Cocker Spaniel ear infection issues are synonymous with the breed. When I meet people while out walking my dog, they will ask two questions: How old is your Cocker Spaniel and how are his ears?
A Cocker Spaniel’s long, floppy ears hang low to the ground, making them the perfect breeding grounds for moisture and yeast. Because ear infections grow and thrive in a dog’s ear canal where it is dark and moist, regular maintenance to prevent ear infections is key. I owned a Cocker Spaniel who had her fair share of ear infections despite my due diligence and keeping her ear canals clean. More about that shortly.
The best way to cure a Cocker Spaniel ear infection is prevention, but if an ear infection is present, your dog must be treated with the proper medication. In this article, I’ll outline what we’ve used, what products have been successful to control ear debris, how to stop an ear infection before it gets out of hand, and insider tips as to how the pros clear up Cocker Spaniel ear infections.
If there is any chance your dog might have an ear infection, always check in with your pet’s veterinarian for good measure. I never recommend trying to cure something that could be bigger than any home remedy or “something you read online.” Here’s what you need to know.
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Why Do Cocker Spaniels Get Ear Infections So Often?
Understanding the anatomy of a Cocker Spaniel’s ear will help you understand why they are prone to ear infections. Dogs with long, pendulous ears like Cocker Spaniels are more predisposed to ear infections than their pointy-eared counterparts.
Cockers tend to get more ear problems than other breeds because:
- Cocker ears are floppy: Decreased air flow where the ear canal opens means a humid, moist, and warm environment exists. Yeast and bacteria love that type of ear environment.
- Hairy ear canals: Keep the hair trimmed away from the canal to prevent moisture and debris from building up. Tips to for ear trimmings are listed below.
- Food and environmental sensitivities and allergies: Ear infections and ear inflammation can occur even without symptoms on other body parts.
- Extra oil production: Cockers have more sebaceous oil production than most other breeds. The amount of ceruminous oil their ears and skin produce can go into overdrive. More oil means more earwax means more ear issues.
- Thyroid issues: A low thyroid (T4) function, or hypothyroidism in your dog, can predispose him to chronic ear infections.
The dog’s ear consists of an outer, middle, and inner part. The outer ear of a Cocker Spaniel is what funnels sound in towards the ear canal. Humans have a short ear canal, but dogs have a long narrow ear canal that bends as it gets deeper to the inner ear.
Look at the ear diagram below to understand how a dog’s inner ear is located far down and deep into the ear structure.
At the opening to the ear is a vertical canal that travels downward towards the angle of a dog’s jaw. It then takes a 45-degree turn and moves horizontally towards the dog’s eardrum. Dr. Brenda Burnham McQuillan says the “structure and length of the canal make it difficult to visualize and treat.”
The middle ear contains the eardrum, sometimes called the tympanic membrane. Because the eardrum is so fragile, it can be damaged by cotton swabs, improper cleaning, or chronic ear infections. The inner ear is deep and connects to the dog’s brain, as it contains nerves responsible for hearing and balance. This is why an inner ear infection can sometimes result in a head tilt, loss of coordination, or loss of balance.
Fun fact: More than a dozen separate muscles control the movement of a dog’s ear.
Are All Cocker Spaniels Prone To Ear Infections?
No. Does that answer surprise you? Some Cockers get ear infections because they have their ears flushed and cleaned too often.
While caring pet parents mean well, some people think excessive ear cleaning prevents ear infections. Unless your veterinarian has a specific reason for instructing you to clean your Cocker’s ears often, use caution.
Long-standing ear problems and ear infections can lead to ruptured eardrums, middle and deep ear infections, masses, and ongoing issues.
Like anal sacs in a dog, let the ears alone unless there is a problem. Ask your vet how often you should cleanse your dog’s ears. Less is more unless there is a specific reason your dog needs frequent ear cleanings.
Symptoms of a Cocker Spaniel Ear Infection
Even healthy dogs can sometimes get an ear infection, but there are some tell-tale signs to watch for that may indicate your Cocker Spaniel has an ear infection. These signs include:
- Foul ear odor
- Scratching the ears
- Rubbing the ears
- Running their head along the furniture or carpeting
- Head tilt
- Ear discharge or debris
- Redness or swelling around the ear canal
- Head shaking
PRO TIP: When bathing a Cocker Spaniel, gently place cotton into the ear (not too deep) or use a snood to prevent water from getting inside the ear. A damp environment can lead to ear infection.
Dogs are good at hiding pain, and sometimes an ear infection deep inside the canal can go undetected or unnoticed even by the savviest dog parent. A veterinarian should always examine a Cocker Spaniel’s ears during routine visits and if there is any suspicion of an infection.
