Do you have a dog that shakes their head all the time? Perhaps you’ve seen them scratch madly at their ears or tilt their head to one side? Ear irritation is a common health complaint in dogs.
There are many different conditions which can cause ear irritation, so read on to learn the signs and what you can do at home to keep your dog’s ears healthy.
Ear infections in pets
The most common cause of ear irritation in dogs - ear infections, occur when yeast or bacteria grow excessively inside your dog’s ear canals. Dog’s ears have a natural cleaning system that usually prevents infections and keeps bacteria and yeast under control. However, sometimes this natural system doesn’t work as well as it should, due to excessive hair or wax in the canals, the structure of the ear (e.g. floppy-eared breeds like Cocker Spaniels and Basset Hounds) or because of underlying allergies which cause skin inflammation, causing your dog to scratch their ears and break the skin barrier.
Symptoms of ear infections include head shaking, ear scratching and general ear itchiness, a red and inflamed ear canal and sometimes a yeasty smell coming from the ear. Ear infections can occur in either one ear or both ears, depending on the underlying cause. Some dogs struggle with chronic ear infections, which can cause much distress to both owners and dogs alike.
If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, your veterinarian will be able to assist with bringing your dog relief, usually with special antibiotic ear drops to treat the infection. Your veterinarian will examine your dog and their ear, take a swab and look at it under the microscope. Depending on what type of bacteria or yeast they see, they will prescribe a specific remedy.
Increasingly, dogs are suffering ear infections from resistant bacteria, which means normal antibiotics won’t work to clear the infection. Therefore, it’s important to see your veterinarian every time your dog gets an ear infection and not just reach for any drops you might already have. Resistant ear infections are a serious animal health and welfare concern and often require extensive surgery to resolve.
In some dogs, their natural ear cleaning system needs a little help to prevent build-up of yeast and bacteria in the ear canals. Your veterinarian will advise if your pet needs a regular ear cleaning regime, what the best ear cleaning product is for your pet, and how to clean your pet’s ears correctly and safely.
Ear mites and grass seeds
Although ear infections are the most common cause of ear irritation in dogs, there are several other possible explanations. Some dogs, unfortunately, contract a parasite called ear mites, which live in the ear canals of dogs and cats and cause intense itching. If your dog has ear mites, they will scratch at their ears incessantly and will often shake their head.
Your veterinarian can diagnose ear mites by looking down the ear canal with an instrument called an otoscope and will recommend treatment to cure the infection. Grass seeds can also cause ear irritation and infection and often are treated by removing the seed under sedation at the veterinary clinic before treating any accompanying infection.
If you notice your dog is paying more attention to their ears, such as scratching at them or shaking their head, make an appointment with your veterinarian.