If you own a dog, it’s likely that at some point in their life you’ve had to treat an ear infection. There are lots of reasons that dogs develop ear infections, the most common is that water gets into the ear, which produces a moist warm environment that allows yeast and bacteria to grow. These dogs are usually basset hounds, beagles, labs, cocker spaniels or any others with floppy ears that don’t breathe or dry out well. Clearly, if your dogs love swimming or are exposed to water it can lead to the possibility of infections.
You’ve probably heard your vet say: “Ear disease is skin disease!”. While you’re probably thinking “duh”, what this is supposed to mean is that anything that can affect the skin on multiple areas of the body can lead to ear infections. The most common cause for this is allergies, either from the environment (pollen, dusts, molds, etc.) or your pets food. Therefore, if your dog has a history of allergies, they’ve also likely had issues with ear infections.
Ear Infections are easy to treat, but be careful. For the first few days it’s very possible that your buddy’s ears will be quite painful. Be gentle and go slow, if you’re having a hard time, just give them a break and try again in an hour. If they’re food motivated, have one of your family members slowly give them a treat (peanut butter on a spoon etc) as a distraction and a positive reward.
In order to do a good job cleaning or treating your pet’s ear, it is important to understand what you’re dumping stuff into. The part of the ear you can actually see is the external pinna (ear). This leads to the vertical canal, which takes a 90 degree turn into the horizontal canal. This then leads to eardrum, which separates the external ear from the middle ear.
Most of time, the infection is deep within the ear, involving the horizontal canal. This is why we have to do a good job cleaning and applying medication deep within the ear. Don’t fret! The eardrum works well to seal off the middle ear, so as long as your pet doesn’t have chronic problems it’s perfectly fine to fill the entire canal with cleaner or ointment.
Many times, an ear infection is accompanied by a significant amount of waxy debris. This fills the canal, inhibiting exchange with the outside air, and preventing us from treating the skin. Your vet may or may not send home an ear cleaner, depending on how much gunk is in their ear. Cleaning can be messy, so perform this outside, or in an easily to clean room.
Now remember the diagram above, it is important to get cleaner deep down into the ear to reach the horizontal canal. To do this, don’t be shy! Dump the cleaner into the ear, more the better. Then, gently massage the base of the ear for 30 seconds. This will help loosen all of the debris. Then let go and let em shake. This will help all of that debris that’s wedged into the ear to escape. Once they’re done shaking, use something soft (kleenex, cotton, etc.) and carefully clean only the outside of the ear. There is no need to dig or use q-tips. All of this will eventually find it’s way out.
Usually we will recommend cleaning the ear once a day or once every other day for a week or so. However, if your pet’s ear continues to produce debris, continue until it’s all gone. We want a nice, clean ear so our medication can be effective. Ideally, please allow for at least 30 minutes in between cleaning and application of a medicated ointment (Gentizol, Mometomax, etc.).
Once the infection is under control, weekly cleaning (or after bathing/swimming) will help remove debris, dry out the skin, and change the pH to prevent yeast/bacterial growth. For many dogs this helps prevent infections in the future.
Similar to cleaning, the most important part of applying a medication to the ear is that there needs to be enough to coat all of the skin. Please don’t hesitate, it is impossible to put too much into the ear. The ear should be filled and the outside should be coated. Then, gently massage it in, similar to the cleaner. Most ointments are applied once or twice a day for at least 7 days. It is important to complete the entire course, if only a few days are used this may lead to bacterial resistance.
If your pet continues to have infections, it is likely that either something is causing the infection to re-occur (allergies, etc.) or the infection was incompletely treated the first time. It is very important to return for your recheck (if recommended) to ensure that the infection has been treated 100%. If even a small amount of bacteria or yeast remain, the infection may return with a vengeance.