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Treating and preventing ear infections in dogs

One of the most common causes for visiting the vet is ear infections. Signs of ear infections are hot, red, inflamed or itchy ears and discharge from the ear. Pets will also shake their head a lot or hang their head to one side. Animals with allergies often have more sensitive ear canals and are prone to infections. To reduce the effect of allergies we recommend a raw food diet, read our allergy article here.

Ear infections are classified as either fungal or bacterial.

Fungal
Fungal infections are usually caused by yeast in the dogs ear (Malassezia sp). If your dog’s immune system isn’t functioning optimally, the yeast is able to overgrow causing an infection. The only way to identify if the cause is fungal is to look at a smear under the microscope. Once the fungi is identified a medication can be prescribed. Dogs who are prone to fungal infections will need their ears cleaned and checked regularly to prevent further infections. If this is ineffective, there may be a more serious underlying issue with his immune system requiring further veterinary attention and/or a diet change.

Bacterial
Bacterial infection is the most common type of ear infection. There are two types being exogenous and endogenous.
Exogenous is bacteria contracted from an outside source like swimming in a dam or grass seeds during spring and summer months. Dosing the ear with a probiotic solution (usually an oral dose product) can assist with the over-growth of exogenous bacteria.
Endogenous is bacteria from the animal itself such as a normal skin bacteria (eg Staph) that build up in large numbers to cause infection. There are lots of bacteria living inside your dog, however if his immune system is compromised, the bacteria can often grow and take over his ear canal.
Most vets will prescribe a once off ear infection with a medication at your visit. If, once the treatment is finished the infection hasn’t’t cleared, an ear culture will be taken and sent to a lab for testing. The exact type of bacteria can then be identified and a suitable medication prescribed.

When treating ear infections, you must keep the ear clean and free of sticky goo so your medication can reach the infection to do its’ job. You must also complete the entire course of medication even if the infection looks like it has cleared up.

Tips to avoid ear infections:

  • For dogs prone to ear infections, check their ears daily
  • Clean any wax or debris from their ears as this is the foundation for an infection
  • Make sure your pet is on a healthy raw food diet for optimal immune system performance
  • If you suspect an infection, take your dog to the vet, don’t start your own cleaning regime
  • Depending on your environment, check regularly for grass seeds during summer and spring as they are a common cause of ear infection
  • Weekly ear cleaning as below can assist certain breeds

To clean a dirty ear, use cotton balls soaked in one of the below solutions. Both squeeze content into the ear and wipe away discharge. Always allow the pet to shake out any excess after a light external ear canal massage. Don’t try to clean deep into the ear canal. Repeat twice daily until discharge ceases to appear.

  • Cooled green tea
  • Witch Hazel
  • 3% (food grade) Hydrogen peroxide (From supermarket)
  • Tea tree oil (very diluted in saline, say 10% max)
  • Organic apple cider and purified water in equal parts
  • Aloe Vera juice (or gel mixed in saline 50/50)

Don’t use alcohol based solutions as these can sting and irritate the ear especially if it is inflamed.