How do you know if your pup has an ear infection? Could it be something else? What about an allergy? And how do you know which type it is? And what is the best way to treat it?
We need to know how to recognize the cause of ear irritation so we can treat it immediately. It’s therefore important to know the signs and symptoms of an ear infection. It is equally important to know how to recognize a healthy ear. Far too often I hear of people insistent that their dog has terrible, chronic ear infections when the dog’s ear is found to be perfectly healthy by a veterinarian and when I visually inspect during these “infections” I concur with the vet’s assessment that the ear is perfectly healthy.
But something is causing the dog with the infection-free ears to act itchy and uncomfortable. Sometimes it is nothing more than a bit of wax buildup that needs to be gently washed away.
Unfortunately most veterinarians will prescribe harsh chemical cleaners and antibiotics even when there is no infection found, in order to ease the concern of the owner.
(Looking for Part I: All About Ears or Part II Preventing Ear Infections ?)
If you see a bit of orange-waxy buildup in the ear then that is a good sign. Wax can certainly be orange, so it is nothing but indicative of a clean, infection free ear. Just because you see a bit of brown colored wax in the dog’s ear does not mean an infection is present. Generally dirty dog ears get a brown build up, and that is actually quite normal for a dog that hasn’t been regularly groomed. All this type of build-up is wax (a natural lubricant and vital for ear health) having trapped a lot of dirt and dust. Wax is sticky and if your pooch has been rolling around outside this can certainly cause this dirty-wax. You might notice this dirty waxy buildup after checking your dog as he seems itchier than usual. While the dog wants it off, it doesn’t actually signify a problem. When wax doesn’t fall out on its own the body naturally feels a bit itchy with the goal of stimulating the animal to rub and scratch at the ear to remove the excess wax. If your dog seems a tad itchy but everything else is healthy you should clean your dog’s ears and see if it relieves his itch. When cleaning a dirty-dog’s ears your dog should readily accept cleaning and may even lean into you with his head during the process. He should not cry (if you’re being careful) or pull away from you in panic. If he seems to be in pain during cleaning you likely have an infection.
Did you notice a bit of an odor in the ear? Well what does a clean ear smell like anyway? The inside of a dog’s ear might smell bad to you even when it is healthy. Like beauty to the eye, bad smell is often in the nose of the smeller. An earthy, musty smell is normal so long as the ear is pink (not red) and not moist. If the smell is putrid or yeasty then you have a problem even if the ear appears clean and uninflamed.
Signs of an Infection
Do you notice a distinct chalky smell or a cheesy smell in your dog’s ears? There are the obvious sign of black goop or oozing or redness and swelling of the ear, the ear canal might even swell closed. There can also be a black goop with visible black flecks. These are all indicators of an ear infection.
Is your dog shaking his head like he has water in his ears? Is he rubbing his head along the floor/carpet on one side, trying to rub or scratch his ears? Some dogs walk with their head tipped to one side like they are perpetually perplexed. Others rub their head/ear along all your lovely furniture; couches, chairs, laps, fences outside… nothing is safe! Sometimes dogs with some kind of ear irritation will constantly scratch at their ears then occasionally yelp or whine, but continue with the compulsive scratching. Dogs with serious ear infections might display a loss of hearing. This calls for an immediate trip to the veterinarian.
These behaviors, sometimes along with a fever, or even a bit of wobbly walking/unsteady gait or dizziness, can all be attributed to an ear problem, even in the absence of visible indicators.
An ear infection can become severe when left untreated if it doesn’t resolve on its own. If the cause is something that is ongoing the infection will recur or get worse (or both). Ear infections can scar and damage the ear canal, rupture the ear drum, permanently damage hearing, and even cause systemic infections (bacteria can get into the blood stream, known as septicemia, and can kill your dog!)
