Ear infections are a relatively common condition in dogs, but that doesn’t make them any less aggravating to deal with. Technically known as “Otitis Externa” (an inflammation of the outer ear canal), an ear infection can really be a nuisance to your pup, and if left untreated, it can lead to further complications that will basically equal more trips to the vet for you, so it’s definitely worth it to take care of this bothersome malady as soon as you discover it.
If your four-legged friend starts scratching its ears a lot, rubbing its ears on the carpet, shaking its head a lot, or tilting its head to one side all the time, it may be dealing with an ear infection. I know what this is like first-hand, because my dog Juno once had to get treated for an ear infection, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. She would scratch her ears incessantly, to the point that the veterinarian even told us that if we wouldn’t have treated the problem in a timely manner, she could have done some serious damage to her eardrum due to all of her scratching.
Fortunately, we were able to get rid of the ear infection, but having “been there and done that”, I wouldn’t want any other dog owner (or dog) going through the aggravation of this cumbersome condition. For that reason, I have put together some key information regarding how to detect, clean, treat, and prevent ear infections in your dog, so that you won’t have to see your pup going through what my beloved Juno went through. So without any further fanfare, below are some key tips and insights to help you deal with an ear infection in your dog.
Symptoms Of Ear Infections In Dogs
As with any other health condition, it pays to find out what type of symptoms the condition produces before deciding to take any action towards remedying the situation. When it comes to ear infections in dogs, there are always a few telltale symptoms to look for that indicate that your dog may indeed be dealing with this bothersome condition. Here are some of the main symptoms to watch out for:
- Your dog may scratch its ears a lot, or try to rub its ears on the carpet or floor to relieve the itching.
- You might smell an unpleasant odor coming from your dog’s ears.
- You may notice some kind of discharge coming from your dog’s ears.
- Your dog’s ear canal and/or ear flap might display swelling or itching.
- The area around your dog’s ears might be extra-sensitive to the touch.
- Your dog’s behavior might change (e.g., listlessness, irritability, etc.).
Causes Of Ear Infections In Dogs
There are a variety of factors that can cause ear infections in dogs, which can make it difficult to pin down exactly what the culprit might be. Here are some of the most common causes:
- Improper or inadequate hygiene: Dogs that are not bathed frequently – especially around their ears – can easily be susceptible to ear infections.
- Allergies or hypersensitivities: It is not uncommon for dogs that have allergies or hypersensitivities to various environmental factors (e.g., something inhaled, something that comes into contact with the skin, etc.) to develop ear infections. Allergens can come in all kinds of forms, from trees, grass and weed pollens to rubber, plastic and milk products. Keep in mind that these types of allergies or sensitivities will change the environment within the ear itself, which may produce further complications, including secondary infections.
- Parasites: Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) can often plague your dog’s ears, causing them to want to scratch almost incessantly just to find some relief. Unfortunately, some dogs have scratched their ears so hard and so frequently that they have unwittingly produced significant trauma to their ears.
- Foreign bodies in the ear: Perhaps you’ve seen plant awns (a.k.a. fox tails or grass seeds) before; they’re those small little plant seeds that tend to cling to your dog’s fur (and your clothing). These awns typically have small barbs or a fishhook-like design, which can sometimes get lodged in your dog’s ears. This can lead to irritation or infection, which can cause your dog to begin scratching its ears more than usual.
- Bacterial infections or yeast infections: There are several different types of bacteria and yeast that can cause ear infections in dogs. While a normal, healthy dog ear has built-in natural defenses against these types of organisms, an ear environment that has been compromised by allergens or other irritants can set the stage for these types of bacteria and/or yeast to flourish.
- Trauma or injury to the ear: Excessive scratching can traumatize the skin in or around the ear, which can create an infection or exacerbate an existing one.
- Hyperthyroidism or other hormonal abnormalities: Hormonal imbalances (deficiencies or excesses) can alter the condition of your dog’s skin and ears, which can sometimes lead to an ear infection.
- Tumors: Abnormal growths such as tumors can alter the ear environment, which can set the stage for an ear infection to develop.
- Immune system disorders: If your dog’s immune system has been compromised, they can be much more susceptible to infections of all kinds, including ear infections.
- Hereditary conditions: Different breeds have different hereditary conditions that can put them at an increased risk of developing ear infections. In addition, the shape of your dog’s ears can play a part in their potential susceptibility to ear infections; for example, Cocker Spaniels typically retain more moisture in their big, floppy ears than short-eared dogs, which can make them a more likely candidate for developing ear infections.
- Wax and debris buildup: This is one of the most common causes of ear infections in dogs. Excessive wax or debris buildup is bound to alter the ear environment over time, so be sure to clean your pup’s ears on a regular basis!
Given the multitude of potential causes for ear infections that are out there, it can be difficult to nail down an exact culprit. However, if you are able to pinpoint what might be the root of the issue, you can know how to proceed in order to treat (and hopefully get rid of) the infection.
