If you have a dog that’s prone to ear infections, you know they’re no fun.
When I first rescued my Lab, Honey, it seemed just as I’d resolved one infection the next one was brewing. That’s when I realized I was only treating the problem—I wasn’t getting to the root of it.
I dreaded chasing her through the house to clean and treat those ears. Let’s just say, she wasn’t the easiest dog.
Some dogs are more prone to ear infections, particularly floppy-eared dogs. And Labs are one of those dogs. Breeds with ears that stand up are less likely to get them.
Plus Honey loves to swim. So I assumed her problem was that I wasn’t doing a good job drying her ears when she got out of the pool. And that may have been part of it.
But interestingly, her food made the difference. When we got her, she was eating a cheap box store food. We transitioned her to a super premium food, and it made all the difference once she was on it for a little while.
Causes of ear infections
The bacteria and/or yeast that cause infection make their home in dark, moist, alkaline places such as the ear. These organisms may bring about an infection but it’s often secondary to something else going on in your fur baby’s ear.
Many things can change the environment in the ear, turning it into a great place for bacteria and/or yeast to take hold.
So what are those things?
Allergies – You can read my post, 5 signs your dog may have a food allergy, to find out how a food allergy can bring about an ear infection. It’s often the first sign that your dog is allergic to its food.
Parasites – Ear mites are more common in cats than dogs. But dogs that get them are often super sensitive to them. Extreme scratching can cause trauma to the ear that results in an infection.
Foreign bodies – Any kind of dirt or debris, i.e. a leaf, a piece of grass, etc., can cause an irritation that leads to infection. A dog’s ear canal is “L” shaped. A foreign object can settle in the bottom where the canal turns and cause a problem.
Trauma – An injury can irritate the ear which leads to incessant scratching, and ultimately an infection.
Hormone imbalance – Hormones affect the skin and ears. An imbalance can cause skin and ear trouble. Irritated ears will make your dog scratch and that can lead to infection.
Excess moisture – Yeast loves moisture. If your dog is a swimmer like mine is, be sure to dry their ears every time they swim. And the same for bath time. If those ears are damp, you’re giving infection an opportunity to take hold. Some breeds with heavy floppy ears like spaniels have moist ears making them more susceptible to infection.
Ear anatomy – Sometimes a dog’s ears are just ripe for infection because of their structure. Creases, excessive hair, and other areas for dirt, bacteria and yeast to build up may make your dog more prone.
Heredity – There are hereditary diseases like dermatomyositis in Collies and primary seborrhea in Shar Peis that can affect the ears and lead to infection.
Tumors – A tumor or polyp in your dog’s ear can lead to scratching and ultimately an infection.
To rid your dog of ear infections, and not just treat them, you must get to the cause and fix it. If your dog has a tumor in their ear, antibiotics won’t fix it.
Take the signs of an infection seriously. If you notice a strong odor, discharge from the ear, head shaking or tilting, pawing at the ear, or even wobbliness see the vet.
Treatment for ear infections
How your vet treats the infection will depend on the cause. Your vet should do a thorough exam to see if there’s anything in the ear that’s causing the problem. And then treat the problem In addition to the infection.
If the vet thinks it’s just bacterial, they’ll prescribe an antibiotic—or an antifungal for yeast. If there’s a lot of inflammation, you’ll probably get a steroid too.
For an environmental allergy, the treatment may include antihistamines, steroids and regular cleaning with an ear wash.
The point I want to stress is that all these treatments are great if they fix the problem. But if the infection recurs, talk to your vet about digging deeper to find a permanent solution.
The most common cause of ear infections is food allergies. If your vet doesn’t bring this up and you are fighting one infection after the other, it may be time to consider changing your dog’s food.
My post, 5 signs your dog may have a food allergy, can help you through the food allergy dilemma.
I know a food change made all the difference for my Honey.
Husse’s Lamm & Ris (Lamb & Rice) or Lax & Ris (Salmon & Rice) are ideal for dogs with food allergies. Rice is highly digestible and gluten-free. Gluten can be a problem for a dog with food allergies. All Husse foods are balanced to provide your dog with the nutrition they need.
Preventing ear infections
If your dog’s infection is truly just an infection brought on by bacteria or yeast, then the antibiotic or antifungal should do the trick. But be sure to keep the ears dry and clean.
Clean your dog’s ears regularly with an ear wash. If you prefer something more holistic, brewed green tea at room temperature is commonly used as a natural ear cleaner.
Ask your vet to show you how to clean your dog’s ears safely. And ask how often to clean them. You can cause more harm than good with over-cleaning.
My advice is to listen to your inner voice. If it’s telling you there’s something more than an infection going on because your dog is battling one after the next, you need to look into other possible causes for your dog’s trouble. Don’t be afraid to push your vet to explore the possible causes I’ve mentioned.
We all want the same thing for our pets… a happy, healthy and quality life with no pain or discomfort. Getting rid of those ear infections once and for all is essential to achieving that.
Does your dog suffer from frequent ear infections? What was the underlying cause? Share in the comment section at the top of the page.