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A Magical Ear Ache: Treating Dog Ear Infection

by | Jul 18, 2023 | Dog Training & Care | 32 comments

Can an ear infection be contagious in dogs and cats? There are multiple causes of ear infections, and some caused by ear mites can spread from pet to pet.

Morris Animal Foundation recently reported on ear infections in dogs, noting that 7-10% of dogs seen by general vet practices complain of ear issues. That’s a lot of scratching and head shaking misery! That’s one reason they’re funding new research into assessing treatments, so check out the story for more information. Here’s how ear issues have affected my dogs.

Treating Dog Ear Infection

A couple of years ago, Bravo-Dawg began scratching his ear, and yelping if bumped on that side—even tilting his head that direction. I suspected he had a painful dog ear infection. Magic had his share of ear infections, so 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, unlike the L-shaped pet’s ear canal. Debris and moisture can become trapped in the foot of that L, creating a perfect percolating environment for nasty agents to set up housekeeping. Some dogs invite you to rub their itchy ears with moans and groans.

Dog ear infections just like canine hot spots, also often develop because of allergies. Light colored pets can get sunburned ears that cause problems. If your dog has seasonal allergies, you’ll need to be extra vigilant. When dogs enjoy hot water games like hose tag, getting water inside the ears can predispose to earache and dog ear infection.

ear infection

Bravo’s ears hurt him when infected.

KEEPING DOG EARS HEALTHY

Now, you can offer home treatments and first aid for general cleaning of the ear infection. 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.

It can help to “air out” the ears of drop-ear breeds. A clothespin or binder clip that grasps the long fur on ear tips behind the head can help. Or use a soft elastic hairband to hold them wrapped around the back of the head. A half-hour period once a week may be all that’s needed to keep them healthy and prevent ear infections.

Dog ear infections

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

COMMON DOG EAR INFECTIONS

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.

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 balance, 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!

Different Ear Infections Require Different Ear Treatments

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 was 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.

aging dogs

Magic also suffered a severe ear infection a few years ago.

MAGIC’S DIAGNOSIS

My pets never do things halfway. I’m grateful that my dogs adore their veterinarian, and Bravo didn’t require sedation for the culture. Basically, the vet collects a sample of the “goop” to examine under the microscope.

A few years earlier, my aging dog Magical-Dawg also developed an ear infection that 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 suffered such pain!

Pseudomonas

Pseudomonas easily becomes antibiotic-resistant, and can 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. After the first two days of treatment, Magic already felt better. He stopped crying and flinching when we touched his ear.

Unfortunately, pseudomonas infection improves with treatment even if not all the bacteria is killed, stopping treatment usually means a resurgence of infection—this time, the bacteria is resistant to the treatment. The ear medication was given daily for at least two weeks, and at his checkup, that had taken care of Magic’s ear infection.

BRAVO’S EAR INFECTION TREATMENT

Bravo’s infection wasn’t nearly so involved, thank doG. His ears were flushed, and medication infused deep into the ear canal. A wonderful benefit of modern treatments is that no follow-up drops were needed. This one-time infusion knocked out the hokey-pokey dance deep inside his ears.

To me, Magic’s gorgeous “prick” ears are one of his most striking features. Bravo’s “drop” ears are equally endearing. But aside from good looks, keeping my “baby-dog” feeling fine is priority one. Hopefully the new studies launched at Morris Animal Foundation reported in their May 18, 2023 blog will find ever better ways to diagnosis, treat, and prevent ear problems.

Cats Have Ear Challenges, Too!

Not to be outdone, Karma-Kat also had an ear issue, and developed an aural hematoma. That’s when the ear flap fills with blood from bruising, most often the result of scratching at an itch caused by infection. But Karma’s came from something else–read about Karma’s hematoma here!

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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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!

 

 

32 Comments

  1. Mineh

    My dog is sleeping alot more after taking Posatex for her ear infection? Is that normal?

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Hi Mineh, I didn’t see that listed as a side effect of the Posatex medication. It’s possible that your dog was so bothered by the ear infection previously, that the relief allows her to sleep more. But if it seems to be excessive, please call and ask your veterinarian.

      Reply
  2. Teri

    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.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      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!

      Reply
  3. Dogvills

    I am so thankful that none of my two dogs had ear infection. These are great tips.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      It was a surprise to me, too but glad we’re getting it taken care of.

      Reply
  4. Lindsay

    Youch, I’m glad Magic is feeling better!

    Reply
  5. Carol Bryant

    I am so glad you are on top of this. We had our first ear infection in 7 years. And you know what? Antibiotics caused it.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Really?! Wow…details? How did that happen? Antibiotics “un-balance” the normal flora of the ears?

      Reply
  6. M. K. Clinton

    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!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Oh that’s great! What’s your recipe, if I may ask? Feel free to share a link to a blog with that info, if you like.

      Reply
  7. Beth

    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.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Yes, Magic was in pain, it was very apparent.

      Reply
  8. A Husky Life

    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.

    Reply
  9. dawn from PetFaves.com

    Ear problems are no fun. My dogs usually don’t have a problem, but the wrong food will set the ears off for 2 of them. Luckily if I catch the early signs the ear problem is resolved pretty quickly.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      May I ask, what foods set off the ears? That’s interesting–food allergy/sensitivity does manifest in doggy ears, oftentimes.

      Reply
  10. rosadoodle

    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.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      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.

      Reply
  11. Sherri Telenko

    This is good info. It gives me something to watch for. My groomer said to ‘watch his ears,’ and I have no idea what she saw….

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Oh, sorry she wasn’t more clear! Glad that the post could help and I hope your dog won’t have ear issues.

      Reply
  12. Tenacious Little Terrier

    Mr. N has never had an ear infection despite having floppy ears. *knocks on wood. I clean periodically.

    Reply
  13. Karyl

    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.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Poor baby…it’s hard to imagine the torture of having bugs deep inside your ears. *shudder*

      Reply
      • Karyl

        It seems bugs like the poor gal. My parents are battling her fleas now.

        Reply
  14. nichole

    Sophie has always been prone to ear infections. Great post!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Thanks so much, hope it helps some doggies.

      Reply
  15. spencerthegoldendoodle

    So sorry Zue! I had my first ear infection a month ago and it was no fun!!!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      I’m learning this is not an usual situation. Hope Zue is all better now!

      Reply
  16. Brenda

    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!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      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.

      Reply
      • Brenda

        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. 🙂

        Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. What To Do When Ear Mites Bugging Your Cat (or Your Dog!)AMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood - […] often suffer from earaches from ear infections.  Sometimes infection results from parasites like ear mites. These tiny parasites are…
  2. Karma's Ear Boo-Boo: Aural Hematoma Cat Care & What to DoAMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood - […] those occurring in the skin of the ear flap (pinna), often appear because of ear mite parasites or ear…

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