Dog Ear Infection Symptoms
Suddenly, your dog begins to scratch their ears frequently while whimpering. They may even attempt to relieve their irritating itch by rubbing up against you, floors, furniture and even other animals. Due to the excessive itching, his or her ears may even become red with cracked, bleeding skin. While this behavior may seem alarming and unusual, your dog is likely dealing with an ear infection, very common canine health ailment. As loving dog owners we do not always want to go to the vet. The questions is, how to treat a dog ear infection at home.
Many of us know how painful an ear infection is, especially when it is left untreated. This is the same case for dogs, only they can’t call their doctor themselves to set up an appointment.
It is always a good idea to plan a trip to your veterinarian’s office, if they show some of the following symptoms:
- Sweet odor from ear
- Shaking head frequently
- Tilting head often in an effort to relieve a seemingly invisible irritant
- Redness and swelling
- Excessive itching
- Scaly or raw skin
- Whining or crying
- Hearing loss
- Bald patches near the ears
- Pain while chewing
- Pawing at the infected ear
- Dark, yellow or bloody discharge
- Crusting or scabbing near or in the ear
- Rapid eye movements
- Unbalanced mobility
Mites present in at-home examination of discharge or wax
- Mites can be microscopic, however, so it is best to get this evaluated under a microscope by a veterinarian
- Vomiting and or nausea
- Changes in pupil diameter
- Tumors, polyps or other growths are visible and typically arise from the constant itching and irritation to the ears
- Other unexplained changes in physical behavior and emotional state
Signs and Symptoms of Ear Infection in Dogs
Having to witness your dog go through the aches and pains of an ear infection is not fun for anyone, especially the pup. However, recognizing the various symptoms that may occur is important. In some circumstances, a dog may even have an ear infection but show no signs of it. If one ear is infected, the dog may show symptoms such as tilting their head to the affected side, scratching and pawing at the ear. At times you notice balancing problems (vestibular deficits) as the infection advances. If both ears are causing your dog trouble, he or she may have visibly inflamed ears. They often vigorously shake their head from side to side, demonstrate poor body coordination and, in severe cases, suffer from deafness.
Leaving an ear infection untreated, or letting the infection becomes severe, can be detrimental to the dog’s health. If you do not visit your vet for a diagnosis you risk initial signs of nervous system damage: The tympanic membrane, or ear drum, can become grey and inflamed. Identifying nervous system damage can be done by observing if your dog is unable to blink, chew, or move their facial muscles in any way. This indicates facial nerve damage and can lead to permanent paralysis in a process called Horner’s syndrome.
Our pets rely on us to provide them with quality care. After all we want them to have a healthy and happily life at our side. As pet owners we need to know about basic medical conditions. Most importantly to know when to call a vet and when home treatment is sufficient. So, what causes ear infections in dogs and how to treat a dog ear infection at home?
Causes of Ear Infection
The ear canal of a dog has a different structure to that of a human. Dog ears have the shape of an “L” and are more vertical, whereas ours are horizontal. Unfortunately, this makes them less likely to effectively drain fluids and leaves dogs more prone to infections.
There are many factors that can contribute to an ear infection in your dog. These include allergies, wax buildup, ear mites, excessive moisture, medications or bacteria and viruses. Yeast and fungus (or aspergillosis), injury to the ear or head, meningitis or encephalitis, foreign bodies lodged in the ear (like sticks), thyroid disorders, autoimmune diseases such as pemphigus, endocrine disorders and even hair growth deep in the canal can also cause ear infections.
Ear infections caused by yeast, a natural organism within a canine’s body, occur when the yeast has become unbalanced and grows uncontrollably. Yeast exists in dogs to help keep their immune system up and running. If a yeast problem causes their ear infection, you can expect a fussy companion that doesn’t feel well at all. Symptoms dogs display will be in accordance with that.
Not every ear infection that a dog can have is the same, though. For dogs, ear infections are classified by location of the infection within the ear. These classifications are: otitis externa, which indicates that the infection has created inflammation on the layers of cells on the outermost part of the dog’s ear canal, otitis media, which indicates the spread of infection to the middle ear from the external canal, and otitis interna, where the infection has spread all of the way to the innermost portion of the canine’s ear.
What Dogs Are More At Risk To Get Ear Infection?
Breeds that have larger, floppy ears tend to have an increased risk of experiencing ear infections. Examples of these breeds include Basset Hounds, Setters, English Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, Afghan Hounds, Black and Tan Coonhounds, Bloodhounds. While these breeds are exceptionally adorable, their droopy ears do not allow for proper air circulation. Often they trap dirt and prevent proper drainage. This creates an environment that is warm, dark, and damp. The perfect home and breeding ground for bacteria and yeast.
Dogs with upright, pointy ears are the most likely to have issues with debris and other foreign objects entering the ear, as there is no barrier blocking them. Examples of such breeds include Chihuahuas, French Bulldogs, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, Samoyeds, German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Australian Cattle Dogs and more.
