If you have a dog with floppy ears or a pup who loves to romp in the dirt (which includes just about every dog!), chances are you'll have to deal with an ear infection at least once in their life. "Otitis externa" is a scientific term you might hear, which means inflammation of the ear. However, "otitis externa" and "ear infection" are often used interchangeably.
Always take your dog to the vet if you think they have an injury or other condition of concern. This is true with ear infections, too, as they are painful and uncomfortable for your dog.
Here are a few things to know about what to expect if you think your dog may have an ear infection.
What Causes Ear Infections in Dogs
While you may think that the skin in the ear is different than what you'll find on the rest of your dog's body, it's essentially the same, just with less hair and a few more glands. This means that the same types of things that irritate and disrupt the normal skin, like allergies, parasites and underlying medical conditions, can also disrupt the ears. These disruptions open the door for bacteria and yeast to flourish in the ear, causing infection and problems for your dog.
Some dogs are already more susceptible to ear infections because of their breed. These include:
- golden retrievers
- Labrador retrievers
- cocker spaniels
- West Highland Terriers (Westies)
Dogs with floppy ears, like the hound breeds, are also more susceptible to infection because their ears trap moisture that alters the normal environment in the ear canal. Other breeds can get ear infections, too. Here are a few of the ways a dog can get an ear infection:
- allergies (including food allergies)
- ear mites
- getting water in their ear from swimming
- getting something stuck in the ear
- another disease that has an impact on the ear environment, such as thyroid disease
Dog Ear Infection Symptoms
If you see your dog exhibiting any of the following symptoms, you should get your dog checked out by the vet:
- shaking their head
- scratching their ears
- ears that are sensitive to the touch
- redness or a rash
- skin may look folded or wrinkled instead of smooth
- holding one ear down
How to Treat a Dog Ear Infection
Your vet will likely prescribe a topical ear medication after running a few tests and thoroughly cleaning out the ears. Some medications are administered at the clinic and last 30 days, while others are drops that need to be given daily at home for a week or so.
How to Help Prevent Ear Infections in Dogs
Once your dog has had an ear infection, your vet will talk with you, asking questions to help determine the reason why your dog might have developed an ear infection in the first place. One common culprit? Allergies. Identifying the underlying cause of the ear infection is a key to limiting future ear infections.
Your vet can also provide you with instructions about how often you should clean your dog's ears — and how to do so. It's a good idea to clean out your dog's ears with a cotton ball (never use a pointed cotton swab) and an ear cleaner from a company that specializes in animal health. Unfortunately, some dogs just seem to get ear infections over and over, regardless of steps taken. In these situations, regularly cleaning the ears can be an important step in proactively managing the signs and symptoms.
Ear infections can be a pain to deal with, but knowing what to look for and when to take action can limit the pain and discomfort your dog experiences.