If you have noticed that your dog or cat may have been more irritable than usual lately and have been scratching and pawing at their ears to relieve the itch, then your pet may be suffering from an underlying ear infection.
Although not usually serious, some ear infections can be an indicator of an underlying medical condition that could be terminal. For this reason, it is very important that your Veterinarian does a full-body exam on your pet to determine if the ear infection is a result of a minor infection or whether there is a more serious underlying cause.
There are many things to look out for if you suspect that your pet could be suffering from an ear infection. Below we discuss those in detail and also give you tips on how to treat, and deal with, pets that are suffering from ear infections.
Ear Infections in Dogs
Ear infections are very common in dogs. Luckily these are often easy to treat and treatments are readily available and easily accessible. Some dog breeds are also more susceptible to ear infections than others, so it is really essential that you ask your vet whether your dog breed is susceptible to ear and other infections.
What causes ear infections in dogs?
Ear infections occur when there is a buildup of bacteria, yeast and other pathogens in your dog’s ear canal and these are usually due to wax, fur, moisture and other debris getting stuck in the canal, making the area more prone to harmful pathogens that can feed off it.
Some Dogs like Cocker spaniels, Hounds and other dogs with floppy ears are at more risk of developing an ear infection than dogs like Chihuahuas and many Terrier Breeds that have erect ears.
Dogs that are exposed to water often, are also more prone to ear infections as a result of the moisture that gets trapped in their ear canal and creating a feeding ground for yeast and bacteria. It is essential to make sure you dry down your dog’s ears thoroughly after every groom, swim or water play.
Ear infections occur either in the external ear canal (Otitis Externa) or internal ear canal (Otitis Media). It most commonly starts in the external ear canal, where most of the wax and sebum is produced, and spread to other parts of the ear.
What are common symptoms?
Dogs with ear infections will show either one, a series or all of the below mentioned symptoms when they are suffering from an ear infection and these sometimes range from mild, moderate to extreme. Some of the most common symptoms of ear infection are:
- Scratching and Pawing at their ears;
- Shaking their head excessively;
- Funny odour from their ears;
- Discharge from their ears;
- Red and inflamed ears;
- Scabs, dry wounds and hair loss around the ears and face.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you suspect that your dog may have an ear infection, it is best to take them to a Vet immediately. The Vet will swab your dog’s ear with a cotton bud and examine the retrievable wax, debris or obvious discharge under a microscope for harmful pathogens. This examination method is called a Cytology and is important in diagnosing ear infections.
It is often obvious from the excessive discharge from their ears, caused by a buildup of yeast and bacteria, that your dog may have an ear infection. However, diagnosing your dog with an ear infection yourself and then attempting to treat it, could lead to more harm than healing.
Taking your dog to a vet is the best option for them and there you will receive guidelines on proper treatment. Treatment may range from liquid medicines that should be administered directly into the infected ear; oral antibiotic and antifungal treatment that your dog can take; or surgically, treating the infected area.
Leaving your dog’s ear infection untreated, could result in more serious complications. An ear infection gets dangerous as soon as it spreads from the external ear cavity to the middle- and inner ear. This can lead to facial paralysis, loss of hearing and even cause sight problems. Sometimes dogs can shake their heads so much that a vein burst in their ear flap, causing a balloon-like swelling on the flap of the ear. This is known as an aural hematoma and will need to be treated by a Vet and possibly surgically removed.
It is important to monitor what triggers ear infections in your dogs. Some dogs are allergic to certain plants, medicines and foods and may develop an allergic reaction that can cause the ear infection. Some dogs get ear infections as a result of being exposed to water and getting excessive moisture in their ear canal. No matter what the trigger, it is important to find it and make sure to consistently avoid it.
One of the most important steps you can take is to clean your dog’s ears regularly, using a warm wet cloth and getting rid of the dirt that collects inside the ear and clipping away at hair that seems to be growing into the canal. Good products to consider when cleaning your dog’s ears include Virbac Physiological Ear Cleaner for routine ear-cleaning in Dogs and Cats, EarthBath Ear Wipes and Kyron Clean Ear Non-medicated Ear Cleaner for Dogs and Cats. Ear cleaning is recommended twice a week when the infection is still active and thereafter once a week to ensure that there is no underlying dirt that can lead to infection.