Help! My Dog Has An Ear Infection!

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dog ear infection

If you’ve ever had an ear infection, you know how uncomfortable it can be.

Well, it actually turns out that your dog can get ear infections, too.

An ear infection can be a painful condition for your dog that causes inflammation in the cells of his ear canals, which leads to discharge, redness or swelling. And in order to treat your dog’s ear infections, you’ll need help from a vet.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Antonio DeMarco, a veterinarian and president of medical operations at GoodVets in Kansas City, Missouri, to find out everything you need to know about the types, causes, symptoms and treatment of dog ear infections.

Types of dog ear infections


There are three different kinds of ear infections, depending on which part of your dog’s ear is actually infected:

  • Otitis externa: infects the outer ear canal (and it’s the most common type)
  • Otitis media: infects the middle ear canal
  • Otitis interna: infects the inner ear canal

“More typical [are] external ear infections, which involve both the horizontal and vertical ear in the canine and feline patients,” Dr. DeMarco told The Dodo.

Ear infections affecting your dog’s middle and inner ear canals are often ones that have spread inward from the outer area of his ear. These are treated a little differently than outer ear infections.

“Typically with outer ear infections, topical meds are commonly used (we can and do sometimes use oral medications as well),” Dr. DeMarco said. “Inner ear infections always require oral medication.”

How do dogs get ear infections?


There are a few different ways dogs can get ear infections.

“Ear infections can be created by bacteria, yeast and even ear mites,” Dr. DeMarco said.

Some dogs are more prone to ear infections than others due to certain factors.

“Basic anatomy (hanging, floppy ears; long, horizontal canals) leads to most infection,” Dr. DeMarco said. “Dark, semi-moist environment predisposes for growth of bacteria and fungus.”

Even allergies can make your dog more susceptible to ear infections.

“Allergies can have an effect as well,” Dr. DeMarco said. “Allergies cause an inflammatory response in tissue, causing irritation and itching. This can lead to abnormal unhealthy skin, which in turn gives an opportunity for pathogens (bacteria and yeast) to replicate and cause infection.”

Dog ear infection symptoms


Dog ear infections can be pretty uncomfortable for you dog, and if your dog has an ear infection, he might show symptoms like:

  • Redness and swelling of the ear
  • Discharge from the ear canal
  • Head shaking
  • Scratching
  • Vocalization

“If you are concerned that your dog may have an ear infection, consult your veterinarian immediately,” Dr. DeMarco said.

That’s because the infection can get more serious — to the point that it could even cause deafness — if left untreated.

What does a dog ear infection look like?


Dog ear infections cause your dog’s ears to look really irritated.

“Ear infections typically present with abnormal discharge present in the ear,” Dr. DeMarco said. “The normal tissue in the ear should resemble normal skin; when an ear infection is present, that tissue can become very inflamed, red and swollen.”

All that’s definitely no fun for your dog.

“This causes moderate to severe discomfort,” Dr. DeMarco said.

Dog ear infection treatment


Treatment for your dog’s ear infection isn’t something you can do on your own — you’re going to need your vet for this.

“We clean, flush and prepare healthy tissue for mainly topical ointments that are prescription products applied to the ear,” Dr. DeMarco said.

There are ways to clean your dog's ears at home, but you need a prescription from your vet to get you the products that will actually clear up the infection.

“I have many products I recommend, but they are not over the counter,” Dr. DeMarco said. “Over-the-counter (OTC) treatment rarely works.”

And sometimes you’ll need extra meds if your dog’s ear infection is particularly bad.

“If infections are severe enough, sometimes oral antifungals, antibiotics or anti-inflammatory meds are prescribed,” Dr. DeMarco said.

How to prevent ear infections in dogs


It turns out, you really don’t have to do anything to prevent ear infections in dogs (although routine checkups with your vet are always a good idea).

“Most dogs don’t require any routine prevention,” Dr. DeMarco said. “Only if your dog has ear issues do I routinely recommend cleaning. Improper cleaning can lead to infections. If your pet isn't having ear issues, I don't recommend anyone cleaning them [including the vet].”

And if your dog does wind up with an ear infection, now you know how to get him happy and healthy again.

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