Ear Infections in Dogs

With the hot moist heat, pollen, and outdoor activities (like swimming) our dogs do, summer at my holistic veterinary practice seems to be the season for dog ear infections.

But before I can give any advice on proactively preventing or treating dog ear infections, we need to understand why and how they occur… And that calls for a little anatomy and a little science!

The biggest reason dog’s get ear infections is simply due to the anatomy of their ears. A dog’s ear canal has both a vertical and a horizontal component. Because of this, the ears are predisposed to infection since debris must work its way upward rather than straight out to get out. Accumulation of earwax, skin oil, and other debris feed the bacteria and fungi that live in the normal ear canal and soon an infection results.

Ear disease usually stems from over production of wax that occurs in response to irritation. Possible causes of ear disease include:

  • Allergies,

  • Parasites (ear mites),

  • Underlying hypothyroidism,

  • Foreign bodies such as grass or damp hair;

  • And wax: The moisture of the wax promotes bacterial growth and infection. Wax in the ears is soon joined by pus.

When you see your dog scratching his or her ears, shaking their head, or holding one ear slightly dropped, you will, at this point, start to both smell and see the infections in your canine’s ears.

Sometimes the infection can reach the middle ear causing a head tilt, a lack of balance, and/or back and forth motions of the eyes called nystagmus. These symptoms are called vestibular signs and represent a complication of middle ear infection. Middle ear infections in dogs can also cause paralysis of the facial nerve, leading to a slacked jawed appearance on that side of the face.

When shaking of the head from ear infections gets out of control, a blood vessel in the ear flap (the pinnae) may rupture and then become swollen with blood accumulation. If this happens to your dog, a surgical fix is needed. However, it’s important to note that even with a surgical fix, the underlying reason for the ear infection still needs to be addressed.

I recommend a visit to your local veterinarian when signs of wax become excessive or other symptoms like the ones listed above present themselves. Your veterinarian can look for underlying reasons for the ear infection, test the discharge, perform a deep cleaning, and treat the ears medically.

Prevention of ear infections includes:

  • Careful observance of the ears,

  • Routine cleaning

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