Some 80% of dogs with food sensitivities and nearly half with an allergic skin disease are likely to have inflammation in the ear at some point in their lives.
Puppies suffer most often from Ear mites, or otodectes cynotis mites. When caught early on, they can be easy to treat. They are highly contagious and can spread to other dogs and animals of all ages. It is best to treat every pet in the household to avoid further complications. No evidence has concluded that ear mites can be transferred to humans. The longer the mites are present, the more extensive the treatments will need to be. It is important to note that each animal may require a different type or dosage of medication, so there is no “one size fits all” drug to assist in eliminating ear mites.
In short, a medication prescribed to an adult dog with a heightened sensitivity to their ear mite infestation may be deadly to an eight-week-old kitten. You can spot ear mites at home. Safely scrape off wax or discharge off the outer ear and examine it on a dark background. The mites are small, lightly colored moving particles that are no larger than the tip of a ball-point pen. However, since they are often microscopic, a veterinarian can take a sample and look at it underneath a microscope to see what type of organism it is. A complete infestations of ear mites can cause further bacterial infections. If ear mites are not treated they can cause ear infections. In severe cases they lead to hearing loss from damaged canals and eardrums.
Dogs with endocrine disorders, such as hypothyroidism, are also more prone to having ear infections.
What to Expect When Visiting the Vet For Ear Infection In Dogs?
Once the symptoms have been identified, many pet owners are anxious to seek medical relief and rehabilitation for their beloved, furry member of the family. So, how exactly does a veterinarian determine whether an ear infection is present in a dog or not?
Your vet will take a thorough history, which may take longer if you’re seeing a new vet for the first time. Be prepared to answer the following questions to ensure your dog is treated appropriately and effectively:
- What medications is your dog currently taking, if any?
- Does your dog have any known allergies or other health conditions?
- Does your dog have a history of ear infections? If so, you’ll ideally provide when the infections occurred and how they were treated.
- Has your dog participated in any activities such as swimming, taking baths, visiting a groomer, dog park or kennel, playing outside, hunting, etc. recently?
- What does your dog eat?
- Is it possible your dog ate something that could be harmful if ingested?
- Have you attempted to trim their ear hair?
- How often do you clean your dog’s ears, if ever?
- What symptoms have occurred? You’ll need to mention the time duration that signs have been present and the level of severity and details regarding pain, swelling, odor, discharge, and any other unusual behavior.
The next step of the appointment with the vet will include the exam. They carefully look into the dog’s ear. In severe cases where the dog cannot bear the pain or is in distress, sedation medication or anesthesia may be administered. A dog will also be sedated, if their canal is too “dirty” for the vet to conduct a thorough examination.
The vet will conduct a visual assessment, checking both ears, even if only one has seemed problematic. They will search for discharge, redness, swelling, wax, crust, blood, etc.
They will touch the ear to observe the level of pain that the canine is dealing with. Vets usually use an otoscope, a device with a light source and magnification. This helps the vet see deeper into the ear canal to identify any built-up impacted wax, foreign objects, ear mites, eardrum or canal damage, and more. The vet usually takes samples from the ear. They use a soft tipped swab stick to conduct a microscopic examination called a cytology, or cell study. This helps in diagnosing if the infection is due to bacteria, yeast, or other organisms in the dog’s ear.
If the ear infection is recurrent and is not responding to treatments previously given, a sample of tissue can be sent to a lab for a tissue culture. This helps the veterinarian know exactly what species of organism is growing and what medications they are susceptible to. To rule out other health problems, the vet may recommend several blood tests. In chronic cases or severe infections, X-rays and biopsies may also need to occur at the appointment or be scheduled for a later date.
Depending on the findings of the exams and tests listed above, further testing may be in order.
How To Treat A Dog Ear Infection At Home
Your dog has gone through a large portion of the process. It is all uphill from here on out! Your veterinarian should have been able to determine the reason behind the ear infection. They are able to accurately decide the course of treatment to cure your dog and will explain in detail how to treat a dog ear infection at home.
At the vet’s office, they will likely begin the treatment plan by washing out the dog’s ear. Cleaning the ear can be a simple solution, if the infection is the result of an allergy. Sometimes grass, hair, seeds, and other foreign objects are the culprits. You can conveniently use a natural ear cleaners for dogs to clean the dog ear. If a foreign object or tick is stuck inside the ear, your vet will likely sedate your dog for the removal procedure. Vets usually prescribe topical medications (placed within the ear itself) and systemic antibiotics (pills for ingestion). Most of these you’ll need to administer at home, but don’t worry! Your vet will provide you with detailed instructions and medication information. A follow-up appointment is often necessary within five to seven business days.
Your veterinarian may prescribe pain medication or an anti-inflammatory steroid. You can prevent recurring infection if you follow all instructions and complete treatments. This is particularly important when your pet appears “better” before the treatment is suppose the end.
