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Ear infection in dogs

Ear infections in dogs: Not only unpleasant for the beloved four-legged friend, but also for the owner. When a dog constantly shakes its head, scratches its ears and maybe even smells disgusting, it can be a stress test for the human-dog relationship. But what can actually be the causes of ear infections? How are they treated? And most importantly, what can be done to prevent it from happening in the first place?
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Not all ear infections are the same

A dog’s ear, just like a human ear, is made up of different areas: the outer ear, the middle ear and the very sensitive inner ear. All these areas can be affected by an inflammation. If a dog has an ear infection, “only” the outer ear is usually affected, i.e. the ear canal up to the eardrum and occasionally also the pinna. Veterinarians call this “otitis externa” (otitis = ear infection, externa = external). Middle ear infections (otitis media) and inner ear infections (otitis interna) are much rarer in our furry companions. Fortunately – because here the symptoms can be much more dramatic! Balance disorders, head tilt and, in the worst case, spreading to the brain are conceivable here.
When we talk about ear infections in dogs, we are usually talking about an inflammation of the outer ear. That is why we want to focus on this disease here.

How does an ear infection (otitis externa) manifest itself in a dog?

A typical ear infection, i.e. otitis externa, is usually quite easy for an attentive dog owner to notice. The inflammation causes itching, pain and sometimes visible changes in the ear. Affected dogs usually shake their heads a lot, scratch their ears and sometimes rub them against objects. Depending on how severe the inflammation is, they sometimes really enjoy having their ears massaged. However, if the pain is severe, they may also be less than enthusiastic if you try to touch the ears. The auricles and ear canals are often red and sometimes swollen in dogs with ear infections. The earwax can range from relatively unchanged to brown-crumbly (“coffee grounds-like”) to purulent-smelling.

What are possible causes of ear infections in dogs?

There are many reasons why an ear infection can occur, such as

  • Allergies (e.g. to pollen, mites or food)
  • Diseases that weaken the immune system (e.g. hypothyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome, diabetes)
  • Ear mites
  • Foreign bodies in the ears (e.g. so-called awns, i.e. elongated plant parts)
  • Frequent bathing
  • Incorrect ear cleaning, e.g. with cotton buds

It also depends to some extent on the dog’s ears themselves, how at risk they are of developing an ear infection. Dogs with floppy ears and/or lots of hair in the ear canal have a much more suitable climate for bacteria and yeast fungi from the outset: nice and warm and moist.

Bacteria and yeasts: Ear infection

Theoretically, an ear infection can be “sterile”, i.e. no germs are involved in the infection (e.g. in the case of allergies). In the vast majority of cases, however, ear infections sooner or later lead to an infection: the germs that are always present in small numbers in the ear canal (especially bacteria and yeasts such as malassezia) multiply in a pathological way. This infection heats up the inflammation even more; in addition, the germs themselves can also be responsible for itching. So even if the cause of the inflammation is removed (e.g. a foreign body), the symptoms can persist if the infection is not adequately controlled.

How is an ear infection treated in dogs?

If a dog scratches its ears a lot, shakes its head and the ears are very dirty and/or smelly, there is definitely a need for action! After all, the beloved pet should not suffer from itching and pain any longer than necessary. In addition, if left untreated, the condition can eventually spread to the middle ear and eventually to the inner ear. When deciding when to consult a veterinarian in cases of increased head shaking and ear scratching, the dog owner needs to be tactful: Very mild cases can sometimes be controlled by frequent use of an ear cleaner (once a day). However, if the symptoms are severe, the dog keeps getting sick or there is no improvement (or even a worsening), a visit to the vet is definitely called for! The vet can not only diagnose “ear infection” and find out if and which germs are involved – he can also examine whether there is a treatable root cause for the disease in your dog. Depending on the results of the examination, various treatment options may be considered. In the case of an ear infection, the vet will probably prescribe your dog ear drops specifically tailored to the infection – depending on which germs are present in the ears, these may contain an antibiotic, a remedy against yeast fungi and/or a cortisone preparation, for example. In addition to the ear drops, a rigorous ear cleaning should also be carried out in the case of an acute ear infection: Extensive rinsing with ear cleaner can remove the killed germs, the inflammation products and the pathological earwax from the ears. However, you should keep a sufficient time interval between this and the medical ear drops so as not to dilute the medication in the ear (this would lead to a loss of effect). For example, if the ear drops have been prescribed for twice-daily use, you can apply them in the morning and in the evening, while using the ear cleaner at noon. In severe cases, other treatment options for ear infections are also possible, e.g. ear irrigation under anaesthesia, medication for oral administration or surgical treatment.

Can you prevent ear infections in dogs?

Through regular and correct ear cleaning and care, it is possible to reduce the likelihood of an ear infection. This is especially important for dogs that have already suffered from an ear infection once or several times or that have a high risk of developing the disease, e.g. allergic dogs, four-legged friends with a disease that weakens the immune system, small “water rats” and dogs with floppy ears or “hairy” ear canals. For these animals, it makes sense to use an ear cleaner daily to weekly. Here is a summary of the best way to do this and what you should bear in mind: Gently clean dirty ears in dogs. We recommend our EAR CLEANSER for regular ear cleaning and care, as well as at the first signs of scratching and head shaking in combined or “hairy” ear canals. For these animals, it makes sense to use an ear cleaner daily to weekly. Here is a summary of the best way to do this and what you should bear in mind: Gently clean dirty ears in dogs. We recommend our EAR CLEANSER for regular ear cleaning and care, as well as at the first signs of scratching and head shaking in combined or “hairy” ear canals. For these animals, it makes sense to use an ear cleaner daily to weekly. Here is a summary of the best way to do this and what you should bear in mind: Gently clean dirty ears in dogs. We recommend our EAR CLEANSER in combination with the caring EAR GEL for regular ear cleaning and care as well as at the first signs of scratching and head shaking. The purely natural and alcohol-free EAR CLEANSER provides thorough and soothing cleansing with microsilver, lactic acid, rosemary, lavender and zinc. It gently dissolves stuck earwax and thus frees the auditory canal. After cleaning, our EAR GEL provides particularly intensive care for stressed dog ears. The unique combination of ingredients such as aloe vera, zinc, lavender, witch hazel and rosemary soothes and cares for the ear canal and the pinna. With these simple measures, your dog’s ears will hopefully remain healthy and untroubled by annoying ear infections!