If your dog has been shaking their head excessively or digging at their ears, they might have an ear infection. Ear infections, also known as otitis externa, are one of the most common conditions that I see in my veterinary practice, and most dogs with ear infections have itchy ears and ear discharge. Owners often report that they have noticed a stinky odor from their dog’s ears.
These are the main symptoms that you may notice if your dog has an ear infection:
The main causative agents of ear infections in dogs include bacteria or yeast. In puppies, ear mites can also cause itchy ears, but this is not common in older dogs. Yeast enjoy growing in moist environments, so dogs that get wet or swim often may be more prone to developing ear infections. In addition, dogs that have allergies to either an ingredient in the food or to pollen in the environment may be more prone to developing ear infections.
If your dog has only had 1 ear infection, your veterinarian will usually just treat the bacteria or yeast infection. With recurrent ear infections, your veterinarian will likely want to determine if your dog has an underlying allergy. If your dog has been having itchy skin or other signs of allergies, visit this complete guide on dog allergy medications.
Ear infections are treated by a veterinary prescribed ear medication. First, your veterinarian will examine the ear and take a swab of the ear debris to evaluate under the microscope. Next, they will identify the causative agent of the ear infection. They will then prescribe a dog safe ear medication that will treat the underlying cause of the ear infection. Ear medications for dogs combine several ingredients to quickly treat your pet’s ear infection. Usually, they will contain an antibiotic and an antifungal to treat the infection and a steroid to relieve the irritation, itching, and inflammation.
Your veterinarian may also want you to clean the ears out if your dog has an ear infection. One of my favorite veterinary ear cleaners is Dechra Malacetic Otic. When you clean out the ears, follow this guide on ear cleaning to do so safely and effectively. Ensure that you are only using dog safe ear cleaners, and don’t put q-tips down into the ears. Certain products can cause damage to your dog’s ears, and q-tips can hurt structures deep in the ear.
If your dog has recurrent ear infections, your veterinarian will likely do tests to determine if your dog’s ear infections are caused by an underlying allergy. Dogs with underlying allergies will need to be treated with veterinary-approved allergy medication. You could also consider placing your dog on a fatty acid supplement. Fatty acids have been shown to be beneficial for improving itching associated with allergies.
Unfortunately, dog ear infections will not typically go away on their own. Because ear infections are caused by bacteria and yeast, these organisms will need to be treated with a veterinary prescribed ear medication. Waiting to see if an infection will get better on its own will cause your pet unnecessary discomfort. I recommend calling your veterinarian sooner rather than later if you suspect your pet has an ear infection because there are many safe and effective treatment options.
I do not recommend putting peroxide in a dog’s ear for infections. This can do more harm than good and can damage sensitive internal structures in the ears. There are quite a few home treatments described online for dog ear infections, but in my expert opinion, these treatments typically are ineffective and delay treatment. I have personally seen dog’s eardrums become damaged when owners use at-home treatments for dog ear infections.
Ear infections can sometimes be prevented. Because yeast prefer moist environments, one way to prevent ear infections is to ensure that excessive amounts of water are not getting down into your dog’s ear. After your dog takes a bath or goes swimming, use a veterinary-approved ear cleaner to flush and dry the ear to prevent infections. If you are interested in learning more about how to safely and properly clean your dog’s ear, visit this article about dog ear cleaning.
If your dog has only had one ear infection or never had an ear infection, you probably do not need to regularly clean the ears. If your dog has recurrent ear infections, it is a good idea to flush the ears with a veterinary-approved ear cleaner every 2 to 4 weeks. In dogs that are having ear infections more than 3 times a year, I recommend consulting with your veterinarian about possible underlying allergies. Dogs with underlying allergies can often be placed on a special diet or be prescribed dog-specific allergy medication or allergy chews for dogs to reduce the likelihood of recurrence of infections.
If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, I recommend scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will be able to determine if your dog has an ear infection by examining your dog and running a simple and inexpensive test. They will then prescribe your dog an ear medication that will quickly relieve the symptoms that your dog is experiencing. Within just a few days on medications, your dog will likely be feeling much better.
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