Ear infections are one of the most common medical ailments in dogs, and can be quite painful and uncomfortable for your pup.1
The unique structure of canine’s ear anatomy makes them more vulnerable to otitis (ear infections) than humans. Their ear canals are hooked, resembling a J or an L-shape, which can easily harbor extra moisture and trap debris and bacteria.
Fortunately, knowing what dog ear infection symptoms to look out for, working closely with your veterinarian, and adopting a proper ear-care regimen all work in tandem to promote both acute and long-term healing in your pup’s ear.
Healing Ear Infections in Dogs: Knowing the Signs
Before you can begin helping your dog heal from an ear infection, it’s important to recognize the signs:
- Excessive scratching, itching, or rubbing – Dogs who can’t sit still because they are frequently pawing at their ears or rubbing them against furniture are likely suffering from an ear infection. In worse cases, your dog may avoid direct contact with their ears and instead shake or jerk their head to relieve distress.
- Inflammation or redness around the ears – Visible signs of ear infections can be seen in swollenness, redness, and aggravation around the site of infection. Upon examining your dog’s ears, you may find this area is hot to the touch.2 Ear inflammation coupled with fluids or drainage (particularly in yellow, green, or black discharge) should always be taken as your cue to take your pup to the vet.
- Crusting, scabs, or active bleeding near the ears – You may notice blood around your dog’s ear canal, both active and scabbing, which can also result in hair loss around the ear. If you see any abnormalities like these, it’s time to consult their vet for a full assessment.
- Abnormalities in balance or gait – The inner ear, for both dogs and humans, is critical for our sense of orientation, proprioception, and balance. When fluids in the inner ear are disturbed due to an infection, communication between the sensitive micro-hairs lining the ear canal and our brain are compromised. In your dog, this may manifest as stumbling and poor balance or a reduction in physical activity.
- Problems eating – The ear and other primary sense organs are closely related, and signs of these dog ear problems may manifest as problems with the jaw and eyes. When suffering from an ear infection, your dog may drool excessively from one side of the mouth, drop food frequently or struggle to chew or avoid food altogether due to excessive ear pain. You may also notice difficulty blinking, exceptionally dry eyes, or even a discrepancy in pupil sizes.3
The First Step to Healing Your Pet? Visiting the Vet
The vast majority of ear infections will not go away on their own and will require clinical intervention.
During your veterinary appointment, your vet will likely perform a deep ear cleaning on the affected ear, sometimes requiring sedation to clear the detritus and build-up causing the infection in your dog’s ear. Your vet may also need to run some extra tests on your pet, including:
- Ear cytology – Swabbing your pet’s ear to identify whether the infection was incited by a microbial infection due to bacteria or fungus.
- Culture or sensitivity testing – Creating an ear culture to determine the specific strain of bacteria responsible for the infection, and which antibiotics will be able to combat them.
- Blood test – In some cases, ear infections are the result of a more pervasive underlying condition. Your vet may run a blood test to rule out hormonal problems or endocrine diseases that may be to blame for your dog’s ear infection.
- X-rays and scans – In severe cases of infection like otitis media and otitis interna, where the site of infection is in the middle or inner ear (respectively), your vet may need to perform an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI on your dog’s skull.
The combination of an initial cleaning, otoscopic examination of the ear canal and eardrum, and, if necessary, one of these five tests should be able to determine the root or underlying cause of your dog’s ear infection.4
How Your Vet Will Treat Your Dog’s Ear Infection
There are three main categories of treatment when it comes to tending to your pet’s ear infection.
#1 Topical treatments
Cleansers, ointments, and ear drops are the go-to topical medication for ear infection treatments, particularly in the case of otitis interna—the mildest kind of ear infection, affecting mainly the outer ear. While symptoms may present at the superficial layers of ear tissue, the ear medication will be administered deep into the ear canal to be effective.
#2 Oral treatments
Oral treatments like steroids, antifungals, or antibiotics may be prescribed for microbially derived ear infections. These medications will bolster your dog’s immunity and its body’s capacity to fight off the infection internally.
#3 Surgical treatments
Serious and deep-seated ear infections like otitis interna may require an aggressive approach. Your vet may recommend surgery to remove corroded tissue deep inside your dog’s ear.
In some instances, dogs who suffer from chronic ear infections may need a total ear canal ablation, wherein the entire ear canal is removed to reach the source of the infection. In this case, your dog’s ear infections may be so severe that their ability to hear has already been compromised—ear canal ablation will not improve their hearing ability, but it will relieve them of an enormous amount of pain and discomfort.5
Tending to Ear Infections in Dogs: Supportive At-Home Care
The following cannot be overemphasized: administering treatment without a veterinary consultation is extremely inadvisable.
