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Vet cleaning infected dog ear

The essentials

  • Major reasons for ear problems include everything from allergies to injuries Dogs may have grass seeds in their ear, or pets that swim a lot are candidates for ear infections.
  • The ear canal may be painful or itchy — Pet owners need to watch for headshaking, odor, redness of the skin, swelling, scratching, and increased discharge. Severe ear infections can also cause hearing loss, a head tilt, and circling.
  • A vet can help pet owners with cleaning and treatment Learning how to clean your dog’s ears properly is an essential skill, and every pet owner needs to know the steps.

Causes of ear problems can vary from pet to pet—however, severe cases or prolonged cases of problems in your dog’s ears can lead to serious side effects. Learning how to identify and address these concerns is essential to keeping your pet happy and healthy. A thorough examination by a vet is often the first step in creating a comprehensive treatment plan for ear problems and severe infections.

Types of dog ear infections

There are three major types of dog ear infections to watch for: 

  • Otitis externa 
  • Otitis media 
  • Otitis interna

Below, we’ve covered what you need to know about each type of infection—arming you with the information you need to protect your furry friend.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Otitis externa

Otitis externa is defined as inflammation of the external ear canal consisting of the pinna (ear flap) and the vertical and horizontal ear canals up to the level of the eardrum (tympanum). In other words? It’s your basic canine ear infection. The ear can be divided into the external ear, middle ear, and internal (inner) ear. The inner ear has components that contribute to both hearing and balance.

Infections in the outer ear (otitis externa) and ear flap (pinna) are the most common. Middle (otitis Media) and inner ear (otitis Interna) infections are more severe but not all that common. A middle ear infection results from an extension of an outer ear infection through a punctured eardrum.

The canine ear canal is L-shaped and is angled down toward the eardrum. This makes doggie ears susceptible to ear infections since they create a warm, moist environment. A dog’s ear canals should always be clean. Dogs don’t typically build up wax in the ears like people do.

👉 If you see yellow or brown material in the ear canals, your dog may have an infection.

Otitis media 

Otitis media is a more uncommon type of ear infection that occurs in your pet’s middle ear area. It can affect the area surrounding your pet’s ear drum, ear ossicles (the tiny bones in your pet’s ear), and the Eustachian tube, which sits directly across from your pet’s vestibular system. It can be serious if left untreated, leading to balance issues and paralysis (among other symptoms). 

General signs of otitis media include repeated otitis externa infections, eye weeping or dryness, paralysis, and pain signs (such as head shaking or yelping with touch or motion). Your vet might also diagnose your pup with otitis media if they observe a ruptured eardrum, which can occur due to inflammation or trauma. 

Treatment can include long-term antibiotic use, either via oral antibiotics or via injection. Your pet may also need a surgical procedure done to help drain their ear if needed.

Otitis internal 

This type of infection occurs in the innermost part of your pet’s ear and directly affects their vestibular system. It’s considered rarer than otitis externa and can lead to acute balance loss, long-term disorientation, and paralysis. 

This condition can be indicated through frequent head tilts, loss of balance, sudden falls, and vomiting, as well as via clinical signs of pain (such as yelping or head shaking). 

Possible treatment options primarily include medication, such as steroids to control inflammation and antibiotics to control and calm the infection. 

Causes of ear infections in dogs

There are many different possible causes of ear infections in dogs. Knowing what they are can help pet parents like you to successfully limit your dog’s risks; keeping your dog as healthy and as happy as possible: 

Allergies. Environmental and food allergies can lead to systemic inflammation in your pup, as well as excessive sinus-related discharge. This can affect your furry friend’s ears and can lead to infection over time. 

Foreign bodies. Grass, thorns, foxtails, and more can easily become lodged in your pup’s inner or outer ear, leading to localized inflammation and infection. 

Residual moisture. If your pet bathes frequently (or really loves running through the sprinkler) they may be at a heightened risk of trapped moisture in the ear area, which can prompt infection later on. This is especially common in dogs with longer, floppier ears or with excessive facial skin folds

Ear mites. These pests can be commonly found in the ears of both indoor and outdoor pets. Your vet can help you to directly treat the mites after a proper diagnosis. 

Signs and symptoms of dog ear infections

There are many symptoms of a canine ear infection that pet owners need to monitor for. It’s best to try and avoid ear problems, but there are breeds predisposed to issues. Regular cleaning may help prevent ear problems and eliminate some symptoms like itching, swelling, and odor. However, ear cleaning will not treat an infection. Also, one or both ears may be affected.