Never mess around if there is a ruptured eardrum or any sort of deep infection, which is why we always recommend you seek veterinary care for further inspection. Some dogs have such intense pain that they need to be sedated for treatment.
Once you have a diagnosis of an ear infection, a veterinarian can make offer medications if needed. The best way to cure a Cocker Spaniel ear infection is with the right medication.
When my dog, Dexter, had an ear infection during his near-fatal bout with an immune disease (IMT), his Internal Medicine specialist recommended we use Zymox products for maintenance and care after clearing the infection.
Cocker Spaniel Ear Infection Causes
Before you can cure an ear infection in a dog, it’s best to know what’s causing them and why they happen in the first place. Ear infection causes in Cocker Spaniels run the gamut including:
- Too much hair in the inner ear and flap
- Not enough air flow
- Narrow ear canals
- Diet (a huge reason)
- Lack of cleaning with the right solution
- Ears hang low, touch the ground, and pick up everything
- Growth in the air
- Foreign object in the ear canal
- Side effect of medication
- Food allergy
- Ear mites
- Water in the ears (bathing, swimming)
Like people, Cocker Spaniels get ear infections for different reasons. You could do everything perfectly right, keep the dog’s ears clean, have the hair at the canal trimmed clean, and ear infections could still occur. It may be because your Cocker’s ear canals are so narrow that not much airflow can get inside.
Dr. Judy Morgan, a renowned veterinarian certified in food therapy, says, ” A huge percentage of yeasty ear infections are secondary to food allergies.”
Dogs who have chronic ear infections may be allergic to something in their diet, whether food or treats. She says oftentimes, vets will prescribe oral steroids or long-acting steroids, which unfortunately have many undesirable side effects.
Angus is a Cocker Spaniel who battles chronic ear infections on a regular basis. His mom, Celia Campbell of Indianapolis, Indiana, says when he gets the infections, the vet cultures the inner ear, looks at it under a microscope and tends to find “rods,” a type of bacteria. Another common type of bacteria is cocci.
For Angus, steroids are the only thing that can get his ears back in balance. Celia’s tried everything from ear cleaners to antibiotics, Apoquel to Cytopoint, and nothing has worked.
Angus is an extreme case, but he isn’t alone. He’s been getting allergy shots that are custom-made thanks to a blood test to identify his specific allergens. Celia is hopeful the shots will work, and she uses Zymox products to clean and maintain his ears each week.
How To Treat A Cocker Spaniel Ear Infection
Once an ear infection has been diagnosed, your dog’s veterinarian will prescribe the appropriate antibiotics. Some canine antibiotics are oral and others are placed into the ear. My Cocker also had an infected ear packed with a one-time wax-based medication.
The ear medication contained antibiotics, antifungals, and anti-inflammatories and stayed in his ear for two weeks. They are called otic ear packs, and the pet parent doesn’t have to fuss with goopy creams, gels, or ointments in their dog’s ear every day.
Bacterial or Yeast Ear Infections
Ear infections in dogs can be caused by yeast, bacteria, or a combination of both. When I first brought Dexter home, he had ear mites and a slight ear infection. The deep, dark recess of a Cocker ear is the perfect environment for moisture to form, hence the bacteria or yeast can thrive. Underlying inflammation allows bacteria to form in the ear.
Here’s a clean ear on the left and a dirty, infected ear on the right. The right photo is extreme, but you can see how messy it can get.
The Veterinary Information Network says yeast infections are the most common type of ear infections in dogs. Thoseyeasty organisms that form in the dog’s ear are called Malassezia pachydermatitis. Yeast on the skin and ears is normal, but if the yeast overgrows, it can create a brown, greasy, or gray discharge. Cockers will generally itch at their ears and an odor may be present.
Untreated yeasty ear infections can lead to an aural hematoma. This is a condition where a dog itches so much or shakes his head vigorously that a blood vessel in the earflap ruptures, which can then bleed. The blood clot(s) must be removed and the ear bandaged by a veterinarian.
Consistent ear infections that are not treated or do not go away can lead to scarring or the addition of bacteria to the mix. If yeast and bacteria are involved, the ear infections become harder to clear up. By culturing the ear canal, a vet can look at the contents under a microscope and determine the source (bacteria or yeast, or both).
Your veterinarian may need to sedate a dog to perform a full ear flush and properly view the eardrum. My Cocker Spaniel, Dexter, had a full ear flush performed without sedation at the vet’s office many years ago for a suspected ear infection.
What causes one dog’s ear infection may be a completely different cause in another Cocker.
