Ear infection in dogs, symptoms and causes
Brian Kilcommons relates a terrible story about a beautiful golden retriever dog who was usually very gentle and kind with children. It’s owners had a girl aged 3 1/2, and they normally got along very well. Then one day the little girl grabbed the dog’s ear. It snarled and bit her face. She needed 47 stitches in her face, and they put the dog down. The parents had the dog euthanized without bothering to find out what had caused this sudden change in their dog’s behaviour. The vet, however, did an autopsy, and found our that this dog was suffering not one but two severe ear infections that were incredibly painful.
Ear infections usually start out mild, and in the outer ear. This dog’s health was effectively neglected by it’s owners. And when their toddler grabbed the infected ear, the dog, already in constant pain anyway, reacted out of instinct. By not taking the time to properly care for their pet, these owners were in fact responsible for what happened to their child. And then blamed the dog. And probably out of ignorance or anger, or both, they had it killed. Their emotional response to what happened to their child as a result of their own neglect aside, I find this absolutely reprehensible. And the tragedy that happened to their dog when they chose to kill it instead of investigating further, as well as their child, was totally avoidable.
Unlike these owners, show your dog the same level of care and love you’d show your children. Become aware of the signs of ear infections, what causes them, and how to avoid them, taking dogs to get treatment when it seems like they have one.
Ear infections can be caused by any number of things. Wet ears not dried after swimming or bathing, a build up of ear wax, grass seeds and fox tails, untreated ear mites, using cotton tips to clean ears (which pushes things further into the ear), and growths in the ear canal, can all lead to ear infections. If your dog is scratching at his ears, rubbing them, holding his head to one side, or down, shaking his head, or if they look bloody or waxy or swollen, they should be checked out. And if he cries when his ears are touched, this is another sign of a potential ear infection.
When untreated ear infections progress deeper into the ear, the pain the dog is in increases sharply. The dog may hold his head as still as possible, and to one side. And opening his mouth, or touching his head, will cause him pain. Dogs can also become dizzy, with poor balance and coordination, when the infection progresses to the inner ear. Dogs may walk around in circles, and vomit.
Ear infections are also related to skin allergies, especially food hypersensitivity dermatitis and canine atopy. Dogs with these conditions often develop inflamed ears. The dog’s ears become very itchy, which creates an ‘itch-scratch-itch’ cycle that in turn creates scabs around the ear, hair loss, crustiness, and raw skin. The ear canals become filled with a brown wax.
Some dogs are also allergic to some ear medications. A common one is an antibiotic called neomycin, but can be any ear treatment products including cortisone, nystatin, chloramphenicol, thiabendazole, gentamicin, miconazole, and clortrimazole.
One thing of concern in dogs that are professionally groomed is the practice of plucking the hairs out of the dog’s ear. The serum which then comes out of their pores is an excellent breeding ground for bacteria, which is a common cause of ear infection. Vets generally don’t recommend you allow your dog’s ears to be plucked unless their is a good medical reason to do so. An example of a good medical reason is if there is a large mat of hair that is blocking air flow.
If the mats of hair are in the ear canal, they should be removed by a vet only. If they’re not, first soak the hair in a coat conditioner for a few minutes to soften it. Then, with your fingers, separate as much of the mat as possible. You may be able to untangle the rest of the mat with a comb, but more likely you’ll need scissors or a mat splitter. Be very careful if you’re using scissors. Using a comb, position it under the mat to protect the skin. Hold the scissors at right angles to the comb, and cut into the matted fur in narrow strips. Very gently, tease the mat out, and then comb out any snarls that are left. Regular grooming, with the right tools, will avoid mats forming in the first place.
Always check your dog’s ears after he’s been playing in long grasses. If you think there is a foxtail in his ear, take him to the vet’s and don’t try and get it out yourself. Fox tails can really damage the ear. If when you press gently on the ear canal he cries out in pain, there’s a good chance there’s a fox tail in there.
References: 1. Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson, Good Owners, Great Dogs 2. Richard Pitcairn, Natural Health for Dogs and Cats 3. James Griffin and Liisa Carlson, Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook