Downeast Dog News

Ear Infections

By Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH | Aug 01, 2017

Ear Infections. Ugh!

Q. My lab, Jake, is shaking his head and his ears smell. My veterinarian said he has a yeast infection. How did he get this infection? I was told it was because he swims, but he hasn’t been swimming this year, and last year he swam all the time but with no ear infections.

A.Ear infections with a multitude of causes are very common in many breeds of dogs. Some ear infections are yeast or bacterial and are caused by hygiene issues, diet, allergies, and parasites. Ear problems can be in the outer part called external canal and ear flap or pinna, the middle ear which is behind the eardrum and has a tube that goes into the nasal cavity called eustachian tube, and the inner ear which is closest to the brain.

When Jake shakes his head, scratches his ear, and you smell a discharge, something is going wrong. A visit to the veterinarian is a must. Ear infections caught early can be easy to treat, but waiting could lead to longer treatment times and complications.

First, let’s look at causes. The most common cause is a yeast or bacterial infection. Sometimes it can be caused by parasites, and less common are foreign bodies in the ears. Food intolerances and allergies are underlying causes along with other diseases, such as hormonal imbalances and immune disorders.

Proper ear hygiene is extremely important. If your dog has hair in his ears, make sure that the ears are free from mats and dirty wax build up. Normal ear hair that is clean can actually prevent ear problems. It will prevent foreign objects going into the ear canal and trap other debris that can cause problems. Historically, removal of the hair in the ears was the norm. Now healthy hair in healthy ears is left alone. The key words are healthy and clean. Dirty, matted, debris packed hair is an indication of a problem and needs to be dealt with soon. The debris and hair needs to be cleaned out, so proper treatment can be effective.

Yeast infections are the most common infection in ears and often there is a secondary bacterial infection. The ears have a reddish brown debris that smells, are itchy, and sometimes very painful.

Sometimes your pup could have a piece of plant, a bug, or other foreign material in the ear canal. Your veterinarian will be able to solve this. Don’t try removing it yourself for fear of pushing the object further into the canal.

Many people think their best friends have ear problems because of floppy, heavy coated ears, or being water dogs, but if you look at the bigger picture, there are other possible reasons for these infections. Recurrent infections in your dog need to be more deeply explored. A common cause is food intolerance and allergies. If I have an ear infection that does not respond to treatment, I look at the diet. Often just changing the protein in the diet solves the problem. Environmental allergies can also throw ears into a tail spin. Other underlying diseases such as hormonal and immune problems can show up in the ears. Hypothyroidism and many immune disorders can be the cause.

Many folks blame ear mites as the cause for ear problems. Though this can occur, it isn’t as common as you would think. You see ear mites in puppies and in homes with cats, especially kittens, that have ear mites. Another parasite, sarcoptic mange, can manifest in ear infections.

If your best friend is shaking his head, scratching his ears or face, or has smelly ears, make an appointment with your veterinarian. If your pup has recurrent ear infections, ask your veterinarian to help find a possible underlying cause.

Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, ME 04330