Here’s a video that is used for veterinary training in how to clean a dog’s ears. I don’t fill a Cocker ear totally up with ear cleaning solution; I put enough of the solution into the ear canal, massage it around, wipe with a cotton ball, and let Dex shake his head. I clean up any debris on the outer canal as well. I do this at least twice a week for maintenance and good overall ear health.
Preventing Ear Infections in Cocker Spaniels
The best way to prevent an ear infection is to examine your Cocker’s lifestyle, food, treats, environment, and even how often you are cleaning his ears.
What Is Your Dog Eating?
Ear problems often are associated with food-based sensitivities and/or allergies. It is amazing how many dogs stop having ear issues when a food or environmental allergen is removed from their world.
A test that we tried and used here in our home is NutriScan, a test that based on saliva alone, tests for the most commonly ingested foods of dogs. You purchase this kit, collect saliva from your dog (it’s easy), and in a few weeks, the results are sent to you. From that point, you can start eliminating ingredients from your dog’s diet. It worked for us, as I found out Dexter is intolerant to venison.
Keep The Ear Canals Clean
It sounds like common sense, but I am keeping a Cocker’s ear canals super clean, shaved down, and free of debris can help big time. If you’ve rescued a Cocker Spaniel or your dog takes off running when ear cleanser is around, there are a few things you can do to get a dog used to having his ears cleaned.
Make a point of it to massage their ears regularly (as long as they enjoy it). When you want to examine your dog’s ears, he or she won’t put up a fuss if they are used to the handling. Reward your dog, give a treat, add some praise and good girl or good boy verbiage. I clap and act like my dog won Westminster when I do an ear cleaning treatment.
Use The Right Ear Cleanser On Your Dog
Cleaning your dog’s ears regularly also lessens the amount of wax inside and makes it easier to smell or see an infection brewing.
Various veterinarians and experts I’ve spoken to are in agreement with the type of ear cleanser to use for Cocker Spaniel ears. A reputable liquid ear cleanser is best.
Here’s my list of the best dog ear cleansers for Cocker Spaniels.
My favorite Cocker ear cleanser is Zymox. I use this non-irritating cleanser for long-term cleaning of non-infected dry ears. What I most like about the Zymox line of products is the powerful LP3 enzyme system which can be safely used on all ages of dogs. The patented enzymes contain no chemicals or antibiotics and go right to work on a Cocker Spaniel’s ear canals.
Trimming The Cocker Spaniel’s Ear Hair
The flap of a Cocker Spaniel’s inner ear should be free of debris, clipped close so hair does not impede airflow, and show no signs of redness, inflammation, or infection.
Keeping the Cocker Spaniel inner ear flap and area near the canal free of hair will help decrease the chances he’ll get an ear infection. Yeast and bacteria love a dark, moist environment and an excessive amount of hair impeding airflow to the canal can cause problems.
If your Cocker Spaniel sees a professional groomer on a regular basis, be sure the ear hair is trimmed down. I learned to do this myself and took lessons on how to groom my Cocker Spaniel at home. Should you be so inclined, you can learn to groom the inside of the Cocker ear using corded or cordless clippers.
I get asked what clippers are best to keep the hair trimmed in a Cocker Spaniel ear. I recommend the Wahl Arco Clipper. I invested in this for use in-between major grooming sessions on my Cocker. It is lightweight, allows for precise trimming, comes with two rechargeable batteries. The 5-in-1 fine blade adjusts between a 9, 10, 15, 30, and a 40 for a variety of cutting lengths.
Please use extreme caution when clipping the Cocker Spaniel ear. You can easily hurt, nick, or damage a Cocker’s delicate ear, which is lined with a ton of blood vessels. Watch my step-by-step video on grooming a Cocker Spaniel.
Cocker Parents Ear Infection Feedback
I asked some Cocker Spaniel parents to discuss their experiences and how to cure a Cocker Spaniel ear infection. Keep in mind some Cockers have narrow canals and despite the greatest intents, they will still wind up with an ear infection. Some Cocker Spaniels have such severe ear problems that the only cure is TECA (total ear canal ablation).
Zymox Otic drops without hydrocortisone . Only thing that worked for my last cocker.Michelle Chippure.
Chandler’s vet recommended TECA surgery. We went to the dermatologist and after a month, no more infection. Have a special cleaner from him that we use twice a week. He wears a snood on our walks to keep debris out of his ears. It’s been 4 months infection free.Linda Riley
My first cocker had chronic swamp ear — every infection was bacterial. My second cocker’s ear infections were always yeast. Treatment was different depending on what the culture showed.M. Smith
Zymox works great!Susan Lombardini Bedard