All About Ear Infections

Eddie Garcia, D.V.M.

Eddie Garcia, D.V.M. – Clinic Director at Veterinary Medical Clinic

Why do some dogs get ear infections over and over while others are never troubled by them?  There are many causes for ear infections, including excessive moistness in the ears, the presence of mites or bacteria, and skin allergies.  Normal ears contain bacterial and yeast in appropriate amounts, but if these yeast or bacteria levels get out of balance, the result can be an ear infection.

Breeds that are prone to ear infections include those with very moist ears, such as Cocker Spaniels, or those prone to skin allergies, such as West Highland White Terriers and Scottish Terriers.  Dogs with weak or insufficient immune systems may also suffer frequent ear infections.  And almost any breed with long, droopy ears can be prone to ear problems.  Basset Hounds head the list, with English Springer Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, and Chinese Shar-Pei following close behind.  Dogs whose ears contain a great deal of hair, such as Poodles, Schnauzers and Old English Sheepdogs frequently have ear problems as well.

TREATMENT – Veterinarians diagnose ear infections by examining the ear with an otoscope to check for foreign bodies or taking a sample of discharge and examining it under a microscope to identify bacteria, yeast or parasites.

Your veterinarian can provide a topical antibacterial or anti-fungal agent to help clear up the problem.  If mites are an issue, the veterinarian will prescribe a medication aimed specifically at killing them.  Be sure to give all the medication prescribed even after the ear appears to be better, because if the dog doesn’t get the full treatment, the infection can pop right back up again.

When infections are complicated by deep soft-tissue involvement, oral antibiotics may be necessary.  Underlying allergies will require appropriate treatment as well.  Often, treatment is intense for initial control, and regular treatment is needed for the rest of the dog’s life to avoid recurrences.

Serious and persistent infections sometimes require more drastic measures.  In some cases, the dog may need to be anesthetized several times so the ear canal can be flushed and debris removed.

If ear canals become thickened and narrowed after many infections, surgery to remove part or all of the outer ear canal may be the best option for humane management.  Opening up the ear canal improves air circulation and makes treatment more effective.

PREVENTION – Even if your dog is prone to ear infections, you can take steps to help prevent them:

  • Check the ears weekly, especially if your dog has floppy ears.
  • Clean the ears with a veterinarian-recommended solution recommended.
  • Trim excess hair.
  • Use drying agents when indicated.
  • Control fleas.

Remember that many ear infections are chronic and can only be managed, not cured.

If an ear infection recurs, don’t assume that the same medication you used last time will work again.  The organisms and ear environment can be different from one infection to another, so see your veterinarian for a definitive diagnosis.

Source: Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine

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