Caring for Your Dog’s Ears

A dog’s ears are among the most delicate parts of their bodies, and can easily become inflamed or infected. In fact, ear inflammation is one of the most common medical conditions in dogs, with an estimated 20 percent of canines affected. The condition is also one of the easiest to prevent, however, with the help of regular ear care.

How can I prevent ear disease in my dog?

Keeping a dog’s ears clean is essential to keeping them healthy, and buildup can usually be prevented through regular weekly cleanings. However, once a significant amount of dirt and debris has accumulated, more frequent cleanings may be necessary to get the problem under control. Some wax in the ears is normal, and likely won’t cause a problem. However, if the ears have a bad smell or abnormal appearance, or if they seem to hurt, immediate veterinary attention is warranted.

How should I clean my dog’s ears?

Because a dog’s ears are so delicate, cleaning them requires great care in order to prevent damage. To clean a dog’s ears thoroughly but safely, follow these steps:

1. Fill the ear canal with ear cleaner. A cleaner that is slightly acidic works best.
2. Rub near the base of the ear for about 30 seconds. This will help loosen any wax or dirt that has accumulated in the ear.
3. Use a cotton ball, paper towel or piece of gauze to clean inside the ear. (One note: cotton swabs should never be used in the ear canal, because they can push wax or dirt farther down into the ear. They can also rupture the ear drum if inserted too far into the ear, or if the dog moves while the swab is being used. The safest method is to clean only the parts of the ear that are easily visible.)

Several cleanings may be required to removed all of the buildup, and the process may need to be repeated daily until the ears are free of debris.

What are the symptoms of ear disease?

Symptoms of ear disease can include everything from physical changes to an alteration in a dog’s mood. Once symptoms are noticed, a veterinarian should be consulted as soon as possible, so there is time to conduct testing to determine the cause of the problem and the most appropriate course of treatment. To spot ear trouble early, watch for the following symptoms:

–discharge from the ears
–a strong, foul smell
–dark, dry debris in the ears
–ears that are red or swollen
–shaking or tilting the head
–scratching or rubbing the ears or head
–pain in the ears
–changes in behavior or mood, such as irritability or depression

What causes ear disease?

Ear problems develop from a variety of causes, including allergies, parasites, microorganisms, trauma, hormonal imbalances, hereditary conditions or tumors. Some of the problems are minor and easy to treat, but others, such as trauma, are more serious and require immediate veterinary care.

How is ear disease diagnosed?

A diagnosis starts with a thorough examination by a veterinarian. During this exam, the veterinarian will look inside the dog’s ear to determine the extent of the inflammation and to detect any underlying causes, such as tumors or foreign objects in the ear. In addition, testing may be necessary to identify bacteria, yeast or parasites, all of which can cause ear inflammation. The vet will probably want a detailed medical history for the dog as well, to rule out allergies, hormonal problems or hereditary factors.

How is ear disease treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of the problem–the following list summarizes the most common approaches to treating a variety of ear problems.

Allergies: The most common treatment is regular ear cleaning with an ear cleaning solution, in addition to antihistamines or nutritional supplements if needed. Corticosteroids are sometimes used, and are taken orally, injected or administered directly onto the skin.

Bacterial infection: Antibiotics are the standard course of treatment here, in addition to anti-inflammatory medications. Immediate treatment is crucial, because infections can spread to the middle- and inner-ear and cause severe complications.

Yeast: This problem is more difficult to treat, and may require both anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory medications.

Ear mites: It may take several weeks to clear up ear mites, and the dog will need a special ear mite medication.

Hormonal imbalance: Hormone replacement therapy is the usual method chosen for this condition.

Fortunately, most ear problems are minor, and can be remedied with regular cleaning or short-term medication. If left untreated, however, even a minor ear infection can spread throughout the ear and cause serious complications that are difficult to treat. Also, what seems like a minor ear problem could actually be a symptom of something more severe–such as trauma or a tumor. Because of this, immediate veterinary care is crucial, as it can identify underlying causes and prevent damage to the ear. By cleaning your dog’s ears regularly, and by watching for problems and seeking prompt veterinary care, you should be able to protect your dog’s ears and keep your dog happy and healthy.

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