Here’s to Healthy Ears: How to Treat a Dog’s Number One Malady, Ear Infections
“Ear problems are the number one reason for dogs to be brought to the veterinarian,” states Shea Animal Hospital’s Dr. Constance Organek, DVM, who became an expert on canine ear care when she helped her own dog, Scruffy, fight a raging ear infection that turned out to be the battle of his life. When Dr. Organek adopted Scruffy, he was suffering from an ear infection that was so advanced it destroyed his ear drum and penetrated his inner ear. In an effort to treat Scruffy, Dr. Organek consulted with some of the top veterinary ear specialists in the country. She walked away from that year–long battle with loads of information she uses every day at Shea Animal Hospital to help dogs overcome ear issues.
Here, Dr. Organek answers dog owners’ most commonly asked questions about their dogs’ ear problems.
What causes ear infections?
Ear infections can be caused by different things. “Something has changed in the environment of the dog’s ear, and that either comes from a disease or from outside the body,” Dr. Organek explains. Usually, an ear infection is caused by a one-time problem, like a foreign body that made its way into the ear canal, and once it’s adequately treated, it won’t reoccur. But sometimes ear infections are a sign that the dog has an underlying health issue, like allergies, a tumor or a disease like hypothyroidism or Cushings disease. “The ear canal is lined with skin, so if an allergy or disease effects the skin, the skin in the ear will also be impacted,” Dr. Organek says.
How can I tell if my dog has an ear infection?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell when your dog has an ear infection. Dogs’ ear canals are long and J shaped, and you can only see the outer 30 percent of the ear without a scope. Just because the outer part of the canal looks OK doesn’t guarantee the ear is not infected.
“An infection has to create enough mess that it works its way up the dog’s ear canal before you can see it,” Dr. Organek explains.
Usually, your dog will give you a few clues when its ear is infected. It may shake its head more frequently. Or, it may be sensitive to touch around its ears. Sometimes the infected ear gives off a foul odor you can detect. And if you have a second dog, sometimes it will lick the other dog’s infected ear. “The second dog will smell the infection, and a dog’s answer to everything is ‘Lick it!’” Dr. Organek laughs.
The only way to ensure your dog’s ear is not infected is to have it examined in our office. Our doctors use ear scopes to see down into the 70 percent of the ear canal that is not visible from the outside. They will be able to spot any signs of trouble, like inflammation and matter.
Are some breeds more prone to ear infections than others?
While people used to think that dogs with long ear flaps that covered the ear canal were more prone to ear infections, veterinarians now know that’s not true. A Basset hound is no more likely to end up with sore ears than a Doberman pinscher. However, Dr. Organek says, dogs that have more hair growth in their ears can have more trouble fighting ear infections because the hair can trap wax and debris and make it harder to get antibiotic medication down into the ear canal.
How do you treat ear infections?
If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, make an appointment with one of our doctors immediately, before the infection has a chance to damage the ear drum and spread into the dog’s middle ear, causing serious damage. If our doctors see debris when they examine the ear, they will remove a sample and study it under a microscope to determine what kind of infection is present, such as bacterial or yeast. Their findings will determine the best course of treatment. The visual exam will also tell them whether the ear drum has been damaged, which will also determine their treatment options.
Most often, ear infections can be treated simply by applying a prescription antibiotic cream into the infected ear. But sometimes, if the ear is really inflamed and painful, our doctors will recommend the dog be anesthetized so they can clean out the ear without causing the dog discomfort. They also send these dogs home with pain medication the owners can give prior to administering the antibiotic cream to help alleviate the dogs’ pain.
One thing you should never do if you suspect your dog has an ear infection is to seek a diagnosis or treatment from a website or internet chat room. “One of the biggest problems I see is people treating dogs by Google,” Dr. Organek warns. “People make the mistake of going on the internet and asking others to diagnose their pet and recommend treatment. As a result, I have seen dogs with ears that are horribly swollen and painful because someone on the internet told the owner to pour rubbing alcohol into the dog’s ear. The alcohol is not only extremely painful to the dog’s infected ear, it burns lesions in the skin of the ear. By the time I see them, the dogs are in terrible pain.”
How long does it take to clear up an ear infection?
Longer than you think, warns Dr. Organek. Veterinarians used to believe that most ear infections cleared up with treatment within seven to 10 days. Few ear infections resolve that quickly. Because you won’t be able to see inside your dog’s ear canal, you won’t be able to tell whether the infection is completely gone after you complete the full course of treatment prescribed by one of our doctors. So, it’s essential that you bring your dog back in for a recheck, allowing the doctor to look down into the ear canal and ensure the infection is completely gone.