The facts about ear infections

Dogs can come with their own host of medical concerns, and one of the most common are ear infections.

Commonly Infected Breeds

This problem can be seen much more often in the floppy-eared breeds such as Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels, but it is also diagnosed frequently in types like Schnauzers and Miniature Poodles because they have hairy inner ear flaps.

Types of Infections

There are two different types of ear infections generally seen in dogs. The first is called otitis media, which affects the middle ear, and the second is known as otitis externa, which is an infection of the outer ear canal. Either of these ear infections can be successfully treated by your veterinarian. The problem comes when the infection is not treated quickly and efficiently; then serious problems – and damage – can result.

Why Dogs Get Ear Infections

There are a number of potential causes for otitis externa. The most common is bacteria or yeast accumulating in the area. Other possible culprits are matted hair settling in the ear canal, a wax buildup, a foreign object, or debris. An ear infection can also occur if your pet has a tumor, or an infestation of ear mites. Otitis externa can also begin as a problem in another part of the body, which can travel to the ear as a secondary infection.

Infections in the middle ear (otitis media) usually occur when an outer ear infection spreads inward. If the eardrum ruptures for any reason, such as improper cleaning, a foreign substance or ulceration, this type of infection can reach the middle ear area as well.

What to Look For

Since ear infections are generally uncomfortable, even painful, you will probably see symptoms in your pet that include scratching at the ears or shaking the head. Your pet may also tilt his head to one side frequently, particularly if he is suffering from a middle ear infection. If you look at the ear, you may discover redness, inflammation, an odor, or a discharge that is black or yellow in color. If you see any of these signs in your dog, it is time to call the veterinarian for an examination and possible treatment plan.

What your Veterinarian will do

Once you head to your veterinarian’s office, the doctor will first try to diagnose the type of infection, whether a foreign body is involved, and whether the eardrum has ruptured. This will affect the choices in medication that he may prescribe for your dog. Your vet will most likely use an otoscope to view the ear canal – much like a doctor will do for a child with a suspected ear infection. If the infection is particularly painful, and your dog does not want his ear messed with, your vet may use sedation or anesthesia to make the exam more comfortable for your pet.

The next step in the exam will probably be cytology, where the veterinarian removes a sample from the ear canal and examines it under a microscope. This way he can determine the type of organism that is causing the infection, and prescribe the most effective medication for your pet. If more than one organism is involved, more than one medication may be necessary to fully clear out the infection.

If your doctor finds a foreign substance, a tick, or a buildup of some sort inside the ear canal, he will probably sedate your dog to remove the object or substance and give the ear a thorough cleansing.

If the infection is found in the middle ear area, treatment may be more involved since this type of infection can be harder to get rid of. Your dog’s exam in this case may include x-rays, lab tests, and even surgery in some cases. An infection like this may take up to six weeks to clear completely, and you will be required to limit your dog’s activity during this recuperation period.

It is important to note that the longer an infection is allowed to thrive before treatment, the harder it will be to cure, so take your pet to the doctor at the first sign of a problem. Keep your eyes open for the telltale signs like scratching, since this activity can also cause more problems with the ear if left unchecked. If an infection is left too long, it can cause damage that may only be reparable through surgical procedures. Take those infections seriously, and get your pet medical treatment as soon as possible to avoid these complications.

While Your Dog Recuperates

No matter what type of ear infection is diagnosed in your dog, you will need to help your pet with his recovery process. This will include keeping water out of your pet’s ears, making sure he gets all necessary medications, and taking him to all follow-up appointments with your veterinarian. It is not always easy to medicate a dog in this condition, so ask your veterinarian for guidance in how to follow the procedure properly. Keep in mind that the area may be tender for your dog, so proceed gently and carefully, and reward your dog after the medication and cleansing process is finished.

Long-Term Effects

In most ear infection cases, the problem will clear and there will be no long-lasting effects of the infection. If your pet seems to get ear infections on a regular basis, your veterinarian might want to look at other potential reasons for the problem, such as thyroid disease or allergies. By treating these conditions, you may effectively resolve the ear infection issue.

How you can Prevent Ear Infections in your Pet

The easiest way to treat an ear infection is to prevent one from occurring in the first place. You can do much to assist the prevention process by giving your pet a weekly ear cleaning. This is especially important if your dog has long, floppy ears, lots of hair inside the ears, or suffers from another condition like seasonal allergies. Dogs with hairy ears can also have the area trimmed or plucked regularly by a groomer to prevent problems.

Your veterinarian can recommend an ear cleansing solution that you can use on your pet every week to keep the area clean and free of potential debris and bacteria. While this may seem like a traumatic process to put you and your pet through every week, most veterinarians agree that the more regularly you perform these cleanings the easier it will get as your pet gets used to having his ears handled in this manner. If your pet is suffering from chronic ear infections, or has another condition that prompts these infections, weekly maintenance and preventative care will go far towards keeping your pet healthy and happy.

Source: Adapted from the American Animal Hospital Association