Dog ear infections are one of the most common problems we see in dogs. Any age, gender, breed, and size of dog can get an ear infection. Ear infections can be limited to one or both ears.
What Causes Yeast Infections in Dogs?
Hot, humid conditions increase the risk of ear infections. Certain breeds such as the cocker spaniel or basset hound, with their long or very hairy ears, are prone to ear infections. The long and hairy ears trap heat and wax in the ear, allowing favorable conditions for bacteria and yeast to multiply.
Yeast infections in dogs are caused by a yeast called Malassezia pachydermatis. This yeast usually lives in the ear canal and on the skin of dogs in small numbers, causing no issues. But when they are given the chance to multiply, they can increase in number rapidly and cause painful infections with a brown, crusty discharge.
Dogs’ ear canals are shaped differently from human ones. A human ear canal is straight, but a dog’s ear canal is an L shape. The L shape of a dog’s ear canal means it’s easy for wax and fluid to get trapped in the ear, further worsening the infection. The good news is that this yeast is not contagious to other dogs or people, and is easy to treat once detected.
Signs of a Dog Ear Yeast Infection:
- Pink or red skin on the hairless part of the ear
- Brown, black, or burgundy discharge
- Bleeding, crusts, or scabs on the ear
- Persistent scratching at the ear
- A strong smell from in the ear
- Crying or vocalizing when the ear is touched
- Holding the head to one side, or one ear dropped down.
What Should I Do if I See These Signs?
If you see any of the signs mentioned above, you should book a visit with your veterinarian. They will check your dog’s inner ear, looking for any objects stuck in the ears. They will also look closely to see if the tympanic membrane (the eardrum) is damaged. They will have a good look (and a sniff!) of the discharge, checking the color and consistency.
A swab of the discharge will be analyzed under the microscope. This will pick up any bacteria, yeast, or mites present in the ear and guide treatment.
What Treatments Are Available?
Medications to treat yeast ear infections are usually in the form of daily or twice daily ear drops to give at home. For very bad ear infections, oral antifungal tablets may be given as well as ear drops. If your dog’s ear is very painful, your vet will give medication to soothe the pain while the antifungals treat the infection.
Very severe infections may need an ear flush under general anesthetic and topical medications applied at the same time.
Your veterinarian will recommend a follow-up after the medication has finished to repeat the sampling. This is to make sure the infection is completely cured. Sometimes, the ear can look a lot better on the outside, but due to the long, narrow nature of the canal, a small infection can still be lurking. This infection will grow over time and in a few weeks, while what appears to be another ear infection has started, it’s the initial ear infection that was never fully treated.
How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears
Your veterinarian may ask you to clean your dog’s ears before applying the ear medication at home. This is an important part of the treatment process. By cleaning the wax and discharge first, the ear medication will then be able to touch the surface of the ear and fight infection, rather than just be lost in the discharge and have no effect.
When cleaning your dog’s ears it’s important to never put anything deep into the ears, such as cotton swabs. This is because cotton swabs can permanently damage the eardrum, sometimes leading to non-reversible deafness.
Look For a Pet-Safe Ear Cleaner
Use a pet-safe ear cleaner from a veterinarian or pet store and place the nozzle into the ear canal. Squirt a small amount of liquid into the ear and massage at the base to move the liquid around and deeper into the canal. The ear cleaner will help break down wax and debris, making it easier to remove.
Use a cotton ball at the entrance to the ear canal and wipe away any discharge. Your pet may shake their head and flick the ear solution and ear wax out – this is a normal response! Just be sure to stand back so you don’t get covered in earwax!
What Other Things Can I Do to Help My Dog Recover From an Ear Yeast Infection?
Ear infections are itchy! Your pet will want to constantly scratch at the ear to soothe that itchy feeling. When dogs scratch at their ears, their strong nails can cause damage to the skin of the ear leading to further infection and pain.
To prevent this, an Elizabethan collar or inflatable collar is recommended while treatment is ongoing. While it can seem mean to keep your pet in a cone, it will shorten the recovery time and prevent further skin infections. Skin infections can need three to six weeks of antibiotics if severe, so it’s well worth using the cone to stop this from happening.
Keeping your dog’s nails short will also help reduce the damage to the skin. Long, sharp nails cause more damage than short, rounded ones. Ask your veterinarian for help if you’re not confident about trimming your dog’s nails.
Ear and skin infections can be linked to allergies, so if you find your dog has this problem often, it’s worth talking to a veterinarian about testing for allergies.