  • Itchiness You’ll notice this symptom by excessive itching around the ear area, especially if the dog seems to be in distress or discomfort while doing so. 
  • Pain — This can look different in every pet. However, dogs often vocalize to show pain or sensitivity in an area. Watch for this if you pet your dog’s ears or do an at-home examination of them and see if they seem to be bothering them. 
  • Scabs or crusting in the ears — Different causes can lead to different scab presentations. Scabs from infection can include oozing or dried pus around the area. Scabs from mites may be smaller and bloodied, covering the bitten area. 
  • Swelling or redness in the ear canal — If the redness is also hot to the touch, it could indicate infection and may require vet treatment. 
  • Head shaking — Ear issues can lead to disorientation or general irritation, which may be shown by head shaking. 
  • Scratching at the affected ear — Dogs may do this to indicate discomfort, whether or not there is actual itchiness present. 
  • Pus or dark brown material in ear canals — Excessive amounts of any sort of fluid or drainage can indicate infection or discomfort.
  • Odor — Any time you notice a smell means that there could be an underlying infection, irritation, or problem in your dog’s ears. Even if it’s simply the result of food tolerance, you’ll want to get that checked out by your vet.

Breeds prone to ear infections

According to research done by the Canadian Vet Medical Association , some breeds are more likely to get ear infections, “cocker spaniels, Jura des Alpes, Brittany spaniels, golden retrievers, and West Highland white terriers are overrepresented. Some older studies also show that Fox red Labrador retrievers, miniature poodles, Afghans, Scottish terriers, fox terriers, Maltese, and German shepherds are also predisposed.”

Dog breeds with floppy, large, or hairy ears are also more prone to infection. Hanging, floppy ears decrease airflow and humidity in the ears, trapping moisture or debris more easily.

Overall treatment and diagnosis 

Your vet will perform diagnostic tests and conduct an ear exam. The first step is to determine the cause and a number of steps are taken to treat the ears depending on what the vet discovers.

  1. Otoscopic (inner ear) exam
  2. Ear mite check and ear culture (using the microscope)
  3. If necessary, remove any foreign bodies like a foxtail via local or surgical procedures
  4. Clean the ears (see below) and medicate with topical or oral medications

Most dogs only need their ears cleaned every three to four weeks. However, if your dog is prone to ear infections due to breed or allergies, then it’s best to clean the ears every two weeks for maintenance. Always clean your dog’s ears after a bath or swimming with a routine ear cleaner that contains a drying agent. 

Epi-Otic is an over-the-counter cleaner that will get rid of any water in the ear canal and dry out the ear so that an infection is less likely to develop.

This product is frequently recommended by vets. Many customers use this cleanser with dogs that are known for having sensitive ears. The solution is non-irritating and works well, often with medication or ear drops prescribed by a vet.

Ingredients: The main ingredient is 0.2% salicylic acid. Water, ethoxydiglycol, and PEG-40 hydrogenated are the primary ingredients.

👉 Be sure to talk with your veterinarian about a recommended ear cleaner. Ear cleaners aren’t meant to treat infections and should only be used to clean ears.

Prevention to keep your doggo out of the vet  

Keeping ears clean of discharges and secretions helps reduce irritation. Ask your vet for best practices and follow the above steps about how to clean. In addition, pet owners need to watch and monitor chronic dirty ears. 

Any signs of discomfort or progressive changes warrant a vet visit, as untreated ear infections can have serious side effects. Your vet can then give them a physical examination to determine the cause of the infection, offering prescriptions and other forms of support to avoid a recurring problem.

Frequently asked questions

Is apple cider vinegar good for dog ear infections?

No. Apple cider vinegar isn’t recommended for treating an ear infection. It can add moisture to the ears and make the infection worse. 

How can I soothe my dog’s ear infection?

Cleaning your dog’s ears per your vet’s instructions will help soothe your dog’s ear infection. The medication used will help the infection go away quickly.

Can you use white vinegar in a dog’s ear?

Vinegar alone and home remedies aren’t recommended. There are better ear cleaners with drying agents and ear medications available that are much more effective in cleaning the ears and treating infections, respectively.

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

No, you shouldn’t try to treat ear infections at home. You should always see a vet first to diagnose the cause of the infection and treatment options. You can treat the infection after your vet appointment as the instructions will be clear on what you need to do at home. Over-the-counter medication (like ear mite medication) doesn’t work. It’s better to have your local vet determine the cause of the infection so that the appropriate medication is prescribed.