Despite what you may think, yeast infections, NOT ear mites, are the primary cause of ear infections in dogs. Dogs love to get yeast infections in their ears. Most veterinarians can likely count the number of dogs with ear mites they’ve seen during their practice career on two hands. And because we’ve also seen many pet owners wait too long to get their dogs treatment for what can be painful (or at the very least uncomfortable) ear infections, we’ve decided to share tips on how to know when it’s time to take your canine companion to the veterinarian.
How Do Dogs Get Ear Infections?
Dogs have very deep ear canals. Especially in floppy-eared or hairy-eared dogs, reduced airflow leads to a warm, moist environment in the ear that encourages yeast growth.
How to Treat Canine Ear Infections
Because of the link to moisture, the treatment of most ear infections, therefore, is aimed at killing the yeast and making the environment of the ear less hospitable to yeast growth. We accomplish this by REPEATED application of a prescription and drying acidifying ear cleanser several times a week until the ear infection is cleared.
The steps to how veterinarians treat ear infections in dogs:
Step 1: Examine a swab of the infection under the microscope to decide if it’s a yeast infection or bacteria. (or very rarely, ear mites)
Step 2: If a bacterial ear infection is suspected, send a sample to the lab for culture
Step 3: Clean the ear using a prescription veterinary ear cleaner
Step 4: Instill a small amount of prescription ear ointment or drops
Step 5: Repeat the above steps twice daily until the infection appears to clear up
Step 6: When you think the infection has passed, visit your veterinarian for a re-check exam
Your veterinarian must take a swab of your dog’s ear discharge, look at it under the microscope, and perhaps even send a sample of it to the lab to be cultured for bacteria before they’re able to prescribe the right kind of ear medication for your particular dog’s particular infection. Is it just wax? Or yeast? Or bacteria sensitive to penicillin? Or bacteria resistant to cephalexin? Who knows?! Let your veterinarian do a swab to find out for sure. For example, what if allergies cause your dog’s ear infection? If you and your veterinarian don’t treat the dog's allergies, you’re just treating the tip of the iceberg.
How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears
Simply inspecting your dog’s ears regularly is the first step to being a responsible pet owner.
The inspection process for your dog’s ears should go as follows:
- If your dog has floppy ears, gently lift the ear flap to expose the inside of the ear.
- Try to hold the dog’s head in a position that will allow the cleaning solution to flow down into the ear canal.
- Visually examine the ear, and wipe away any loose dirt and residue from just inside the ear.
The cleaning process for your dog’s ears should go as follows:
- Squeeze ear cleaning solution into the ear, filling the ear canal. You can’t use too much.
- Put one finger in front of and at the base of the earflap, and put your thumb behind and at the base.
- Massage the ear canal between your finger and thumb. A squishing sound tells you that the medication has gone into the horizontal canal.
- Insert a cotton ball into the ear canal and soak up stinky brown ear wax-laden excess liquid from deep within the canal. Insert sounds of horror here! Feel free to wear gloves for this part.
- Repeat flushing as necessary, replacing saturated or soiled cotton balls with new ones until the ear is dry and clean.
- Wipe any residue from the inside of the ear flap.
- Discard all used cotton. Never re-use anything from one ear on the other.
Medicating Your Dog For Ear Infections
There’s not much to this section other than to say to follow the directions on the prescribed canine ear infection medication for both ears. Of course, giving your dog a hug and a healthy treat after giving the medication will always go a long way in making it an easier process as time goes on.
Take note! One of your veterinarian’s most frustrating phone calls is the owner who wants a refill of medicated ear ointment yet says, “Oh, I have PLENTY of ear cleaner left at home!” Understand this: your dog has an ear infection again because of allergies, or keeping the ears clean would have prevented the infection. If you’re treating your dog's ear infections properly, you’re supposed to run out of ear cleaner BEFORE you run out of ointment because you’re cleaning the ears consistently, especially during allergy season.
How Often Should I Clean My Dog’s Ears?
For dogs with a history of recurrent ear problems, weekly cleaning may be necessary. Weekly ear inspections and prompt veterinary treatment at the first sign of infection are essential. We cannot emphasize enough that the treatment of most dogs' ear infections does NOT involve just a fancy prescription ointment but rather ongoing maintenance of the healthy ear canal by the dog owner.
If you suspect an ear infection, call your veterinarian immediately. Please don’t wait until your dog is in pain or struggling with ears that won’t stop itching. Don’t mess around in the pet store with medications that won’t work—let your veterinarian treat the dog correctly the first time.