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How to Deal With a Dog Ear Infection

Jennifer Kelly Geddes
June 22, 2017

Puppy ear aches can be a drag for both pets and their owners. Here's how to recognize, treat and learn to prevent a dog ear infection.

Is Fido scratching at his ears more than usual? Has Spike started tossing her head a lot? Your pup might have an ear infection.

A dog ear infection can be painful for your pooch. You'll want to get it resolved as quickly as you can. "Catching ear infections early can help prevent them from spreading or becoming more severe, which can lead to surgery, disfigurement or even fatal complications," explains Michael San Filippo, spokesperson for the American Veterinary Medical Association. And don't try to take care of it yourself. Let your vet take care of it. "It's important to see a vet to discover the root causes, not just treat the symptoms," says Dr. Jeffrey Levy, a veterinarian with House Call Vet NYC.

Here's what you need to know about identifying and preventing dog ear infections:

The Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs
Certain activities, such as swimming or frequent bathing, can trap water and increase the risk of a dog ear infection. The prime suspects behind a dog's ear infection are yeast and bacteria, which can grow in the ear."The canine ear is L-shaped and in many dogs the earflap acts like a door, creating a warm, moist environment for these culprits to breed," says Dr. Levy. Some breeds are more prone to ear problems than others, including those with floppy ears (such as cocker spaniels, bassett hounds, beagles) and pups with hair on the inner ear canal (such as Shih Tzu and Maltese). Dogs that suffer from allergies, whether environmental or food allergies, are predisposed to ear infections, too, says Dr. Levy.

Symptoms and Treatment
"Common signs of an ear infection can be excessive scratching of the ears, head shaking and a foul odor coming from the ears," explains San Filippo. There may also be redness and swelling inside the ear, as well as scaling of the skin. In advanced cases of ear infections, a dog may lose balance, walk in circles or experience hearing loss. "I don't recommend trying to diagnosis your dog's ear infection yourself," says Dr. Levy. If you see any of the signs, bring your dog to the vet.

Your vet may sample any discharge coming from your dog's ear, order blood work and test for allergies, says Dr. Levy. In addition, your vet will likely clean your dog's ear thoroughly, prescribe medication and, if needed, deal with an underlying allergy. "Depending on the nature of the illness, an antibiotic, antifungal, corticosteroid or other topical or oral medication may be used to treat the infection," reports San Filippo.

To prevent future infections, your vet may recommend regular ear cleaning, ear hair removal, allergy treatment or complementary measures such as acupuncture. But the best way to prevent this type of infection in your dog is to become familiar with his ears. "Inspect his ears regularly as part of your daily play routine by picking it up and checking inside for redness, swelling or discharge," suggests Dr. Levy.

Taking care of your dog is a team effort, so be sure to enlist your dog walker's help in all health-related matters. Talk to your dog walker about ear infections in dogs and the signs and symptoms of them, especially if your dog is susceptible. "A dog walker is often a pet owner's first sentinel in pointing out emerging health problems," relates Dr. Levy. If an ear infection is diagnosed, you'll want to enlist your walker's help in monitoring your pup's mood and progress.

Worried it might not be an ear infection? Check out How to Care for Dog Ear Mites.

Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a New York-based writer and editor who specializes in parenting, health and child development. She's a frequent contributor to Care.com and the mom of two teen girls.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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