Diagnosing Dog Ear Infections

Dog ear infections have a number of causes. Parasites, bacteria and yeast can infect your dog's ears. While ear infections usually aren't serious, they do require medical treatment. Without veterinary care, your dog's ear infection could cause permanent hearing damage or loss.

Causes of Dog Ear Infection

There are three primary causes of dog ear infection: parasites, namely ear mites, bacteria and yeast. Dogs with big, floppy ears are more prone to bacterial and yeast infections because their ears are more likely to remain dark and moist inside. All dogs are vulnerable to ear mite infestation; ear mites are very contagious parasites that infest your dog's ear canal.

Ear Mite Infestations

Ear mites can cause your dog a lot of irritation and discomfort. Dogs with ear mites often shake their heads excessively, and may scratch their ears a lot. Ear mites leave a black, gritty residue, like coffee grounds, inside your dog's ear.

Ear mite infestation can be treated with medicated ear drops. It's important to treat all animals in the house at the same time, as ear mites are very contagious. Untreated, ear mites can cause permanent hearing damage.

Bacterial and Yeast Infections of the Ear

Bacteria and yeast are responsible for the other two types of dog ear infections. Dogs suffering from bacterial or yeast infections of the ear may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Excessive head shaking
  • Head cocking
  • Excessive rubbing and scratching of the ear
  • Foul smelling discharge
  • Inflammation or redness
  • Tenderness in the ear area
  • Problems with balance

Diagnosing and Treating Dog Ear Infections

Your vet will examine your dog's ears visually and may need to take samples from the inside of the ear. He may need to examine these under a microscope or make cultures from them. Blood tests can rule out underlying medical conditions. If your dog's ear infections are severe, your vet may want to perform X-rays, MRIs or CAT scans.

As mentioned, medicated ear drops are used to clear up ear mite infestations. Bacterial and yeast infections of the ear are treated using either antibiotic or antifungal medications. Your vet may also prescribe and anti-inflammatory, such as prednisone, to reduce swelling of the ear canal.

Your vet may want to sedate your dog and clean his ears properly, in order to reduce some of the inflammation and allow the affected ear or ears a better opportunity to heal. Whether or not your vet does this and when depends on the severity of the infection and the amount of swelling. If the infection is in the inner part of the ear, then flushing the ear may require specialized equipment. Severe or chronic ear infections may require surgery.

You may need to continue cleaning your dog's ears at home. Your vet will explain the procedures for keeping your dog's ears clean while he recovers from the ear infection. You may also need to administer topical and oral medications. You can prevent future ear infections by keeping your dog's ears clean and drying them thoroughly after the bath, especially if your dog has large, floppy ears.