by Cate Burnette, RVT
Statistics show that ear infections are the number one reason pet parents take their dogs to the veterinarian. Golden retrievers, cocker spaniels, Labrador retrievers, schnauzers, Westies, wheaten terriers, and all the setters tend to have more ear diseases than other breeds, but all dogs can contract the infection at some point in their lives. Knowing what to look for, how to treat it, and how to prevent the next ear problem should be an integral part of every dog owner’s education.
How can I tell if my dog has an ear infection?
While some signs of an ear infection are fairly obvious to a knowledgeable pet parent, other signals are more obscure and can be misjudged as being symptomatic of other diseases. Listed below are some of the indications that your pooch may be suffering from this very common disease.
· Your dog is constantly scratching at his ears, rubbing them on the carpet or furniture, and shaking his head. Because the yeast, bacteria, or parasites infecting your dog’s ears cause intense pruritus – or itching – your pup may be constantly trying to find ways to stop the irritation.
· You notice the visible part of the ear is red and inflamed, and you can smell a distinctive, musty odor coming from it. The redness and inflammation is caused by your dog’s immune system trying to rid itself of the cause of the infection. Typically, a bad smell indicates yeast or pasty discharge in the ear canal.
· A visible brown, yellow, or bloody discharge – called exudate – seeping from your dog’s ears points toward a serious infection.
· Scabby, crusted skin and hair loss around your dog’s earflap and down his neck indicates excessive itching and scratching, often caused by bacteria, yeast or parasites.
· Signs of a long-term infection, or one centered in the middle and/or inner ear, can include a pronounced head tilt, walking in circles, and a loss of balance, called ataxia.
· Nystagmus, a condition where your dog’s eyes move rapidly back and forth, can be a signal to a serious ear infection and a precursor to ataxia.
· Sudden hearing loss can indicate a busted eardrum caused by inflammation, and/or an accumulation of exudate in the ear.
What can I do to help get rid of the infection?
The first thing to do to help get rid of the infection is to see your veterinarian. Your pooch needs a complete ear examination, which includes allowing the vet to take samples from the inside of the ear to inspect under a microscope. The veterinarian determines which type of antibiotic to prescribe depending on whether the infection is bacterial, fungal, or caused by parasites.
You’ll be prescribed an aural antibiotic to use at home for 7 to 10 days. To be most effective, make sure to continue applying the medicine for the entire course of the prescription. Failing to do so can allow the infection to reoccur.
Additionally, gently massage the ointment or liquid medicine into all parts of your pup’s ears, rubbing it throughout all the crevices of the ear canal and up into the underside of the ear flaps. Bacteria, yeast, and mites can travel to all the parts of the ear, and you’ll want to destroy all of the offending organisms to fully get rid of the infection.
How can I prevent another ear infection?
After the ear infection is totally gone, there are organic products available to help you prevent further disease.
If your pooch is particularly prone to ear infections, daily or semi-daily cleaning with an all-natural ear cleanser containing essential oils and a tiny amount of alcohol may work for you. The alcohol dries any moisture found in the ear canal – very important for dogs that like to swim – and ingredients such as aloe vera, tea tree oil, lavender oil, citronella oil, and eucalyptus keep the skin hydrated and smooth. The oils also work as natural anti-inflammatories, keeping the ears refreshed and smelling nice.
Products that contain colloidal silver and extra virgin olive oil work to suppress bacteria, and relieve pain and inflammation in the ear. These components, along with arnica, chaparral oils, organic comfrey, and witch hazel, can loosen the waxy build-up that attracts bacteria and yeast, while relieving the itching and irritation inherent in canine ear infections.