Ear disease and infections are common in dogs, but you can take preventative steps to keep your pet healthy. First, it’s important to understand a dog’s ears.
Dogs’ ears come in all shapes and sizes. Some are long and heavy, like a bloodhound’s, while others are hairy, like a Springer spaniel’s. Some have pointy pinnae, like a Schipperke’s and a wolf (the original dog). The ear canals are fairly similar in all breeds: They are L-shaped, with larger lengths in bigger dogs. That means that if you are putting ear cleanser or medication in your pet’s ears, you need to put more into a large dog’s ears — counting drops is not effective.
Cause & Transmission. The shape of the ear pinnae, the size of the canal opening, and the length of the ear canal can all influence the likelihood of ear disease. Also, swimming and/or getting water in the ear when bathing can cause ear infections. The last step of any bath or post-swimming should be cleaning the ears with a drying ear cleaner.
The most common cause for recurrent ear infections is allergies. Chronic inflammation breaks down the natural skin barrier of the ear and allows yeast and bacteria to take up residence. The ear canal is like skin, only invaginated into a canal.
Clinical Signs. If your pet is shaking their head, scratching their ears, or has a smelly ear, see your vet.
Treatment & Prevention. The most important step is for the veterinarian to perform an ear cytology to check for white blood cells, bacteria, and yeast. A specific medication can then be prescribed. These are usually external ear infections and do not penetrate the ear canal unless it has been chronic. If it is a middle ear infection, there is usually a head tilt and extreme pain, maybe even facial nerve damage with a Bell’s palsy presentation.
There are so many different ear medications out there; from triple medication types to flushes for extremely resistant infection to types that provide repository treatments. Your vet will know what to use.
You can clean your dog’s ears at home rather easily. As with toothbrushing, you should slowly warm your pet up to the process:
- Apply a generous amount of pet ear cleanser (Epi-Otic, Chlorhexiderm flush, etc.) directly into the ear canal.
- Massage the ears until you hear a squishy sound, then step back and let pet shake.
- Dry the ears and remove any dirt or wax with a dry cotton ball. You can use a Q-tip only in the upper crevices but never down in the ear canal. As with people, never put anything smaller than your finger in the ear canal.
If upon inspection you find your pet has a foul odor or colored discharge to his ears, he already has an ear infection and should be examined by your veterinarian.
Can Humans Get It? No.