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Dog Ear Infection: Tips on Prevention and Recurrence Management

Tracie Koehnlein
By Tracie Koehnlein
Milica Pešić
Edited by Milica Pešić

Published August 16, 2023.

A white dog getting its ear brushed to avoid infection.

According to the American Kennel Club, up to 20% of dogs experience some form of ear disease. And the shape of their ear canals plays a significant role. Many dogs, especially breeds with droopy ears like spaniels and hounds, are more susceptible to ear infections. Sometimes, it's their anatomy and other times allergies are the main culprits. If you've noticed an odor around some dogs, it's potentially an ear issue.

Today, we're diving deep into this topic, equipped with insights from an interview with Tracie Koehnlein, a canine expert. Whether you're a seasoned dog parent or a newbie, this is information every dog lover should have in their toolkit. Let's get started.

How Do Dogs Get Ear Infections?

While some causes are more common than others, it's best to understand a variety so you can be better prepared. Here are some factors that make dogs more susceptible to ear infections:

  • Ear canal design: Their L-shaped ear canal isn't a straight path, making it easy for debris or excess wax to get trapped. This design can lead to complications if not adequately cared for.
  • Certain breeds are more predisposed: It's not just the doodles with curly locks; breeds like spaniels, hound dogs, and any other breeds with long, droopy ears are more prone to infections.
  • Allergies: When a dog has allergies, these often manifest on the skin. If the skin inside the ear becomes compromised, it can lead to a buildup of wax and bacteria, setting the stage for an infection.
  • Water-loving dogs: Dogs who swim frequently may have a build-up of moisture in their ears that can develop into infections.
  • Foreign objects: While this is rare, objects, like the barbed seeds of foxtail plants, can find their way into a dog's ear, leading to irritation and potential infection.

Tip From An Expert

"If you have to regularly perform any kind of medical or grooming procedure, it's good to get your dog used to it with something positive. For example, give them something to lick or chew on while you're doing it," suggests Koehnlein.

Dog Ear Infection Symptoms

Dogs have their own ways of signaling discomfort, and when it comes to ear infections, there are several signs to watch out for:

  • Head-shaking
  • Ear scratching
  • Head rubbing against the floor or furniture to try and alleviate discomfort
  • Unpleasant odor
  • Visible discharge
  • Redness
  • Warmer ear flaps than usual
  • Head tilting

Remember that while one or two of these signs might not confirm an ear infection, a combination of them should raise concerns. For instance, it's better to gain a deeper understanding of the signs that dogs exhibit while stressed so that there is no confusion.

Dog Ear Infection Treatments

When treating ear infections in dogs, the approach largely depends on the type of infection.

Common Treatment

After diagnosing the issue, vets often prescribe antibiotics or antifungal ear drops or creams, as well as cleaning solutions, for home application. Oral antibiotics for dog ear infections might be necessary if it's a severe case. While there's no one-size-fits-all treatment, early detection often results in this regimen, which typically resolves the issue for most dogs.

Treatment for More Severe Cases

If a dog's ear infections are recurrent and linked to allergies, dietary changes or allergy treatments, such as oral medications or shots, might be recommended. Neglected or chronic infections can lead to hyperplasia, where the ear canal's flesh appears swollen, obstructing the view inside the ear. Such severe cases might necessitate surgical intervention.

» Wondering if probiotics can help your dog's ear infection? Check out the answer here

Understanding the Costs and Insurance Coverage for Dog Ear Infections

Treating ear infections in dogs comes with its own set of expenses. So, how much is treatment for dog ear infections? "Around the northeast of the United States, usually even just walking in the door, it's usually about $200 just for a visit," explains Koehnlein. So, while it's always a good idea to compare prices, it's undeniable that treating ear infections can be a significant expense.

Pet insurance for dogs can come to the rescue as ear infections are among the most frequently claimed conditions. In many instances, pet insurance policies will cover treatment for ear infections. However, there are exceptions. Dogs with a history of chronic ear infections or those whose ear issues are deemed a preexisting condition might find their claims denied.

Easy Steps to Prevent Ear Infections

While there are treatment plans, luckily, knowing how to prevent ear infections in dogs is something you can easily implement at home. Some ways include:

  • Regular Cleaning: Ensure you clean your dog's ears regularly, ideally once weekly.
  • Consultation: For dogs more prone to ear infections, consult a vet or groomer for guidance on proper ear care.
  • Grooming for Hairy Ears: For breeds with a lot of hair in their ears, like doodles, it's essential to determine the best grooming method. There's a debate on whether it's better to pluck the hair or trim it. This depends on whichever works best for you and your dog.
  • Post-Swim Care: If your dog enjoys swimming or playing in the water, dry their ears thoroughly afterward to prevent moisture buildup.

» Learn about other common dog illnesses and how to prevent and treat them

Protecting Your Dog's Ears

In the journey of dog ownership, understanding and addressing ear infections is crucial for your dog's well-being. Your friendly companions rely on you to recognize the signs, seek timely treatment, and implement preventive measures. From the unique L-shaped ear canal design to breed-specific susceptibilities, various factors make dogs prone to ear infections. Regular cleaning, post-swim care, and being vigilant about their overall health can make a difference.

Moreover, being informed about the potential costs and the role of pet insurance can help prepare you for unforeseen medical expenses. At the end of the day, dogs offer unconditional love and loyalty, so ensuring they lead comfortable and healthy lives falls on owners. By staying informed and proactive, you can keep those tail wags coming and those ears infection-free.

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