My dog has an ear infection: How do I clean my dog's ears?

By Dr. Justine Lee, Well Pet Post Contributor | 8/3/2017 | Posted to Dog Health
My dog has an ear infection: How do I clean my dog's ears?

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If you own a Labrador, Cocker spaniel, Basset hound, or pretty much any dog with long, floppy ears or a dog who likes to swim, you’re probably an expert at cleaning your dog’s ears, right? Having to battle with chronic ear infections in dogs can be frustrating. As my own dog has chronic ear infections (as he loves to swim and has mild seasonal allergies), it means I’m one of almost 86% of other pet owners who have to deal with ongoing ear issues that have to be chronically managed. To me, this means that I have to flush out his ears every single time he swims… which could be daily in the Minnesota summer! Well, if you and your dog hate ear cleanings, read on for some potential help.

First, you should be able to rapidly recognize signs of an ear infection in a dog. The sooner you notice them and treat them, the better for you and the more comfortable for your dog!

Signs of an ear infection in a dog include:

  • Redness
  • Itching at the ears
  • Rubbing the ears into your hand when you pet your dog
  • Head shaking
  • A foul smell from the ears
  • Brown or yellow discharge from the ears
  • Scratch marks on the inside of the pinnae (inside of the ears) from scratching
  • Rubbing the ears on the carpet or furniture
  • Pain (e.g., crying out, growling, etc.) when touching the ears
  • Narrowing of the ear canal (due to thickening, discharge, chronic inflammation)

It’s important to treat ear infections aggressively, as what starts as an external ear infection (called otitis externa) can progress into a middle ear (otitis media) or even inner ear (otitis interna) infection quickly. It can also spread from one ear to the other (which is why it’s so important that you never touch the tip of the bottle of ear cleaner or ear medication to the other ear, as it can spread the infection)!

More importantly, otitis interna can be harder to treat and may require cleanings under anesthesia, advanced diagnostics (e.g., catscans), surgery, and can result in even more severe signs such as neurologic signs (due to the vestibular nerve and facial nerve running through or near the ear canal).

Inner ear infection signs in a dog can include:

  • Uneven pupil size
  • Walking drunk (e.g., due to “tinnitus”)
  • Nystamgus (e.g., abnormal eye movement)
  • Inability to walk
  • Vomiting or drooling (secondary to nausea or “tinnitus”)
  • A head tilt
  • Paralysis of the facial nerve (e.g., Bells palsy)
  • Deafness

Where there are breed predispositions towards infections, other causes of ear infections include:

  • Bacterial infections (Pseudomonas aeruginosa & Staphylococcus aureus)
  • Fungal infections
  • Yeast (Malassezia pachydermatis)
  • Ear mites
  • Something stuck in the ear (e.g., foreign body, insect, plant material)
  • Food allergies
  • Atopy (hay fever)
  • Endocrine problems (e.g., thyroid problems, hyperadrenocorticism)
  • Masses in the ears (e.g., polyps, cancer)
  • Excessive cleaning
  • Floppy ears (e.g., Basset ears!)
  • Small ear canals
  • Frequent swimming

Diagnosis of an ear infection may include:

  • Physical examination by your veterinarian
  • Slide analysis (e.g., cytology, where your veterinarian will take a gentle swap from the ear and look at it on a slide)
  • Culture of the ear
  • Sedation for otoscopic examination
  • General anesthesia to look with a camera at the tympanic membrane
  • Catscan (CT) or even MRI

Typically, treatment includes:

  • Cleaning the ears once a week
  • Ointment applied 1-2X/day for several days to weeks, depending on what type of medication your veterinarian prescribes
  • Treating the underlying cause for the ear infection (e.g., such as food allergies, flea allergy dermatitis or “hay fever” – otherwise known as “atopy” in veterinary medicine)
  • Oral antibiotics (for severe cases of inner ear infections)
  • Using an Elizabethean collar to prevent your dog from causing more injury by scratching

A recent survey found that almost 93% of pet owners were more likely to comply with veterinary recommendations for ear health management when they had the option of applying a once-a-week ointment instead of ear cleaning (After all, how many of you pet owners like having to clean your dog’s ears at home? It requires squirting lots of liquid medication into the ears, gentle massaging the ears, and letting your dog splash it all out all over your carpet or house… followed by wiping out the brown debris with soft gauze). If you’re not sure how to clean out your dog’s ears, check out this info HERE.

So, what other options are out there?

Talk to your veterinarian about a more holistic medication that doesn’t contain antibiotics, steroids or antifungal medications in it… but is designed to help maintain ear health when used once a week. CAMEO Otic, an otic ointment made by PRN Pharmacal, is an ear product that uses a proprietary blend of botanical extracts (including cassia, clove, Origanum, eucalyptus essential oils) that can help control stinky ears. Safety studies done also showed that Cameo was super safe, while also having safe antimicrobial properties that didn’t irritate dogs ears.

So, what exactly is in CAMEO and how is it holistic? It’s got a lot of natural properties such as herbs and essential oils that have antimicrobial properties. Its ingredients include: Colloidal Silicon dioxide, isopropyl myristate, lanolin (what’s in breastfeeding cream ), mineral oil, vitamin E, white petrolatum, fragrance, and a proprietary blend of herbs mentioned above.

Who does CAMEO work best in? Dogs suffering from chronic, recurring ear symptoms typically have atopy, an environmental allergy which may cause itchy skin, especially on the paws, ears, tummy, and airpits. Unless you actively treat the atopy (with drugs like steroids, allergy shots, anti-histamines, drugs that affect the immune system like Apoquel and Cytopoint), your dog will have chronic ear infections… so helping keep your dog’s ears stay clean with weekly CAMEO can help minimize the need for more invasive ear cleanings done at your veterinarian under sedation or anesthesia.

Support your dog’s ear health year round with use of all natural CAMEO Otic Ointment weekly. What sets this product apart is its semi-solid, ointment form at room temperature that becomes fluid at body temperature. This allows it to thoroughly coat and soothe the ear canal with minimal mess during application.

CAMEO comes in a 8 week supply; in other words, one box includes eight 2.5g tubes, which can be used for 2 healthy ears for one month (one full 2.5 g tube is given per ear). It’s also a one-time-use dosing, which means that you throw away the tube when you are done, so there’s no risk of spreading infection to the other ear. As CAMEO doesn’t contain any steroids or antibiotics, it can be used for year-round maintenance in dogs with chronic ear infections.

Note: One application isn’t going to do it – this is designed to be a weekly ointment placed in your dog’s ears, typically for 8 weeks at a time. To give CAMEO Otic a try, click HERE and find it at Lambert Vet Supply.

NOTE: This blog was written by Dr. Justine Lee. View her Blog here

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The information contained in The Well Pet Post articles is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a veterinarian and is not intended as medical advice. If you have a health con­cern about your pets, please consult with an appropriately-licensed veterinarian. Never dis­re­gard pro­fes­sional veterinary advice or delay in seek­ing it for your pets because of some­thing you have read on this blog or in any linked materials.
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