If you ever experienced an inner ear infection, you know first-hand the pain and suffering your pet experiences when they have one. Minor ear infections are quite common, and most dogs will develop them at one time or another in their lives. However, inner ear infections, or “otitis interna,” are much more severe. Dogs with chronic ear infections may develop otitis interna over time if the eardrum is compromised and allows bacteria to enter the inner ear.

Dogs with long drooping ears, such as Bassett Hounds, Beagles, and Spaniels, seem to be more susceptible to ear infections that develop into a more severe inner ear infection. This is not to say that small-ear or pointed-ear breeds are immune; they are just less likely to contract this condition.

Signs of an Inner Ear Infection

If your dog has developed a head tilt or has balance issues, they may have a more serious inner ear infection. Dogs affected may also demonstrate symptoms such as walking in circles (usually toward the infected side). Should both ears be infected, you may notice your dog swinging his head from side to side as he walks (much like an elephant swaying its trunk). Your dog may even have problems standing on his feet, and you may also notice he’s lost some hearing on the infected side, or complete hearing loss if both if both ears are infected.

In extreme cases, you may notice nausea and vomiting. If the infection has caused damage to a facial nerve (located in the area of the inner ear), you may see drooling, dropping of food, drooping eyelids or lips on the side of the infection, disorientation, and uneven pupil size.

If your pet is demonstrating the symptoms of inner ear infection, take them to the vet immediately for a more complete and accurate diagnosis and treatment of their problem.

Signs of a Minor Ear Infection

In the case of an ear infection, symptoms you may notice include constant scratching of the ears. You might catch your dog rubbing his ears on the carpet or the grass. One sign you may note is your dog frequently shaking his head. You may also smell an odd odor emanating from your dog’s ears. A minor infection may also result in redness or swelling of the ear canal. Common causes for ear infections in pets include ear mites, yeast, and bacteria.

Like some humans, some dogs suffer from allergies. Your pet may be allergic to mold, pollen, dust, or even foods such as fish, soy, and wheat. These allergies will make him more susceptible to ear infections. The inflammation from these allergies can precipitate the growth of bacterial, micro-organisms, and yeast that can increase your pet’s chances of infection.

dog with protective collar

Smelly ears?

If your dog’s ear canal gets wet, the resulting moisture can promote the growth of micro-organisms that can result in an ear infection. In some of these cases, there will be a noticeable smell emanating from your pet’s ears due to the bacteria multiplying in the ear canal. If your friend has only a minor infection, home treatment may be possible. But when in doubt, always err on the side of caution and take your pal to see the veterinarian.

Preventing Ear Infections

The best way to avoid an inner ear infection is a regular ear maintenance regimen. It takes only a few minutes to conduct these procedures. If your dog seems nervous about them, be patient. In time, your dog will grow accustomed to having its ears tampered with and remain calm during treatment. The upside is that he’ll grow less resistant if something that requires more intensive treatment ever develops. Generally speaking, you should perform these maintenance procedures periodically, but if your pet shows early signs of developing ear issues, you may want to initiate them immediately.

Natural oils and washes

You may be surprised to know that you might already have the necessary products to maintain clean and healthy ears for your pet. These methods will go a long way to prevent an ear infection. However, they cannot cure one. Unfortunately, if your pet has already developed an infection, most preventive measures will only aggravate the problem in their already sensitive ears.

Coconut oil or olive oil will soften your pet’s ear wax and make it much easier to remove with a soft cloth or tissue. You should never use cotton swabs with hard sticks to clean your pet’s ears. The introduction of an unexpected foreign object into their ear can cause a panic reflex motion from your pet and result in severe damage to the eardrum. It may also force the wax and debris farther down into your dog’s ear canal. Only clean the wax or debris that you can easily access from the ear opening.

Aloe and aloe-based rinses are beneficial to dogs who are prone to infections. However, most ear wash products are only recommended before an infection. If your pet has an infection, such washes may be painful to your pet’s infected ears. It may even cause blisters, making the problem and the treatments more difficult.

Boric acid

You can use boric acid for everything from killing ants to treating infections, and it does the latter admirably. Apply some boric acid powder to your pet’s ears after they’ve been exposed to water that may have entered the ear canal, such as swimming or having a bath. Bacteria and yeast need to grow and multiply to cause infections. Boric acid creates an environment that helps prevent this growth. However, it is mild enough that it won’t harm your pet if used correctly. Note that you should never allow your pet (or anyone else) to swallow or inhale boric acid. It can irritate if it gets in the eyes, the nose, or the mouth.

Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar

Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar seems to be good for both man and beast. Because it possesses antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, apple cider vinegar will be very useful in combating the causes of ear infections.

Always use only unpasteurized vinegar. The pasteurization process will impair the antibacterial properties. If the infection has caused skin damage, dilute the vinegar with water or oil to reduce the pain to your pooch. Simply soak a cotton ball in the vinegar and dab the affected area.

Treatment of Minor Ear Infections

Treatment of Minor Ear Infections

Treat minor ear infections in much the same way you would perform your routing ear cleaning. However, you must always be aware that your pet will have far more sensitive ears even if a relatively minor infection has taken hold.

Start by calming your pet as much as possible so that they will be relaxed and not over-react to your actions. Lay your pet on its side and begin by filling the ear canal with a mild cleaning solution, such as mentioned above. Place a small cotton ball into the ear canal slowly, as to avoid upsetting your pet. Massage the area adjacent to the opening to assist the cleaner in getting to the bottom of the ear canal.

Again, remember that your friend’s ears may be painfully tender, so make sure you perform these actions with a delicate touch.

As you massage the ear, the cotton ball will keep the cleaning solution in the ear canal as well as absorb any bacteria or micro-organisms that come in contact with it. A close inspection of this cotton ball afterward may give you a better idea of what you’re up against. If your pet remains calm, continue this procedure until the cotton ball emerges clean.

Never use strong astringents or solvents such as alcohol or hydrogen peroxide that will irritate your pet’s already tender skin.

After you have cleaned your pal’s ears, wait for about 10 minutes before applying any medications recommended by your veterinarian. Waiting for this long will allow time for the ear canal to dry completely.

A Trip to the Vet

a cute pug on the couch

When you go to the vet be sure to let them know precisely what cleansing procedures or treatments, if any, you have been applying at home. Be sure to relate all products, cleansing agents, and procedures you have utilized to your vet. This information will give them a heads-up as to what may or may not have been previously effective. It may also possibly help them diagnose the underlying problem. You, your pet, and your vet are a team in this endeavor. So, clear and precise communication between you is vital to your friend’s recovery.

If your veterinarian has confirmed a diagnosis of an ear infection, he may prescribe an antifungal medication to combat the yeast. Alternatively, he may prescribe an antibiotic to kill the bacteria. Steroids, commonly administered with injection, can provide relief for the inflammation. This medication may be in the form of oral medications or topical creams. In any case, be sure to follow your veterinarian’s advice to the letter.

If your dog has suffered multiple infections, your vet may want to recommend a more intense treatment. These may include vaccines, ongoing treatments, or maintenance medication. If this is the case, always follow up with regular appointments. And, of course, make sure you keep your vet informed of any unusual changes in your pet

Stay Vigilant

Just like you, your best friend will occasionally experience ear infections that will require attention. Because they’re helpless in these situations, they will rely on their best friend to resolve the issue and ease the pain. With preventive maintenance on a regular basis and appropriate action when the need arises, your pup will stay happy and healthy throughout their life. You couldn’t do more for your best friend than that.