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What are Getting Ear Infections?

Ear infections in dogs can present an uncomfortable reality. Some dogs are predisposed to ear infections due to their genetic makeup and breed. Other dogs develop ear infections due to a variety of environmental factors. Foreign objects in the ear, bacterial growth due to moistness, and a deep ear canal can all contribute to infection. Other possible causes of ear infections in dogs may be:

  • External parasites (ear mites)
  • Food/environmental allergies
  • Ear tumors

If you notice your dog shaking his head, holding his head to one side, or if he has a smelly ear with discharge it is recommended that your dog be evaluated by the veterinarian to rule out serious medical conditions which may be causing ear infections.

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Why Getting Ear Infections Occurs in Dogs

External Parasites (Ear Mites)

Ear infections in dogs can be caused by a parasite known as Otodectes cynotis which thrives on the external ear canal of dogs. It may feed off of the oils and wax in the ear, creating inflammation and irritation in the ear canal. You may notice your dog shaking his head constantly or scratching at his ears due to the presence of ear mites. Ear mites can present at any age and can be passed along from animal to animal across species. Your dog may experience some of the following symptoms in regards to ear mites: scratching his ears, head, and neck, rubbing his ears on floor to relieve itchiness, head shaking, irritated ears, inflammation, and appearance of “coffee-ground” dots inside the ears.

Food/Environmental Allergies

Another reason that your dog may develop ear infections may be due to allergies. Allergies can be caused by either food or environmental factors. If your dog is experiencing an ear infection due to allergies, you can expect to see inflammation and irritated ears. Ear infections in dogs due to allergies can be difficult to discern due to the origin of the allergy. Your veterinarian would have to find the source of the allergy which can require taking multiple steps starting with changing the current food your dog is on. When your dog's ears are infected due to allergies, the ear's natural balance of yeast and bacteria become disrupted. Your dog might not be able to stop shaking his head, a common sign of an ear infection in dogs. 

Ear Tumors

Ear infections in dogs can also be caused by ear canal tumors which can grow in any part of the ear. The most common areas for the ear tumor to grow are on the outer ear canal and pinna areas. It is more likely for the ear tumors to be benign but ear tumors should always be checked out by the veterinarian. Ear tumors can cause deafness, balance issues, and can go unnoticed until symptoms manifest. Ear infections in dogs caused by ear tumors can create similar symptoms as do external parasites and allergies. Ear tumors can manifest as small lumps growing from the skin to large masses in the ear. Ear tumors can vary in color and can be filled with either blood, oil, or pus. Your dog may be experiencing an ear tumor if he has the following symptoms: visible mass, shaking head constantly, stumbling or losing balance, and head tilting.

What to do if your Dog is Getting Ear Infections

If your dog is developing ear infections, it is important that an appointment is scheduled with the veterinarian in order to relieve your dog's discomfort. Depending on the severity of the condition, your vet may recommend different plans of action to ensure your dog receives the proper diagnosis. It is important to be able to provide basic information about your dog as well as his current diet and if he's been in contact with other animals who may have infected him. Questions regarding medical history, medications, exposure to toxins, changes in behavior, and general health questions can be expected in order to best support your dog's health. It is expected that the veterinarian will conduct a visual physical examination to observe for any presence of mites and inflammation of the ears. 

The veterinarian will run a series of tests to rule out medical conditions and come to a conclusive diagnosis. It is standard for blood tests and a urinalysis to be completed in order to rule out anemia and high white blood counts (infection). Some other possible tests include:

  • Microscopy - Used to identify the presence of mites and bacteria
  • Culture testing - Used to obtain a sample of the discharge and determine the origin of the infection
  • Otoscopy - Used to help identify the presence of a mass in your dog's ear
  • Food trial - Method used to determine if a certain food triggers ear infections in your dog

There are other tests available that your veterinarian may opt for in order to support your dog's health and find the appropriate treatment for him. Depending on the cause of your dog's ear infections, the veterinarian may prescribe ear cleaning solution for your dog. It may be recommended to pour a specific amount of ear solution directly into the canal, massaging it gently. Your dog will likely shake out the remaining fluid. You can then wipe the remaining debris and dry the area. It is important to follow the veterinarian's instructions when treating your pet’s ears. 

If your dog has an ear tumor, the veterinarian will conduct diagnostic tests in order to rule out other medical conditions. The veterinarian will search for other ear tumors in the area to ensure there is not a more serious condition occurring. The veterinarian will also complete a fine needle aspiration in order to ensure a biopsy of the tumor is done. The purpose of the biopsy is to rule out malignancy.

Prevention of Getting Ear Infections

In situations where dogs are predisposed to develop ear infections, consult with your veterinarian for advice on ear maintenance and care. It is recommended that you observe your dog's ears consistently to prevent a more serious health condition from developing. Ensure that your dog's ears are cleaned daily and that moisture is well dried after bathing or swimming. If you notice any changes in odor, texture, and physical appearance, make a medical appointment with your veterinarian. 

If cleaning the ear canal presents a painful situation for your dog, it may be necessary to have the ears cleaned under sedation to minimize the discomfort. It is important to maintain a clean ear in between infections and remove any debris present in the ears. Routine cleaning and veterinary follow ups will help catch any flare-ups that occur before they worsen.

Cost of Getting Ear Infections

Eradicating ear mites can range in cost from $200 to $500 depending on the severity of the ear mite infestation. Ear infections due to allergies can average in cost to $300. Treating ear tumors can become more expensive; surgery may be required and can reach as high as $3000.