In severe cases, your dog’s middle ear or eardrum can be further damaged by the wrong type of remedy, which may result in:
- Advancement of the infection
- Deafness or loss of hearing
- Facial paralysis
- Neurological damage
This is why it’s so important to see a professional to determine the ear infection’s cause, severity, and appropriate course of treatment.
If you’ve already met with your vet, they should have prescribed a protocol for your dog’s at-home treatment. The most effective measure of preventing future infections is to develop a regular ear-cleaning regimen using proper cleaning techniques.
Here are our top recommendations for taking the best possible care of your dog’s ears at home:
Step 1: Choose the Right Solution
Always run topical products by your vet to determine whether they’re safe to use on your pet, especially if your dog has sustained physical damage to their ear canal. Never use hydrogen peroxide as a cleaning solution—it can damage your dog’s ears and lead to the death of healthy cells and tissues.
For regular care, your best bet is to choose a non-toxic, high-quality cleaning solution or ear rinse. When buying an ear cleaning solution, look for one that uses Hypochlorous Acid to relieve itchiness, combat ear odors, and rid the ear of pathogens, pollutants, and foreign bodies causing ear distress.
Step 2: Know Proper Cleaning Techniques
No type of treatment will be optimally effective if it’s not administered correctly. Knowing the correct technique to use will ensure the infection clears as quickly as possible to minimize spreading and avoid another unnecessary trip to the vet’s office.
To sanitize your dog’s ears thoroughly, follow these five steps:
- Lift their ear so that you can see the entire ear canal.
- Administer the ear cleaning solution to flood the entire canal—it should overflow with the solution.
- Lower their ear flap to trap the solution in the ear canal and massage the outer ear. You should hear some washing noises.
- Release the ear and allow your dog to shake it off (the same way humans shake their head when they get out of the pool). Head shaking will allow some deeper debris to dislodge from within the ear canal.
- Wipe off any remaining residue.
Never, ever put a foreign object like Q-tips or cotton swabs into your dog’s ears. It will advance the position of the ear debris and may damage your dog’s aural anatomy in the process.
Coming up with a comprehensive ear care plan is your first defense against preventing future infections in your pup. Yes, it can be difficult to get them to sit still—but never underestimate the Pavlovian power of a treat before and after each ear cleaning session!
Step 3: Don’t Slack on Ear Care
Some dog breeds are notoriously more susceptible to chronic ear infections because of their hair patterns, ear anatomy, or proneness to allergies and food sensitivities. The following breeds need extra attention when it comes to ear care:
- Cocker Spaniels and Springer Spaniels
- Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers
If your dog has long hair, long ears, or loves spending time swimming or bathing, it’s especially crucial to make regular and thorough aural hygiene a cornerstone of their care.
My Dog Seems to Keep Getting Ear Infections. What Can I Do?
If your dog is suffering from chronic ear infections, it’s all the more vital to collaborate with your vet to determine the most incisive treatment protocol.
When dealt with poorly, ear infections may become resistant to antibiotics, making otitis treatments markedly less effective.4 Long-term ear infections can also result in a narrowing of the ear canal, excess ear tissue, and calcification of the soft cartilage, which can be extremely painful for your dog and all the more difficult to treat.
Choose Vetericyn For Pet-Kind, Sustainable Wellness Solutions
Taking control of your pet’s at-home care now is the best way to ensure long-term health and well-being. Vetericyn’s range of pet and livestock wellness products are endorsed—and used—by veterinarians around the United States, and across more than 30 countries worldwide.
Each of our products is diligently researched and expertly designed to create safe, top-quality care products that tend to every part of your animal’s physical health, from ears to hooves to paws.
Looking for more information on cleaning your dog’s ears? Check out our blogs on Why You Should Clean Your Dog’s Ears & How To Do It and How To Clean Your Dog’s Eyes and Ears!
- Fetch by WebMD. 6 Most Common Dog Health Problems. https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/6-most-common-dog-health-problems#1
- Embrace Pet Insurance. Top 5 Medical Conditions and Average Cost of Care. https://www.embracepetinsurance.com/about-us/press-media/press-release-detail/2019/01/10/top-dog-and-cat-claims-of-2018
- VCA. Inner Ear Infections (Otitis Interna) in Dogs. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/inner-ear-infection-otitis-interna-in-dogs
- PetMD. How to Identify, Treat, and Prevent Dog Ear Infections. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/how-treat-and-prevent-dog-ear-infections#Go%20away
- Pet Health Network. Ear Infections in Dogs and Total Ear Canal Ablation (TECA). https://www.pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-surgery-a-z/ear-infections-dogs-and-total-ear-canal-ablation-teca