Luckily, most ear infections clear up within 10 to 30 days, but in severe cases, they may take months to fully resolve. They can also be diagnosed as chronic.
Proper Ear Handling For Treatments Of Dog Ear Infection
Thought of having to administer prescriptions to your already irritable dog may seem scary, but do not be deterred. Your dog may even prefer that you do the work, as they’re more comfortable and trusting with you. If you follow the instructions carefully, you can safely help your pet feel better.
Begin by washing your hands, as this is a simple task that can help save your dog from getting further infections. Whether you’re using a dropper, cup, spray or syringe, it is always best to have your hands clean! Make sure to have the medication ready-to-go in case your pup is in the mood to fight you a little bit. Be sure to speak to your dog calmly and soothe them with belly rubs or their preferred form of affection. Then complete the steps listed below, or go through the process that the veterinarian and staff demonstrated to you:
- Pull the ear flap up straight with one hand while handling with care
- Continue holding up the ear flap, and apply the correct dosage as prescribed by your vet into the vertical part of the ear canal
- Place one to two fingers behind the base of the ear flap while placing your thumb on the other side
- Gently massage the ear canal until you hear a squishing sound. This is an indicator that the medicine has successfully traveled into the horizontal canal
- Let go of your dog’s ear flap and allow him or her to shake their head
Your dog likely shakes their head, which often splatters debris, wax and medicine around the area. Administering the procedure outside or in a garage is therefore beneficial. Let your dog stay in the designated area for several minutes to allow them enough time to shake, shake, and shake some more. Let’s have a look at home remedies to be sure you know everything about how to treat a dog ear infection at home.
Home Remedies For Dog Ear Infection
There are some home remedies to help ease your canine’s suffering when they have an ear infection. It is always in their best interest to seek professional assistance before trying to treat an infection yourself. Not following instructions or by exposing the inner ear to certain home-remedies can disrupt the natural pH balances inside the dog’s ear. This can make matters worse or create more issues.
You should never use alcohol to clean a dog’s ear. One of the most commonly used forms of home remedies for treating canine ear infections is an apple cider vinegar solution. If your dog’s ear appears red and painful, vinegar can further agitate the ear and sting. As it contains acetic acid, apple cider vinegar assists in repairing an infected ear by killing yeast and other bacteria. As a bonus, it can also help loosen any debris inside the ear. Fill a cup or bowl half with apple cider vinegar and with half water. You can then apply the solution gently to the outer ear area with a cotton ball.
Coconut oil also makes the list as one of the most widely used at-home remedies for treating dog ear infections. Coconut oil is both antibacterial and antifungal. Typically you need to cook the oil. You also need to repeat the treatments several times a day for a week or more for best results.
For dogs that have issues with continual bacterial and yeast ear infections, hydrogen peroxide is known for helping to clear things up. This method should only be used under the advisory of a vet, though. Using hydrogen peroxide mixed with water helps remove debris within the canine’s ear canal, making it easier for you to wipe it out with a cotton ball or soft cloth.
Lavender essential oil has also made it onto the top charts for at-home dog ear infection management. This method can be used to clean the ear if ear mites, or a yeast or bacterial infection is present. This can be determined by seeing if your dog has redness, swelling, itchiness, and or dirt, debris and wax buildup. Three drops of high-quality lavender oil is all you’ll need to start with. Then, mix in two tablespoons of coconut oil or unpasteurized apple cider vinegar. Use a soft wool cloth to soak up the solution and apply it to the affected ear(s). You should do this up to three times daily. It is very important to ensure that your dog does not ingest/swallow the solutions. Make sure to not place on any other area than the infected ear. Always consult with a veterinarian before-hand.
Preventing Ear Infections In Dogs
Are there any ways you, as a dog owner, can prevent ear infections? Yes! Following baths, a swim, or any other activities that involve water, you should dry your dog’s ears with a soft towel or cloth. You can also use a natural ear cleaner like the Rockwell Pets Pro Natural Dog Ear Cleaner with cotton balls to gently wipe water from the outer flaps and folds of the dog’s ear.
Making sure your pet visits the vet regularly for checkups also falls under the category of preventative measures. This will ensure your pup is up to date on health screenings and vaccinations. It can also help identify an infection before it worsens or spreads. Your pet should visit the veterinary clinic if they have a recurring ear infection. This can indicate a more serious, underlying cause.
Taking care of our furry, tail-wagging friends is a huge responsibility. Sometimes it requires more dedication than normal and a trip to the veterinarian. Just as we care for ourselves when we are sick, your dog also needs more care when they are not well. Be sure to give your canine patient plenty of love and pampering. This is a time when they need it most! Ear infections in dogs can be painful for them and worrisome for many owners. With the help of some medicine and an exam by a vet, they are back to their usual selves in no time.
We hope this gave you a good overview on how to treat a dog ear infection at home. If you have any further questions, please do not be shy and contact us or comment below.