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5 Common Ear Infections in Purebred Dogs

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By Leslie Ingraham

Published: 11/12/2021, edited: 11/12/2021

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Purebred dogs can be gorgeous, playful, smart and fun, but some can also be predisposed to certain health conditions. Breeds like Spaniels, Retrievers, Poodles, Dachshunds, Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzus boast long, floppy ears which are more likely to develop ear infections than shorter-eared breeds.

Ear infections can be painful and itchy, and chronic, untreated infections can lead to deafness, facial paralysis, and loss of balance. While there are various causes and types of ear infections, the symptoms are generally the same. Watch out for head shaking, pawing and scratching at the ear, dark discharge that can sometimes resemble coffee grounds, redness and swelling of the ear canal and external ear, visible crusting or scabs in the ear, and fever.

Let’s explore the most common causes of ear infections in purebred dogs.

black dog's ears

#1. Ear infections caused by bacteria and fungus

Ear infections caused by bacteria or fungus are typically the result of the ear being moist and warm over time. Moisture can also collect in a dog’s ear after a bath or swimming, and since bacteria and funguses love warm, moist places to multiply, they can grow quickly in this environment. Drying the ear to soak up the moisture can prevent many bacterial and fungal ear infections.  

Symptoms 

Symptoms include those listed above, as well as:

  • Drainage
  • Swelling of the neck and face
  • Unpleasant odor coming from ear

Causes

  • Prolonged moisture in the ear canals
  • A warm, closed environment
  • Bacteria and fungus introduced from the external environment

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of an ear infection caused by bacteria or fungus is made by collecting a thorough history of the dog’s behavior, the length of the behavior, any underlying illness, and a description of the environment. An examination using an otoscope, a lighted instrument for inside the ear, provides visual evidence of swelling, redness, and other physical signs. 

The diagnosis of the infection may require sedation if the dog is too uncomfortable for the use of the otoscope, or simply won’t tolerate having their ears examined closely. Swabs may be taken for examination in the office to identify the causative organism, and a culture may be done.

Treatment

The veterinarian will clean the dog’s ears with either a saline solution or a liquid made specifically for infection. They may also prescribe oral antibiotics and a cleaning solution to be used at home. They may prescribe warm compresses for the swelling of the neck and face, if they’re present. In severe or chronic (long-lasting) bacterial or fungal ear infections, pain and anti-inflammatory medications may be given. Most bacterial and fungal ear infections will respond to treatment quickly, unless the infection is long-standing and untreated. 

Average cost of treatment: $150 - $300


#2. Ear infections caused by allergies

Dogs may exhibit allergies in several ways, including skin irritation, sneezing and coughing, gastrointestinal disorders, and ear infections. Allergies that lead to inflammation and ear infection may include allergies to food, as well as to environmental factors such as pollen. Allergies to parasites like fleas can cause rashes in the outer and middle ear that are vulnerable to infection. 

Symptoms

Signs include those listed above, especially:

  • Itchiness
  • Crusty lesions or scabs in outer ear
  • Scratching and pawing at the ears

Causes

Allergies can cause itching and inflammation in the outer ear, and as pooches scratch at them, they create wounds that permit organisms to get under the skin and multiply to cause an ear infection. The cause of the allergic reaction is difficult to determine unless the veterinarian sees parasites, or pieces of grass or a dusting of pollen within the ear. 

Diagnosis

A physical exam is an important tool to determine the cause of an ear infection caused by allergies. The presence of parasites like fleas may indicate an allergy to flea saliva. The visible presence of other allergens like pollen, dust, and grasses may lead to a diagnosis as well.

If food allergies are suspected, an elimination diet to determine the causative food may be necessary. Typical culprits are wheat and other grains, eggs and seafood.

Treatment

Allergies that lead to ear inflammation can be treated by removing the allergen when possible. Flea and tick preventive medications may help eliminate allergies caused by these insects, and limiting the amount of time a dog spends in the allergen’s environment may help as well. 

Regular cleaning of the ears with saline or an ear cleaning solution will rinse out allergens like pollen and dust. Anti-inflammatories and allergy medications like Benadryl may be effective in reducing itchy rashes and making your pup more comfortable so that they won’t scratch at the rash and cause a secondary bacterial infection.

