Keeping your dog ear infection-free is all about pH and keeping allergies under control. When water or moisture gets trapped in a dog's ear, it changes the pH and provides a perfect environment for bacteria to take over! Dogs naturally have yeast and bacteria on their skin, and disrupting the pH of the ear allows these bugs to proliferate and cause a problem. Chronic ear infections permanently damage the tissue over time, making ear infections more prevalent and harder to control. This is why it is very important to never let an ear infection go untreated!
Here are some tips to help keep your dog's ears in tip top shape!
1. Instill a small amount of cleaner/drying solution into your dog's ears before and after swimming and bathing. Purchase a good quality ear cleaner made for dogs such as Epi-Otic, Dermapet or any cleaner recommended by your veterinarian. Avoid harsh, alcohol based cleaners. You can also use a solution of 50/50 water and vinegar when you're in a pinch. For small dogs, saturate a cotton ball with the cleaner and squeeze it into their ears to avoid damaging the ear canal. Fully cleaning your dog's ears is not necessary if there isn't a problem. Simply instilling a small amount of cleaner helps to dry out any water in the ear and prevent infection.
2. Check your dog's ears regularly.
When a dog has an ear infection, they typically have dark brownish debris, or may have a whitish/yellowish discharge. Dogs can have infections deep in their canals that may not be visible without an Otoscope. Sometimes you may only noticed that the ear is red and warm. If your dog is constantly scratching at his ears, or shaking his head it is time for a trip to the vet! Be aware that some dogs will not show any behavioral changes until an ear infection has become severe, so keep and eye on those ears!
If your dog's ears are very red and inflamed, do not attempt to clean them. The cleaner may burn their skin and make things worse! If you find that your dog has an infection, take your pup to the vet to get a proper treatment to reduce the inflamation first!
3. If you get antibiotics from your vet to treat an infection, make sure to give the entire dose! Giving a lower dose, or not finishing the entire round of antibiotics can make the ear infection worse by killing off the weakest bacteria and allowing the strongest to proliferate! Many ear infections return within a few weeks if not properly treated, so save yourself the hassle and get rid of it the first time!
4. Don't use old medications without consulting your vet first. There are 3 common types of ear infections. Yeast is the most common. It is a fungus and is often treated with an antifungal/antibacterial medication like Tresaderm or Mometamax. Dogs also get cocci bacteria which may be treated with antibiotic ear medications. Both cocci and yeast naturally live on the skin. Rod bacteria such a Pseudomonas, do not normally live on the skin and are secondary invaders. These bacteria can take weeks or months to resolve, and often need strong antibiotic ear drops to clear them. Dogs can have any one of these infections, or a combination which may require multiple medications. This is why getting a proper diagnosis by having your vet swab your dog's ear and look at the debris under a microscope is very important, especially if your pup is experiencing recurring ear infections.
5. Get an accurate diagnosis. If your pup is having recurring ear infections and your vet keeps prescribing the same medication, get a second opinion, or ask for an ear cytology. Many dogs are only treated for yeast infections, when they actually have an infection with multiple types of yeast and bacteria.
5. Be aware that ear infections can also be caused by food allergies. When a dog is allergic to food, their ear canals become swollen and inflamed, much like a person's throat swells when in contact with an allergen. The inflammation disrupts the integrity of the ear tissue and allows bacteria to take over. An ear infection caused by an allergy will only resolve if the underlying allergy is treated. Treating the ear infection alone will only be a temporary fix. Many dogs that have allergy related ear infections will also chew at their feet. If you notice these behaviors, contact your vet!
Many dogs won't show signs of food allergies until they are about 2 years old, so if your pup starts showing signs it may be time to try a hypoallergenic diet! Ask your vet or local pet food store for recommendations, and keep in mind that it may take 6-8 weeks to notice an improvement when doing a diet change.