that is most exposed to the environment.

Inflammation causes the infected ears to become painful, reddish, and develop an offensive odor. There may be a black or yellowish discharge from the ears. These changes usually result in increased cerumen (wax) production along the external ear canal, which contributes to an increase in local humidity and pH of the external ear canal, thus predisposing the ear to secondary infection. In severe cases, a dog may tilt his head towards the infected ear. This can indicate a more serious infection that may have affected the nervous system. Hearing loss or balance issues are often seen in otitis media or interna.

Ear infections can be quick in onset (acute) or chronic and recurrent. They can occur in one or both ears.

Chronic ear infections are characterized by the formation of crusts or thickening of the ear canals. This can cause the narrowing of the ear passages. If anti-inflammatory medications fail to address the swelling of the ear tissues, your vet may recommend surgery, the most common of which is “lateral ear resection”.

Are certain breeds prone to ear infections?

Some dog breeds are more prone to developing ear infections. These dogs tend to possess certain characteristics, such as the shape of their ears or ear conformation. Genetics has also been shown to be an important predisposing factor in some dogs.

Long, Floppy Ears

Dog breeds with ears that are long and floppy commonly get chronic ear infections. These dogs may also have a higher number of glands that produce earwax (ceruminous glands) compared to other breeds. Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, Basset Hounds, and Setters are just some of the breeds that possess these characteristics.

Small Ear Canals

Bulldogs, Chow Chows, and the Chinese Shar-Pei are just some of the canine breeds with narrow ear canals. This anatomical feature predisposes them to ear inflammation and infection.

Dog Breeds Prone to Allergies

While allergies can affect any breed of dog, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Boston Terriers, and Shih Tzus are just some of the dog breeds that tend to be more prone to allergies and sensitivities that can pave the way for chronic or recurrent ear infection.

Breeds with Excess Hair in the Ear Canals

Some dogs like the Bichon Frise, Shih Tzu, and Poodle have excess hair in their ear canals which can create a favorable environment for yeast and bacteria to thrive. Excess hair can prevent proper airflow that keeps the ear canal dry, as well as trap dirt, debris, and excess ear wax.

Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs

There is a long list of causes of ear infections in dogs. In many cases, an underlying problem compromises the normal protective barrier of the ears. Moisture in the ears also creates a favorable environment for bacteria and yeast to multiply and cause infection.

Some of the most common causes of ear infections in dogs include:

Dog Ear Infection Symptoms

Pain and itching are prominent symptoms of ear infections. To relieve the pain and discomfort, many dogs will scratch at their ears and shake their heads vigorously. Doing so can cause blood vessels in the ear flap to rupture and leak blood causing pain and swelling to the ears.

Other symptoms include:

  • Ear discharge that may have a strong foul odor
  • Excessive buildup of ear wax
  • Redness and/or swelling
  • Crusts and scabs that may form on the inside of the ear flap
  • Loss of hair around the affected ear
  • Balance issues
  • Walking in circles
  • Unusual eye movements
  • Loss of hearing

Are dog ear infections contagious?

The majority of ear infections in dogs are not contagious. However, it depends on the cause. If parasites, like ear mites, are the underlying cause, they can be extremely contagious. If you have several dogs in your home and one has been infested with ear mites, all of your pets are assumed to be infected and will need to be treated at the same time.

A bacterial ear infection can also be contagious. This is especially true with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). But cases in dogs are rare.

Will my dog’s ear infection get better on its own?

Most cases of ear infections in dogs won’t go away on their own. Any type of ear problem should be brought to the attention of your vet. There’s a need to evaluate the infection and integrity of the eardrum. Treating a ruptured eardrum can be quite complicated and will need professional attention. Some ear cleaning products and medications can also be toxic to a dog’s middle ear.

Chronic ear infections will require time (about 6-8 weeks) and the appropriate treatment regimen to clear up. Even if the symptoms appear to ease off after a week or two of medications, it is very important to follow the length of treatment time recommended by your vet. Stopping the medication too soon or if the underlying cause is not identified, may cause the ear infection to recur and this can significantly affect your dog’s quality of life. It could also lead to total loss of hearing. Antibiotic resistance can also be an issue if the proper dosage and treatment duration are not followed.

Can I treat my dog’s ear infection at home?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Ear infections in dogs will require veterinary attention and intervention to eliminate the underlying cause and restore the health and integrity of the ear canals.

Tips to Prevent Ear Infections in Dogs

If your dog frequently suffers from ear infections, your vet may recommend making certain changes in your pet’s lifestyle while taking into account the dog’s history.

Regular ear cleaning and maintenance should be a part of a dog’s grooming regimen. Dogs that swim often will need routine ear cleaning to prevent ear infections. Always keep your dog’s ears well-ventilated and free from moisture.

If you don’t know how to clean your pet’s ears, your vet can show you how to do it using appropriate ear cleaning products. These products are formulated with drying agents and are in the appropriate pH ranges.

When cleaning your dog’s ears, always remember the following:

  • Don’t use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide; these solutions can kill the healthy cells of the ears.
  • Avoid sticking cotton swabs into your dog’s ears; you may cause rupture of the eardrum.
  • Use clean cotton balls or ear wipes to clean your pet’s ear flaps and ear crevices.

Read more:

10 Facts About Your Dog’s Ears

Pinnal Vasculitis: Why are my dog’s ears crusty?

Examining and Caring for Your Pet’s Ears

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