Dog Ear Infection Types: Inner, Middle and Outer

It is important to treat any dog ear infection as soon as possible. Outer ear infections can spread to the middle and inner ear if left untreated and can cause a host of problems, including deafness. Dirt, wax, trauma, foreign bodies, moisture, insects or parasites (mites), lack of airflow within the ear, hereditary conditions, hormonal abnormalities (hypothyroidism), allergies, tumors, bacteria or fungi can cause ear infections resulting in redness, itching, swelling, pain, discharge, odor, head shaking. and swollen ears in dogs.

Infection of the Outer Ear

The eardrum separates the outer ear from the middle and inner ear. Infections of the outer ear are more easily identified in dogs since swollen ears, redness and any discharge indicates an ear infection. They are usually caused by a bacterial (yeast) or fungal infection. A physical examination using otoscope, which is a tool a veterinarian uses to view the vertical and horizontal ear canals and the eardrum, can verify the presence of an ear infection and whether or not it has spread to the middle or inner ears. Testing of a swab of any ear discharge and a blood test will also determine if the infection is caused by any allergies, organ or hormonal problems.

Dog ear infections can be prevented by maintaining airflow within the ear by trimming away any excessive fur and by removing any debris on a regular basis. Clean out dogs ears with a cleaning solution or use rubbing alcohol to remove excessive wax. Any swollen ear on dogs or any dogs ears that smell are indications of an ear infection. Ear mites resemble coffee grounds and can only be eliminated through ear cleaning and ear mite medication in order to kill any ear mites.

Middle and Inner Dog Ear Infections

Infections of the middle ear result from the spread of an outer ear infection. Without treatment, these infections can result in deafness, loss of balance or other neurological problems.

Weekly checking and cleaning of the ears will prevent infections. Hormonal imbalance is harder to control but any change in behavior should necessitate a visit to the veterinarian. Thyroid, adrenal and sex hormones all affect the health of the skin and ears.

Symptoms of a middle and inner ear infection are the same as the symptoms for outer ear infections. However, as the infection progresses from the outer ear to the middle ear, facial paralysis may occur due the inflammation of the facial nerve that runs parallel to the middle ear. Difficulty in swallowing, drooping facial muscles and drooping eyelids that partially cover the eye are indications of facial paralysis. A downward head tilt, loss of balance and circling indicates an inner ear infection. Usually the dog will roll over and remain lying down since standing up is too difficult.

An otoscopic examination and x-rays of the head will confirm a middle or inner ear infection. If the infection has spread to the eardrum, the dog may have to be anesthetized in order to exam and cleanse the ear. An ear swab may have to be taken to determine if the ear infection is a result of a hormonal, allergic or hereditary condition or vestibular disease (extreme loss of balance).

Treatment of a Dog Ear Infection

Yeast, bacterial and fungal infections can be treated with antibiotics and antifungals. The eardrum may have to be incised and the middle ear flushed in more severe cases. The bony covering of the ear (bulla) may have to be removed or the complete removal and closure of the ear canal may be necessary in the most extreme cases. Allergies can be treated with antihistamines, fatty acid supplements or corticosteroids (topically, orally or in injectable form). If tumors or allergies are a factor, they must also be addressed by treating those conditions as well, such as with hormone replacement therapy.