Average cost of treatment: $150 to $350


#3. Ear infections caused by obstructions

A dog’s ear canal is L-shaped, with the vertical section leading from the outer ear, and the horizontal segment comprising the middle and inner ear canals. Blockage of the horizontal part of a dog’s ear canal can create an environment that may result in secondary infections with bacteria or fungus.

Symptoms 

Typical symptoms of an ear infection include those above, especially:

  • Pain
  • Pawing at the ear
  • Hearing loss in that ear
  • Head shaking

Causes

Obstructions in the ear canal can cause the ideal environment for a bacterial or fungal ear infection. Moisture and warmth together provide the pawrfect medium for secondary infection. As the secondary infection progresses, additional symptoms may arise, such as pain and swelling.

Obstructions can be caused by:

  • A polyp
  • A foreign body
  • A wax plug
  • Packed dirt and debris

Diagnosis

The otoscope is the tool of choice for detecting an obstruction in the ear canal. Its light and magnification properties make it possible to see even the smallest polyp or growing tumor. It can also facilitate removal of the obstruction, while assessing the extent of the infection.

Treatment

The primary treatment for an obstruction in the ear is to remove it if possible. Surgery may be necessary to remove polyps and tumors. The simplest treatment is to remove the external obstruction with forceps and to clean the ear, flushing it well to rid it of the foreign body or material. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication may be given, along with antibiotics if the secondary infection is serious.

Average cost of treatment: $175 to $1,000


#4. Ear mites

Ear mites are tiny, spider-like creatures that may infect a dog’s ear at any time. They are most common in puppies and young dogs, but adult dogs can have them as well. Mites cause itching, which may lead to scratches in the skin and secondary infections. 

Symptoms

  • Head shaking
  • Pawing and scratching
  • A dark discharge, sometimes resembling coffee grounds
  • Foul odor

Causes

Ear mites can be contracted from the environment, and from other animals who have them. They live not only in the ears but on the skin as well, and they are highly contagious. If one dog or cat in the household contracts ear mites, they can transmit them to others who they have contact with. Adult ear mites live about two months, during which time they're constantly reproducing. In approximately three weeks, an egg develops into an adult. 

Diagnosis

To facilitate treatment, it’s important to be sure that mites are the cause of the problem. A swab of the discharge in the ear canal is necessary to identify ear mites under a microscope, and to rule out other causes like bacteria or allergies. An otoscope is not generally necessary because of the amount of discharge that’s usually present but may be used to swab the canal.

Treatment

Treatment includes cleaning the ear of as much of the discharge as possible, and flushing with saline afterward. A mite-controlling medication is then put in the ear periodically until the infestation is totally gone. Antibiotics may be necessary for any secondary infection, and periodic checks with the vet will monitor whether the mites have returned and the pooch needs further treatment.

Average cost of treatment: $150 to $400


#5. Ear infections caused by hypothyroidism

Some underlying diseases such as hypothyroidism can play a role in causing ear infections in vulnerable pups. Hypothyroid dogs often have ear infections and show ear pain, redness, and odor. Signs of hypothyroid-caused ear disease can help make the diagnosis and guide the treatment.

Symptoms

The typical symptoms of ear infection may be present, in addition to:

  • A persistent head tilt often seen in dogs with thyroid disease
  • An intolerance to cold
  • Dry, coarse coat
  • Dry skin
  • Fine tremors

Causes

Ear infection caused by hypothyroidism is caused by the immune system’s ability to affect soft tissue in the dog, sometimes thickening skin and other tissues, leading to swelling, obstruction and eventual ear infection in susceptible dogs. 

Because hypothyroidism is another condition often found in certain purebred dogs, the possibility of ear infections in these breeds relate to genetic and hereditary causes. Examples of dogs sometimes given to hearing loss include white-coated dogs such as Jack Russell Terriers and Dalmatians

Diagnosis

A physical examination may rule out other causes of the ear infections, while a blood test that indicates how much thyroid hormone is circulating in the dog’s blood can diagnosis hypothyroidism.

Treatment

Treatment of ear infections related to hypothyroidism involves treating the thyroid T4 deficit associated with the disease. Thyroid supplements, given daily, may eventually relieve the head tilt and ear problems. 

Average cost of treatment: $200 to $350


Be prepared for anything

Ear infections can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your dog is at risk of developing ear infections, start searching for pet insurance today. Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Embrace. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

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