How To Prevent Or Treat An Ear Infection
As I mentioned earlier, dirty ears are one of the main reasons why dogs get ear infections. Since this is true, it naturally follows that if you keep your pup’s ears clean, they’ll be at a much lower risk for developing this bothersome ailment. Fortunately, cleaning your dog’s ears is not a difficult task, but there are quite a few factors you need to consider before you do it.
Number one, all dogs will respond differently to getting their ears cleaned, and the reactions can range from calm enjoyment to irritated aggression. You have to know the temperament of your dog really well (which I’m sure you do) to know whether or not they will like someone messing with their ears. Some dogs won’t give you any grief while you’re cleaning their ears, while others may even have to be muzzled to keep from biting you.
Thankfully, my dog Juno has a very gentle nature, and she’s a “warm fuzzies” kind of loving dog that just thrills to any kind of physical contact. She loves getting her belly rubbed, she loves it when we pet her on the head, and she’s all about a good ear massage as well. To her, an ear cleaning is just another pampering session, so I have to thank my lucky stars that she doesn’t mind it at all. If your dog is a little more high-strung than that, I recommend you adjust your cleaning strategy accordingly, even if it means taking your pup to the vet so that it can be professionally muzzled during the cleaning.
How To Clean A Dog’s Ear Infection
Okay, now that I’ve gotten the preliminary disclaimers out of the way (sorry if I was a little long-winded), here’s how you actually clean your dog’s ears. The only items you really need to get the job done are a cleaning solution (e.g., Virbac Epi-Otic, Vetericyn All Animal Ear Rinse, etc.) and some gauze squares.
Notice I didn’t say cotton balls or even soft tissue, because these items can shred off while you’re cleaning, which can leave unwanted debris in your dog’s ear. Gauze squares are soft enough to be gentle on your dog’s ear, but resilient enough to where they won’t shred and get all over the place. Simply squeeze enough solution on the gauze square to make it damp but not dripping wet, and begin wiping the inside of your dog’s ear flap first.
Keep in mind that the difficulty level of this cleaning effort will be largely based on the shape and size of your dog’s ears. My dog Juno is an Alaskan Husky and Collie mix, so her ears are relatively small and tend to stand up all by themselves; this makes them fairly easy to clean. For dogs with big, floppy ears, you’re going to have to put in a little more effort to make sure that you’re being thorough with your cleaning job. But once you have squeezed the solution onto the gauze and started wiping the inner ear flap, be sure to be adequately firm with your wiping action, because some of that ear crud can be hard to wipe off!
You may have to go through several rounds of gauze squares before you really get your pup’s ears clean; the general rule is that as long as there’s still some dirt, gunk, crud, or debris visible on the gauze square after you’ve wiped your dog’s ear, you still need to keep cleaning. Just keep switching to fresh gauze squares and keep going at it until the square looks clean.
To clean inside of your pup’s ear canal, you will need to squeeze the solution down into the ear canal and then use an action known as “milking”, which is basically where you massage the ear canal from the outside by gently squeezing your dog’s ear using your thumb and index finger. Move it up and down as if you’re milking a cow (hence the name), so that the solution can really break up any obstructions or debris in the ear canal. Once you’ve done this, you can wipe it out with a gauze square, and repeat if necessary.
If you’re a little hesitant about cleaning your dog’s ears, I can say that it’s not nearly as difficult as it may seem, but the choice is ultimately up to you. If you’re simply not comfortable with doing this yourself, you’d be better off taking your pooch to the vet and letting him/her take care of it. In some cases, this may be necessary, especially if your dog’s ear is particularly difficult to clean, or if there’s a whole lot of stubborn packed debris inside of your pooch’s ear canal. The veterinarian has special tools and equipment (such as flexible catheters) that can really get deep into the dog’s ear canal in order to remove any accumulated discharge. For these types of situations, the vet is the best choice, because an anaesthetic might be required in order to perform certain ear cleaning procedures.
Holistic Preventative Techniques
Besides keeping your pup’s ears clean, dry and free from various debris, you can also adopt a more holistic approach by making sure that you keep your dog on a healthy diet, and giving them plenty of exercise.
One of the main times that you will need to pay attention to cleaning your dog’s ears is after they’ve been exposed to water. While some moisture in the ear canal is normal, excessive moisture can set the stage for certain bacteria, yeast or fungi to develop in your dog’s ear, so make sure that you thoroughly dry your pup’s ears any time they are exposed to water.