So bottom line here is not to ignore your dog’s irritated ears or assume they’ll heal on their own without any intervention. A healthy dog has a fabulous immune system and is capable of healing from all kinds of assaults on their systems. But sometimes a dog that appears healthy is not, or is under certain stressors that are weakening his immune system. Other times the dog could be succumbing to medical problems due to an unnatural condition that is repeating in his care by humans. And yet other times animals (no matter the kind) just get sick or catch parasites. It happens to the healthiest of dogs. And no matter how healthy and well cared for your dog is there is nothing he can do to control allergies or food intolerance!
If your dog is definitely irritated and seems not to be able to find relief (obvious infection or not) you need to try and pinpoint the cause of the infection so that you can treat it properly. This is one of those places where you’ll likely need to do a little research to know what medications are safe and which are not safe and arrive at the veterinarian armed with questions and knowledge.
The most common condition in drop-eared dogs like the Cockapoo is a yeast infection. Has your dog recently been wet? Has he been on antibiotics? Does he eat a high carbohydrate diet? Did he have parents that were prone to chronic ear and skin infections?
If the ear is red and swollen or has a yeasty smell (like still-raw baking bread) or an overly musty smell that turns your face automatically it could very well be a yeast infection. Yeast is particularly itchy, so the dog with this infection is likely to be very uncomfortable and scratching constantly.
Treatment for yeast includes daily cleaning with a special cleanser like “Rescue Remedy” for seven days, then once a week for four weeks. After that cleaning can be done every time the dog has a bath. If your dog has recurrent yeast infections it is time to address your dog’s food because it is likely that it isn’t high quality and has too many carbohydrates. Check out the Best Dog Food article and consider using canned “wet” food since it has a higher protein content than its dry counterpart.
A bacterial infection generally has a very foul odor. These are commonly associated with black goopy discharge. Lots of times with a bacterial infection the ear canal will appear red and swollen and the ear flap itself can be red and inflamed as well. If a suspected bacterial infection does not clear up right away with proper ear cleaning you had better head to the vet for an antibiotic. If the infection came on suddenly and appears very serious for such a sudden onset or if your dog seems to have a fever you’d better get in to see a veterinarian right away. You don’t want to cleanse the ear prior to your veterinarian appointment so your doctor will be able to swab the discharge and find out what type of bacteria has set up shop. This allows the vet to prescribe an antibiotic that will actually get the job done (bacteria do not respond to just any antibiotic).
As with all antibiotic use it is imperative that you finish the full course of treatment, even if your dog is clearly healed from the infection. Not finishing your antibiotics will leave some bacteria alive. These wounded war veteran bacterial cells will learn from the assault with antibiotics and will grow themselves a new, stronger legion of bacteria-buddies and the next time your antibiotics won’t be able to wipe them out. This spells trouble for your dog (and all of mankind in general) so please just make sure you administer those last couple of doses no matter how healthy your dog looks.
If you think you can attempt to treat this at home then use a cleaner like Rescue Remedy and keep close tabs on your dog. Rinse the ears once a day for seven days, then once a week for four weeks and then every time the dog has a bath thereafter.
As with any infection you’ll want to support the dog’s immune system as much as possible. Ensure your dog has access to a healthy diet and is getting plenty of sleep. If your dog is on any medications or has other medical conditions you need to speak to your veterinarian right away.
Ear mite infestations are generally characterized by black goop, or oozing sores, and especially little black dots everywhere (mite poop). You may see some dried blood or little smears of blood if your dog has been scratching heavily. This, like yeast, is a particularly itchy ear problem so your dog will be uncomfortable. This one requires veterinary care as there are several different kinds of ear mites, and they often have various treatments. There are some over-the-counter products but when it comes to parasites I recommend just getting it done right the first time.
Ear infections happen to even the healthiest of dogs with the most attentive owners. Make sure you look in your pets ears on a regular basis so that you know what it looks and smells like in there when it is healthy and so you can pinpoint the exact time that his ears become irritated, inflamed or infected. If this coincides with any dietary changes it is important to pay attention to this. And you will have one happy, itch-free pooch.
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