How to Treat Ear Infections in Dogs

There are two main types of ear infections that can affect dogs: Otitis externa and Otitis media. Otitis externa, as the name implies, affects the dog’s outer ear, whereas Otitis media affects the interior part of the ear (otherwise referred to as the “middle ear”).

Both types of infections can affect dogs of any age/breed/location, however, dogs with large ears (or hairy ear canals) are especially susceptible. Treatment options for ear infections depend on numerous factors (e.g. breed, medical history, underlying symptoms, etc.) and are therefore developed on a case-by-case basis. Most ear infections clear up after a few weeks of treatment.

Causes of Ear Infections

Both types of infections can trace their origins to a variety of underlying health issues. However, bacterial and/or fungal infections can also cause ear infections. With that being said, most ear infections in dogs are caused by parasites, foreign objects in the ear canal, certain diseases, fungal/bacterial infections, or food allergies. Other common causes include the buildup of dead skin and/or hair within the ear, as well as high moisture levels (from swimming, improper grooming, etc.).

Common Symptoms

Otitis externa and Otitis media present with similar symptoms. Below are some of the more common symptoms that occur in both infection types:

  • General pain
  • Foul-smelling odor
  • Excessive scratching of ears
  • Inner-ear canal that’s swelled
  • Redness within the ear
  • Foreign body blockage

Advanced symptoms that usually represent an inner-ear infection include:

  • Noticeable tilting of the head
  • Anorexic behavior
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Irregular vomiting

Diagnosing Ear Infections

There are several ways that a veterinarian might diagnose an ear infection in your dog, including via x-ray, MRI, skin examination/biopsy, and ear-discharge testing. MRI and x-rays are usually used to identify built-up fluid(s) within the middle ear (as well as the development of skin growth). Testing ear discharge is one of the most common diagnosis methods.

Ear Infection Treatment Types

Treatment methods vary depending on the severity of the symptoms, as well as the medical history of the dog (as well as its breed, age, etc.). In regards to Otitis externa, the most common treatment type is a topical solution (applied to the outer ear). This type of ear infection usually doesn’t take more than a few weeks to completely heal (provided it’s not an advanced infection).

Zymox solution for dogs is an example of a common medication used to treat ear infection symptoms. Medications such as this typically have no side effects, making them very popular among veterinary practices. While certain ear infection medications are “OTC” (such as Zymox), it’s still recommended to consult with your veterinarian before administering them to your dog(s).

There are also several other medication types, most of which are listed below:

  • Anti-yeast
  • Antiseptic
  • Antibacterial
  • Steroidal
  • Antibiotics
  • Antifungal

Infection Management for Ear Infections in Dogs

After your dog has tested positive for an ear infection and has completed its course of medication(s), the next step is to make sure that it doesn’t get infected again. Your veterinarian will most likely schedule several examinations (after the medication cycle has completed), during which they will test any remaining discharge.

  • Note: Follow-up exams are also important because they can identify underlying health issues (that might have been missed during the initial examinations).

How Long Will it Take For an Ear Infection to Heal?

Most ear infections heal within a few weeks, however advanced infections can take upwards of six weeks to fully heal. If you think your dog might have an ear infection it’s incredibly important that you bring them to the vet. If an ear infection is left untreated, it can ultimately lead to your doing going deaf, or developing partial paralysis in its face.

Chronic Ear Infections

If your dog has a chronic ear infection, a certain type of symptom can develop that’s known as “hyperplasia.” If this occurs, your dog will need to undergo surgery to have it fixed. While your dog might not immediately need surgery, they will eventually. This is because hyperplasia makes it nearly impossible for conventional medications to reach their intended location (inside the ear).

Ear surgery for hyperplasia typically involves removing a portion of your dog’s inner ear. Doing this effectively gets rid of the swollen part of the ear (i.e. the part causing all of your dog’s ear problems). In very rare cases, the entire ear canal will need to be removed (however, instances such as these are not common at all).

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