Home Remedies To Prevent Or Treat Dog Ear Infections
1. Warm Compress
For outer ear infections, a warm compress can work wonders, because it can reduce the swelling, pain and inflammation associated with this ailment. Simply wet a soft washcloth with very warm water (not scalding!), and squeeze it out to the point where the cloth will not drip. Now fold it up into a manageable shape, and then hold and gently press it up against your dog’s ear for a couple of minutes. Repeat this action several times a day for the best results.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar Drink And Cleaner
Apple cider vinegar is one of nature’s most potent and versatile antiseptics and astringents. You can use this amazing elixir to your advantage by diluting two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into one cup of water, and giving this to your dog to drink twice a week. The dilution will be adequate enough to where the drink won’t be too bitter for your dog, but it will do wonders for curing the ear infection at its root.
Not only is apple cider vinegar an effective anti-infection drink, but you can also clean your dog’s ears with this same solution! Some people add hydrogen peroxide into the mix when using it as an ear cleaner (never as a drink!), so if you decide to go that route, just use equal parts apple cider vinegar and hydrogen peroxide in the mixture.
3. Vitamin E Oil
Vitamin E has amazing healing and antioxidant properties. Simply crush a Vitamin E liquigel capsule and spread the oil directly on the affected area in your dog’s ear. As an alternate, you can use cod liver oil for the same purpose.
More than just a vampire repellent, garlic has strong medicinal properties that make it a great choice for fighting an ear infection in your dog. The key is to crush the garlic, so that a key sulfuric compound known as allicin can be released; this is where the bulk of garlic’s health benefits are realized.
Now this remedy takes a little time to put together (about 2 weeks), so you’ll need to keep this on hand once you do it just in case future issues arrive. Start off by steeping two garlic cloves in an adequate amount of olive oil, and then let this mixture sit for about 2 weeks. Pour the mixture into a separate container, making sure to strain it with a sieve or some cheesecloth as you pour. Now dip an eyedropper into the mixture and draw up enough to fill the eyedropper about half full. Squeeze 2 to 3 drops of the mixture into your dog’s ear, repeating this action daily until the infection fully heals.
5. Witch Hazel
One of nature’s most popular astringents, witch hazel can knock an ear infection out with great aplomb. In a shallow bowl, combine equal parts witch hazel and organic apple cider vinegar. Now put some in an eyedropper and squeeze about 2 or 3 drops in your dog’s ear. This will help towards soothing your dog’s beleaguered ear.
6. Margosa Oil
Made from the seeds of the neem tree that is native to South Asia, margosa oil is a traditional remedy that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Margosa oil carries strong antimicrobial properties that make it a prime candidate for battling various bacteria and fungi that can be catalysts for ear infections in your dog.
You can create a homemade ear cleaning solution by combining 1 ounce of margosa oil, 1 teaspoon of tea tree oil, one-half ounce of olive oil, and one-half teaspoon of eucalyptus oil in a container and stirring well to mix it all together. Now put the solution in an eyedropper, and put about 10 to 20 drops of it into your dog’s ear. Massage your dog’s ear at the base to work it into your pup’s ear canal. This solution will reduce inflammation and bring soothing relief to your pooch’s ear.
7. Almond Oil
Almond oil is great for loosening up wax and dirt inside of your dog’s ears. Just put about a half-teaspoon of warmed-up olive oil into your dog’s ear to stave off any infection.
8. Probiotic Yogurt
If your dog’s ear infection is a result of yeast, probiotic yogurt can be an outstanding remedy to take care of this issue. Make sure to use organic probiotic yogurt that has active strains of probiotic bacteria, as these “good bacteria” will attack and neutralize the encroaching yeast. Simply rub a small amount of yogurt into the affected area at least once a day, or until the infection clears up.
9. Mullein Oil
Derived from the leaves and twigs of the mullein plant, mullein oil is a powerful herbal remedy that is often used to treat ear infections and earaches in both dogs and humans. Mullein oil is commonly combined with garlic oil to create a powerful herbal oil that carries significant healing properties. Simply put a couple of drops of this solution into your dog’s ear once or twice a day to reduce inflammation and soothe your pooch’s ear.
10. Pau D’Arco
Perhaps you’ve heard about pau d’arco before; I hadn’t before I started doing research on what type of natural remedies were out there to help my dog get rid of her ear infection.
It’s a herb that has strong antibiotic properties, which means it can knock out any bacteria or fungi that might be causing an infection. Create a natural solution using equal parts pau d’arco and mineral oil, and put a small amount (about a half-teaspoon) in your dog’s ear, working and massaging it into the ear canal as best as you can. Repeat this twice a day until the infection goes away.
So there you have it – a smorgasbord of cleaning, prevention and treatment techniques that can get rid of ear infections in your dog. You now have all the information you need to make an informed decision about which treatment option will make the most sense for your pooch.
Whatever you do, don’t neglect to get your dog’s ear infection taken care of right away – as I mentioned earlier, if this condition is left untreated, it can lead to more extensive damage to your dog’s ear, especially if your pup continues to scratch the affected area. Keep things on the safe side by treating any ear infections immediately, so that you and your pup can have some much-needed peace of mind.