Understanding Dog Ear Infections

Understanding Dog Ear Infections

James is a 4th year Veterinary Medicine student at Harper & Keele Vet school. Here, he is sharing some tips and tricks when dealing with dogs that get ear infections!

With the growing popularity of cocker spaniel crosses and other ‘floppy ear’ dogs, there has been an increased number of ear infections being presented to vets. We are going to talk through what they are, what causes them, how they are treated by your vet and what you can do to prevent them in the future!

What is an ear infection?

An ear infection is an overgrowth of either bacteria or fungi (usually yeast) within the ear. These infections are usually quite painful due to the large amount of inflammation that occurs within the ear canal. In some cases, this inflammation can lead to the ear canal to completely close. Severe cases can result in the infection tracking down deeper into the ear, causing further problems.

What are the symptoms of ear infections?

Symptoms of ear infection in your dog are generalised signs of irritation around the head and ear. This includes:

  • Shaking their head
  • Rubbing or dragging their face across the floor
  • Scratching of the ear
  • Yelping and other signs of pain when the ears are touched.
  • Visual signs of injury on the ear:
      • Swelling on the ear flap
      • Scabs/crusts on the outside of the ear (caused by scratching)

In cases where the infection has progressed, other symptoms may present:

  • A head tilt, usually in the direction of the affected ear
  • Discoordination or a loss of balance
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty hearing 
  • It may also be possible to smell the ear infection! 

If any of these aforementioned symptoms are seen, it is important to arrange an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. Symptoms such as head tilt or discoordination require a same day vet appointment. Arranging an appointment with your vet will not only manage the issue, but will also help to rule out anything more serious which may be occurring.

What causes ear infections in dogs?

The anatomy of a canine ear canal makes dogs more prone to ear infections when compared to humans. Other factors also predispose for ear infections:

  • Foreign bodies
  • Physical injury
  • Warm and moist conditions
      • ‘Floppy’ eared breeds
      • Warm weather
      • Increased swimming
  • Physical injury to the ear
  • A build-up of wax
  • Overcleaning 

How do you treat an ear infection?

Get your pet to a vet as soon as you can! The sooner you can catch an ear infection, the less complications you will have and the less pain your animal will be in. Your vet will be able to assess whether the ear infection is of bacterial or fungal origin and prescribe appropriate treatment to resolve the issue.

How can you prevent them in future? 

Regular checks of your dogs’ ears are key to preventing ear infections from occurring. Ensure ears are clean and dry, especially after walks. Take extra care if your dog enjoys going for lots of swims or if the weather is warm as these can produce an optimum environment for bacteria and/or fungi to proliferate within the ear. If proper care and check ups are performed and ear infections are still occurring, it is advised that you speak to your vet, who will be able to assist going forward. Things like ear cleaners can be a great ally in preventing ear infections, however their overuse can also cause issues so always consult your vet before including these as a routine.

Thank you, James, for this useful advice!