A Magical Ear Ache: Treating Dog Ear Infections

MAGICWhen Magical-Dawg began scratching his ear, and yelping if bumped on that side—even tilting his head that direction—I suspected he had a painful ear infection. It’s the first one he’s had, and I knew this was something that needed veterinary care sooner, rather than later.

Dogs (and cats) are prone to ear infections because of the conformation of the ear itself. Human ear canals are straight. But the pet’s ear canal is shaped like an L. Debris and moisture can become trapped in the foot of that L, creating a perfect percolating environment for nasty agents to set up housekeeping.

KEEPING DOG EARS HEALTHY

Now, you can offer home treatments and first aid for general cleaning of the ears. Drop-eared dogs that love the water (Labradors come to mind) may benefit from “Swimmer’s Solution” to help keep ears healthy.

Mix 1 cup plain water with 2 cups vinegar and 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol. The vinegar creates an acidic environment to prevent yeast and bacteria overgrowth, while the dash of alcohol helps cut through and dissolve wax (never use straight alcohol, that’d be way too harsh!). Swimmer’s Solution sprayed on the outside of the ear canal once or twice a week (or after swims or baths) can help with these dogs. But it won’t cure an active ear infection.

Be alert for smelly ears, or any discharge that’s light brown, yellowish or dark and bloody. Tenderness and especially head tilt should send you to the vet asap. Very serious infections can smell like chocolate or fermenting fruit.

Dog ear examination

Vet examining drop eared dog with otoscope to check for ear infection.

COMMON DOG EAR INFECTIONS

A dark brown to black waxy runny material that smells rancid often is a yeast overgrowth, and quite common in dogs. Yeast overgrowth happens when the normal acidic pH of your pet’s ear is out of balanced, perhaps as a result of getting water inside from swimming or a bath.

Crumbly brown or black material inside the ear is more typical of ear mite infestation. These tiny spider relatives make ears itchy and sore when they crawl around inside the canal and bite to suck lymph from the tissues. Ouch!

Canine ear infections can be aggravating, painful, and hard to cure because there are so any different organisms that may be involved, either alone or individually. Treating with the wrong medication won’t be effective and could even make matters worse. Besides, when the dog’s ears are so sore and painful, dogs often won’t allow even a beloved owner to touch them.

Magic is such a good boy, he did let me look in his sore ears, and even gently wipe out what I could see with a cotton ball soaked with warm water. Honestly, I didn’t want to do much beyond that, because potentially it could mess up whatever diagnostics the vet would run.

MAGIC’S DIAGNOSIS

My pets never do things halfway. I’m grateful that Magic adores his veterinarian, and didn’t require sedation for the culture. Basically, a sample of the “goop” was collected and examined under the microscope.

Magic’s ear infection contained no less than three nasty agents doing the hula deep inside his ear canal. Yeast, staph and a huge bucket-load of bacteria called pseudomonas aeruginosa. No wonder my poor doggy was in pain!

Pseudomonas is a nasty bug that easily become antibiotic resistant, and has even been found to live on soap and other antiseptics. Magic’s ear infection was at the tipping point for needing serious intervention (wow, that happened quickly!), so the veterinarian recommended bringing out the “big guns.” He prescribed a new ear medication designed to attack both fungal and bacterial infections (POSATEX ™ Otic Suspension) that contains Orbifloxacin, Mometasone, Furoate Monohydrate and Posaconazole. He was also given some oral antibiotics for a secondary paw problem that the vet said would also benefit his ears.

After the first two days of treatment, Magic already felt better. He stopped crying and flinching when his ear was touched. The ear medication will continue to be given daily for at least two weeks, after which he’ll be checked again.

The bad thing about pseudomonas infection is that if the ears improve but not all the bacteria is killed, stopping treatment usually means a resurgence of infection—this time, the bacteria is resistant to the treatment. So for that reason, unless convinced that Magic’s ears are completely back to normal, we’ll continue the meds as long as necessary.

To me, Magic’s gorgeous ears are one of his most striking features. But aside from good looks, keeping my “baby-dog” feeling fine is priority one.

Has your dog (or cat) ever suffered from an ear infection? How did you know? What treatment helped your pet? Do you have a routine ear maintenance routine? Do tell!

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Comments

A Magical Ear Ache: Treating Dog Ear Infections — 30 Comments

  1. Great article, Amy.

    My baby I rescued over the summer has resistant pseudomonas. When we were fostering, she was being treated and it seemed to go away for a bit but right back into full action again. She’s had so many antibiotics, different cleanings and even had her ears packed. Finally this Thursday, the vet is going to try a treatment called BNT, where they pack the ear with a warm ointment and it hardens like wax. Have you heard of it? Anyway, this is like one of our last options. I’m so hoping it works, if only for a few months. My girl Zue needs a break for sure.

    Thanks again for sharing this!

    • Oh Brenda, I’m so sorry Zue has this issue. My vet did mention the option of packing the ears but I’m not familiar with BNT. Please come back and update us on the treatment and how it works. Paws crossed for ou and your girl.

      • I appreciate you kind thoughts, Amy. I’ll definitely come back and share. She goes this evening to have it done. I hope Magic’s are much better and doesn’t have to battle the yucks again. 🙂

  2. SimbaToo (aka Kitty since that’s all she answers to) had an infection caused by mites when we first brought her home. Thankfully one round of treatment got her through it.

  3. Rosa gets ear infections pretty often, I think due to her allergies. I’m definitely going to try your home remedy. It sounds like a great one.

    • Something that also helps the floppy-ear dogs is to tie their ears on top of the head for half an hour once a week. That let’s them dry out a bit. You can use a hair band, or a soft clip.

  4. Great post! Rocco gets itchy ears due to allergies, mostly environmental (dust, mold, pollen, etc.) Luckily, since he’s a husky, his ears are easy to keep clean.

  5. One of my dogs had a pretty bad ear infection this summer. I took her to the vet who gave me an ointment to use and it cleared up pretty quickly. Thankfully none of my current dogs seem to get ear infections very often. Ear infections are very painful in humans, so I imagine that they are just as bad for dogs.

  6. Bentley and I have been battling ear infections for years. After changing him to a cool protein diet, they seemed to be doing better. He got another one recently and after a round of pills, he was given a clean ear of health. ☺ I have a homemade recipe for an ear cleaner and his ears have no smell at all for the first time ever. It is incredible!

  7. Hello everyone. I’m in desperate need of advice. My dog has scratched his ear inside and now it’s red and raw from scratching. He keeps his ear down on that side and his head tealts
    a little. I’ve tried to clean his ear and treat the scratch by using some antibiotic ointment. He keeps scratching. His vet is out of town. Can I please get some advice on some home remedy temporary. Thank you in advance.

    • Hi Teri, I’m so sorry your dog is having this problem. With ear infections, it can be dangerous to put something in the ear without knowing what type of infection/irritation is going on. In fact, sometimes trying to clean them can make the irritation worse. I don’t know what exactly is going on, but I can’t recommend putting anything down inside the ear at the moment. What you might be able to do, though, is to give your dog an antihistamine (Benadryl) at 1 mg/pound of his body weight. That sometimes can relieve itchiness/irritation that’s caused by histamine (allergies) and–it has a side effect that it can make dogs sleepy, so they rest and stop scratching for a bit. Then you MUST get it checked, if not by his regular vet, then by another vet who is in town. Good luck!

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