October 23, 2017

Caring for your dog’s ears is very important because your dog’s sense of hearing is one of his most-used senses.

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Ear care can be different for different breeds of dog because some dogs have small, pricked ears while others are large and pendulous. Below you will find tips for caring for all types of dog ears as well as tips for diagnosing and treating ear infections.

Types of Dog Ears

The anatomy of a dog’s inner ear is very different from that of your own ear. The canals in your dog’s ear are twisted and curvy which makes it very easy for bacteria and parasites to hide in them and reproduce, causing an infection. Certain ear shapes make a dog more prone to infection so it is a good idea to know what shape your dog’s ears take so you can keep a special eye out for the signs of infection. Common dog ear shapes include:

  • Pricked or Erect – This type of ear is almost self-explanatory – the ears are erect, standing up against the dog’s head. Pricked ears come in different sizes and shapes – some are pointed and others have rounded tips. Examples of breeds with pricked or erect ears include German Shepherds, Samoyeds, Chihuahuas, and French Bulldogs.
  • Semi-Erect – Also referred to as semi-prick or cocked ears, semi-erect ears are mostly erect with the top portion of the ear folding over. In some cases, puppies are born with semi-erect ears which become erect after a certain age. Examples of breeds with semi-erect ears include Collies and Pitbulls.
  • Button – Button ears are small in size and semi-erect with about half of the ear folded completely over the orifice of the ear. Examples of breeds with button ears include Fox Terriers and Jack Russell Terriers.
  • Cropped – Cropped ears have been surgically altered to make them stand up straight. This practice is performed on several breeds including Doberman Pinschers and Great Danes.
  • Side Placement – This type of ear is similar to the button ear but they are typically larger and thicker. Where the tips of button ears point in toward the eyes, the tips of side-placement ears point toward the ground. Examples of breeds with side placement ears are Airedale Terriers and Parson Russell Terriers.
  • Rose-Shaped – Rose-shaped ears are typically small which thin ear leather and they fold backwards, exposing the inside of the ear. Examples of breeds with rose-shaped ears include Whippets, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and Bulldogs.
  • Dropped – Also called pendulous ears, dropped ears hang straight down from the head. Some breeds with dropped ears exhibit a little bit of lift toward the back of the ear, but it always remains below the level of the skull. Examples of breeds with dropped ears include English Springer Spaniels, Basset Hounds, and Bearded Collies.
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Other types of ear shapes exist but they are typically specific to one breed. For example, Bedlington Terriers have what is known as a filbert-shaped ear – it is the shape of a hazelnut, or filbert. English Toy Terriers have candle flame ears and the Basenji has a hooded ear – a small ear that curves inward from both sides.

Signs of an Ear Infection

Certain types of ear shapes make a dog more prone to infection than others. The general rule is that the less air flow to which the inner workings of the ear are exposed, the greater the risk of infection. Thus, dogs with semi-prick ears are more prone to infection than those with pricked ears. The dogs most at risk for infection, however, are those with dropped or pendulous ears. Below you will find a list of symptoms of ear infection to keep an eye out for:

  • Discharge from the ears
  • A dark or waxy substance in the ears
  • Unpleasant odor
  • Scratching or rubbing of the ears
  • Shaking or tilting the head
  • Pain around the ears
  • Changes in behavior such as irritability

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog you should have him checked out by your vet. Ear infections can be caused by a number of different things so the proper treatment method varies depending on the cause.

Causes of Ear Infections

In addition to familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of ear infections in dogs, you should also learn the different causes so you can avoid them when possible. The most common causes of ear infections in dogs include:

  • Bacteria – Ear infections can be caused by multiple different strains of bacteria as well as the yeast, Malassezia pachydermatis. Bacteria tends to thrive in moist conditions so if your dog’s ears get wet it could put him at a greater risk for infection – this is especially true in dogs with pendulous ears that do not get aired out as well as pricked ears.
  • Parasites – One of the most common parasites to cause ear infections are ear mites. Ear mites cause a great deal of irritation which can lead to redness and itching in the ear.
  • Allergies – Allergies take many forms – some dogs have food allergies while others are allergic to dust or pollen. An ear allergy can change the environment inside the ear which could lead to a secondary infection with some type of yeast or bacteria.
  • Foreign Bodies – Burrs and other foreign objects can easily get into your dog’s ear when he spends time outside and if you do not remove them promptly, it could lead to irritation and infection.
  • Trauma – Getting something stuck in the ear could lead to trauma, but so could intense scratching resulting from irritation or inflammation.
  • Medical Condition – Hormonal abnormalities and certain hereditary diseases can cause ear infections in dogs. Collies, for example, are prone to a disease called dermatomyositis which can lead to frequent infections.
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Now that you understand the different causes of ear infections you can move on to learning the different treatment options. Choosing the right treatment involves first diagnosing the cause of the ear infection – that is where your veterinarian comes in.

Treatment and Prevention of Ear Infections

If you suspect that your dog has an ear infection, you should take him to the vet as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will likely take a swab of the ear and examine it for bacteria or parasites. The vet may also take a look inside your dog’s ear to determine the level of inflammation and to check for foreign bodies or evidence of trauma. Once the cause of the infection has been determined, a treatment can be prescribed. Below you will find a list of common treatments based on diagnosis:

  • Ear Mites – To treat an infection caused by ear mites, the ear must first be cleaned then a medication should be applied to kill the mites. This treatment may last for several weeks before the mites are fully eradicated and the ear can heal.
  • Yeast – Yeast infections typically cause a waxy discharge inside the ear and an unpleasant odor. To treat these infections, daily cleaning of the ear may be necessary along with special medications to kill the yeast or bacteria.
  • Allergies – Treatment for ear infections caused by allergies typically involves frequent cleaning of the ears and medication with antihistamines or corticosteroids.
  • Bacterial Infections – Bacterial infections have a presentation very similar to yeast infections – a waxy discharge and bad odor. In some cases, antibiotics are necessary to treat the infection and daily cleanings can help as well.
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In addition to learning the proper treatments for different types of infections, you should also learn how to prevent your dog from getting an ear infection. Keeping the ears clean and dry is the best way to prevent infection. Dogs with pendulous ears may need a weekly cleaning to keep the ear in good condition and some may need to have the hair in or around their ears trimmed to promote air flow.

Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears

Even if your dog isn’t exhibiting the signs of infection you should still consider cleaning his ears once in a while. This is especially important for dogs with dropped ears, but all dogs can benefit from an occasional ear cleaning. Below you will find a step-by-step guide for cleaning your dog’s ears:

  1. Select a dog-friendly ear cleaner and squeeze a few drops into the dog’s ear canal.
  2. Use your fingers to gently massage the base of the ear for 20 to 30 seconds to help distribute the cleaning solution.
  3. Use a clean cotton ball (not a q-tip) to wipe out any debris and excess cleaning fluid from the ear.
  4. Repeat this process until the ear is clean and dry then let your dog shake his head to remove any remaining fluid.

If you keep up with routine ear cleanings and make an effort to keep your dog’s ears dry, you shouldn’t have a problem with frequent ear infections. All dogs are prone to infections now and again, however, so make sure you familiarize yourself with the common causes and symptoms of ear infections so you can get your dog the treatment he needs as soon as possible.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta Cooper is a freelance writer and a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine, Dog News. She is the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com award-winner for 2013. Additionally, Carlotta is the author of Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Health and Happy, as well as other books about pets. She is a guest writer for numerous website and blogs and a frequent pet food reviewer.

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