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When to take a dog with an ear infection to the vet – head shaking

YEAST infection, NOT ear mites, are the primary cause of ear infections in dogs

Dogs love to get yeast infections in their ears. I can count the number of dogs with ear mites I’ve seen during my practice career on two hands.

Cats love to get ear mites. But cats are not small dogs. Read on to learn more…

Hey doc, can I buy ear mite medication from the pet store to treat my dog’s ear infection?

In a word, NO. It makes me sad to see you waste your money, so please don’t.

How do dogs get ear infections?

Dogs have very deep ear canals. Especially in floppy-eared or hairy-eared dogs, reduced air flow leads to a warm, moist environment in the ear that encourages growth of yeast.

Treatment of most ear infections, therefore, is aimed at not only killing the yeast, but by making the environment of the ear less hospitable to yeast growth.

We accomplish this by REPEATED application of a prescription, drying acidifying ear cleanser, several times a week until the ear infection is clear.

Yeast ear infection as seen under the microscope

Bacterial ear infection that requires antibiotics

How veterinarians treat ear infections in dogs

  1. Step 1: Examine a swab of the infection under the microscope to decide if it’s a yeast infection or bacteria (or very, very rarely, ear mites)
  2. Step 2: If a bacterial ear infection is suspected, send a sample to the lab for culture
  3. Step 3: Clean the ear, using a prescription veterinary ear cleaner
  4. Step 4: Instill a small amount of prescription ear ointment or drops
  5. Step 5: Repeat above steps twice daily until infection appears cleared up.
  6. Step 6: When you think the infection is done, visit your veterinarian for a re-check exam.

As you can see, cleaning the ears is the important part.

Your veterinarian must take a swab of your dog’s ear discharge, look at it under the microscope, maybe even send a sample of it to the lab to be cultured for bacteria, before we’re able to prescribe the right kind of ear goo for your particular dog’s particular infection.

Is it just wax? Or yeast? Or bacteria sensitive to penicillin? Or bacteria resistant to cephalexin? Who knows?! LET YOUR VET DO A SWAB and find out for sure.

Besides, what if your dog’s ear infection is caused by allergies? If you and your vet don’t treat the allergies, you’re just treating the tip of the iceberg.

How to clean a dog’s ears

INSPECTION
– If your dog has floppy ears, gently lift up the ear flap to expose the inside of the ear.
– Try to hold the dog’s head in a position that will allow the cleaning solution to flow downward into the ear canal.
– Visually examine the ear, and wipe away any loose dirt and residue from just inside the ear.

CLEANING
– Squeeze ear cleaning solution into the ear, filling the ear canal. You can’t use too much.
– Put one finger in front of and at the base of the earflap, and put your thumb behind and at the base.
– Massage the ear canal between your finger and thumb. A squishing sound tells you that the medication has gone into the horizontal canal.
– Insert a cotton ball into the ear canal and soak up stinky brown ear wax-laden excess liquid from deep within the canal. Ew! I usually wear gloves for this part.
Repeat flushing as necessary, replacing saturated or soiled cotton with new, until the ear is dry and clean.
– Wipe any residue from the inside of the ear flap.
– Discard all used cotton. Never re-use anything from one ear on the other.

MEDICATING
– Administer any prescribed medication, as directed.
– Repeat on other ear.
– Give your good dog a hug and a healthy treat.

Common owner mistakes treating ear infections in dogs

One of your veterinarian’s most frustrating phone calls is the owner who wants a refill of medicated ear ointment, yet says “oh I have PLENTY of ear cleaner left at home!”.

Understand this: the reason your dog has an ear infection again, is either because your dog has allergies, or because keeping the ears clean would have prevented the infection.

If you’re treating your dogs ear infections properly, you’re supposed to run out of ear cleaner BEFORE you run out of ointment, because you’re cleaning the ears ALL THE DANG TIME. Especially during allergy season.

How often should I clean my dog’s ears?

For dogs with a history of recurrent ear problems, weekly cleaning may be necessary. Weekly ear inspections and prompt veterinary treatment at the first sign of infection are essential.

Let me restate – treatment of most dogs ear infections does NOT involve just a fancy prescription ointment, but rather ONGOING MAINTENANCE OF THE HEALTHY EAR CANAL BY THE DOG OWNER.

If you suspect an ear infection, call your veterinarian immediately

Don’t wait until your dog is in pain or struggling with ears that won’t stop itching. Don’t mess around in the pet store, let your vet treat her correctly the first time.

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