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How to Know If Your Dog Has an Ear Infection

When detected early, dog ear infections are easy to treat. That's why it's important to know the signs and symptoms of this common health condition. Here, our Orange Park veterinary dermatologist explains how you can tell if your dog has an ear infection and which actions to take. 

Your Dog's Ears 

The shape of your dog's ear canals can make them more vulnerable to ear infections than a human's. If your four-legged friend has long, floppy ears or spends a lot of time in the water, ear infections may become common and recurring. Moisture can become trapped in their ears, fostering an ideal environment for bacterial ear infections to develop. 

By spending a bit of extra time and taking some extra care with your dog's ears, you can help prevent your pup from developing an ear infection. If your pooch does get an infection, seeing a veterinarian regularly will increase the chances of it being detected early, and cleared up quickly and easily. Untreated ear infections in dogs can quickly lead to symptoms such as balance and coordination issues, pain, and, in severe cases, facial paralysis. 

How Canine Ear Infections Happen 

Bacteria is the most common cause of ear infections in dogs. However, ear mites, fungus, and yeast can all cause painful infections in a dog's ears. Other causes of ear infections for your pooch may range from foreign objects becoming lodged in their ear, polyps, and physical trauma. 

The types of ear infections that can occur in dogs are defined by where they occur within the ear:

  • Otitis internal is an infection of your dog's inner ear. 
  • Otitis media affect your pet's middle ear.
  • Otitis externa indicates an infection on the outside of the ear. 

Signs & Symptoms of Ear Infections in Dogs 

Ear infections can become very painful for your canine friend. If your dog is displaying signs of an ear infection such as the ones listed below, contact your veterinarian right away to book an exam for your pet. Early treatment of ear infections can help to prevent more serious symptoms from developing over time and reduces the risk of complications. 

If your pup is suffering from an ear infection, you may notice one or more of these symptoms:

  • Head shaking
  • Tilting head
  • Swelling of the ear
  • Redness inside the ear
  • Pawing or rubbing at the ear 
  • Crusts or scabs just inside the ear 
  • Brown, yellow, or bloody discharge

If your dog has a severe ear infection you may notice other symptoms such as:

  • Walking in circles
  • Indications of hearing loss
  • Unusual eye movements
  • Loss of coordination or balance

Diagnosing Ear Conditions in Pets

Your veterinarian will begin by examining your dog's ear canal, then take a sample of debris from the ear to examine under a microscope. From there, they can determine whether yeast, bacteria, ear mites, foreign body, or another contaminant is causing the issue. 

Depending on the specific circumstances surrounding the ear infection and your pet's needs, your veterinarian may refer you to our veterinary dermatologist at Animal Friends Dermatology for diagnosis or treatment.

Treating Your Dog's Ear Infection

Treatment of ear infections will depend on the cause. For example, a yeast infection would be treated differently than a bacterial infection. While ear mites need to be treated with parasite treatment, your vet will need to remove any debris or foreign bodies. 

Cleaning the ear canal is one of the most important steps in treating an ear infection. If your dog is diagnosed with an ear infection, our veterinary dermatologist will take time to clean out your dog's ears with a medical cleanser. 

A vet may also prescribe antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications that will be appropriate for treating the kind of ear infection your pup has. Your pet may also be prescribed a topical medication and given instructions on how to apply it to your pup's ears at home. 

With treatment in the early stages, an uncomplicated ear infection will typically clear up within just a week or two. If your dog's ear infection is more severe or is caused by an underlying health condition, treatment may be more challenging and may take months to resolve.

If the infection has advanced or is caused by a tumor, surgery may be needed to remove the mass. Pathology should be performed to determine whether a tumor is benign or malignant. 

In many cases, more severe cases result in chronic ear infections in dogs or repeated ear infections throughout the pet's lifetime. In circumstances where chronic ear infections have become a problem or the infection is causing significant pain, your vet will often need to use a handheld video pet otoscope to clean the deeper areas of the ear canal and middle ear cavity (bulla). These cannot be reached with a traditional at-home cleaning. 

Make sure you are careful in following your veterinarian's instructions to clear up your dog's ear infection as quickly as possible. Not finishing your pup's prescription or ceasing treatment before the infection is cleared can cause recurring infections that will be increasingly difficult to treat. 

Follow-up appointments with your vet are highly recommended for dog ear infections. While it may look as if the infection has cleared there may still be traces of infection that are difficult for owners to spot. Finishing treatment before the infection has fully healed can lead to recurring symptoms that are difficult to treat.

Preventive Pet Ear Care

Cats and dogs can both benefit from preventive at-home pet ear care. To help prevent your dog from developing an ear infection, keeping the ears clean and dry is key.

Ask your veterinarian about the best cleaning solution to use for your dog's ears (most high-quality ones are only available from your vet's office), take some time to gently clean their ears each week, and always clean and dry their ears when they come out of water. At the first sign of infection, head to your vet for antimicrobial treatment. 

Do you suspect your dog may have an ear infection? Ask your vet about a referral. Our veterinary dermatologist will work with your primary care vet to ensure your pet receives the best possible care. 

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Animal Friends Dermatology is accepting new patients! Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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