Everywhere you turn these days, some company seems to have a lotion, potion, powder, or “sure thing” to prevent dog ear infections.
As the pet parent to a floppy eared pooch for most of my adult life, I can attest to the power of keeping a dog’s ears clean as the best advice I can dispense in terms of preventing ear infections. It sounds like common sense, but there is no greater enemy to the dog’s ear canal than dirt, yeast, bacteria, and/or water.
What to Watch For
Dogs will often scratch or paw at their ear(s), rub their face or ear against the floor, and may even snap or attempt to bite in pain. Some dogs even become withdrawn or are less interested in playing. A friend of mine has a dog who ended up having a double ear ablation due to chronic ear infections. Said friend has a Cocker Spaniel with floppy ears, of course. Although the surgeries are costly and involved, she reports having a whole “new dog” with a renewed sense of life as a result.
Ear infections can manifest in a variety of ways.
Here are some of the common symptoms of a canine ear infection:
- Scratching of the ear or area around the ear
- Brown, yellow, or bloody discharge
- Odor in the ear
- Crusts or scabs on inside of the outer ear
- Hair loss around the ear
- Rubbing of the ear and surrounding area on the floor or furniture
- Head shaking or head tilt
- Loss of balance
- Unusual eye movements
- Walking in circles
- Hearing loss
Basic Ear Anatomy
A dog’s ear is very different from that of a human. Here’s a “dog ears for beginners” primer:
A dog’s ear consist of an outer, middle, and inner ear canal. Simple, right?
Outer Ear: The outer ear consists of the pinna (or ear flap) which can be stand upright (called a prick ear) or floppy, like in a Cocker Spaniel.
People have a very short ear canal, but dogs have a long and narrow ear canal. As the canal gets deeper, it bends at almost a 90 degree angle.
Middle Ear: As we get deeper into the ear, and this is where many ear infections occur in dogs, we meet the middle ear. It is separated from the outer ear canal by the tympanic membrane, better known as the eardrum.
Dog parents need to be extremely careful when cleaning a dog’s ear because the eardrum is extremely fragile. Any sort of trauma to it or untreated issues can cause major issues. The middle ear has 3 small bones in it along with the Eustachian tube that leads from the bulla to the back of the dog’s mouth.
Inner Ear: The inner ear is deep and connects the nerves and balance/hearing centers with the dog’s brain.
This is what the inside of a dog’s ear looks like:
The inner side of the ear should look healthy and pink, like my dog’s, see?
Many of the above symptoms can also be a sign of other issues, so always seek veterinary care before taking it upon yourself to self diagnose a dog. Once your dog has been cleared by the veterinarian and is dubbed free of any ear issues, here is a Fidose of Reality list to keep dogs’ ears clean and free from infection.
Get to the Source of The Itch
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.
This is the case with many skin issues in dogs. An ear issue is often indicative of some other sort of problem occurring with the body. Look at your dog’s diet, including treats. Consider a veterinary visit and/or consult with a dietitian for your dog.
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, you can do it at home or in your veterinarian’s office, and in a few weeks, the results are sent to you. From that point, you can put your dog on the right diet.
Figuring out what a dog is allergic or sensitive to is not an easy nor fast process. It may take months and trial and error to discover the culprits, but you must be persistent.
When food is involved, often times both ears are affected.
Take a Good Whiff
Yep, smell your dog’s ears: Both of them. 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. When you know what a clean ear smells like, you can then be on guard for a stinky ear.
Bottom line: Healthy ears do not have an odor.
Smelly ears tend to have a yeasty, not so pleasant stench about them. A vet visit is in order.
Keep Hair Trimmed On the Ear and Around the Canal
Keeping your dog’s ears clean is very important to maintain good health. Many dog parents do not realize that hair can grow inside a dog’s ear canal. If there is hair in the ear canal, it should be removed when there are no signs of ear issues such as odor, infection, or other problems. I highly recommend seeking a professional groomer’s assistance to trim the ear canal and remove any hair safely and pain-free from the ear canal.
Consider a dog’s floppy ear: It touches the ground, it picks up moisture and debris, and then it makes its way down to the ear canal. This is a perfect “breeding” ground for infection, yeast, or bacteria to form and cause infection.
Regular Cleaning of the Ear
Never ever stick anything into a dog’s ear to try to clean it out. You risk damaging the delicate structures of the ear and/or causing the dog to be afraid and uncooperative for future monitoring. Ask your veterinarian to show you in person how to clean the dog’s ears.
I make ear cleaning a fun, happy time. I never yell, scold, chase my dog down, and I keep the ear cleanser near my desk. When I am ready to do the ear cleaning, Dexter does not get afraid. I just pick up the solution, some treats, and reward him like he just won Best in Show.
Only clean a dog’s ears if the vet has seen them first. You don’t want to treat a problem if you have no clue what is brewing in the ear.
Do not syringe pet ears; this is a veterinary procedure only.
Check with your veterinarian regarding which product to use and how often to use it. Excessive ear cleaning can damage a dog’s delicate ear.
Warm the solution up by rubbing it gently in your hands so that you are not squirting a cold liquid into the ear: You wouldn’t like this and neither does your dog.
Basically with dog’s head downward and the ear flap in hand, squirt a gentle amount of dog specific cleanser recommended by your veterinarian into the ear, filling the canal. I hold the ear canal closed and gently massage it at the base so the cleanser squishes around inside the ear.
Once this is done, I repeat on the other ear. The dog will then shake his ears and this is to be expected.
Later, wipe any remaining cleanser from the outer canal with a gauze or tissue. Do not go deep into the ear. Do not use cotton swabs.
Super Ninja Tip
When bathing: Place cotton into the ear or use a snood to prevent any water from getting in the ear. A damp environment can lead to ear problems.
What I Use
Though I cannot guarantee the same results for your dog, in all of the years of having Cocker Spaniels, we have experienced 2 ear infections: One with my last Cocker and one with my current baby boy. Dexter’s ear infection was caused by antibiotics for a respiratory infection. I’ve since realized I should have given him probiotics with it, but I digress.
On a regular basis, I use Dechra MalAcetic Otic Cleanser. This cleanser works to clean and dry the ear to prevent infections and other issues.
As a Cocker mom, I talk to many Cocker parents. I’ve read wonderful things about Zymox Otic Pet Ear Treatment without Hydrocortisone.
We recently discovered EARoma thEARapy from Natural Paws. This is a sprayable, botanical ear wash.
Ear Care Recap:
- Sniff test weekly
- Keep ears free of debris and hair
- Regular vet visit
- Regular in-home cleaning according to veterinary recommendations
Barking from the Bayou
Our blogging buddy and fellow dog mom, Melissa Clinton, knows all too well about dog ear infections. Her Basset Hound, Bentley, had a few. Read up on how she helped her dog with ear infections by clicking: Barking from the Bayou Stops Ear Infections in Their Tracks.
QUESTION: Has your dog ever had ear issues? What did you do?