Susceptibility to chronic ear infections in dogs is often the result of immune system deficiencies, parasitic infestations, allergies and breed genetics. Immediately treating canine ear infections is imperative because of the corrosive nature of bacteria causing the infection. Consequences of untreated ear infections in dogs include:
- Hearing loss
- Sepsis (blood infection)
- Systemic infections
- Disintegration of delicate inner ear bones
- Reduced quality of life for the dog
Unlike the continuous, systemic benefits provided by probiotics for canines, antibiotics may relieve an ear infection temporarily but do nothing for the root cause of the infection. That’s why many dog owners are turning to probiotics for dogs with ear infections to naturally and successfully eliminate recurring ear infections in their canine best friends.
What Happens During a Canine Ear Infection?
Otitis media is the medical name for inflammation of the middle ear. An ear infection happens when a tube that drains fluid from this area of the ear ( the Eustachian tube) becomes inflamed and swells to the point where it cannot drain fluid. Blockage of this tube causes pressure to build in the inner ear, which results in pain, or “earache”.
In addition, the shortness of the Eustachian tube facilitates infection because bacteria rapidly find their way to the middle ear. Fluid collection also prevents the tiny middle ear bones from responding to sound, which is the reason dogs suffering an ear infection may not respond to commands or seem to hear sounds normally.
Causes of Canine Ear Infections
Parasites – a flea, tick and/or mite infestation of the ears will cause intense itchiness, tissue erosion, wax build-up, inflammation and hair loss. A dog suffering from ear parasites will scratch the ears constantly, producing bleeding wounds that attract bacteria. Once the bacteria enter the middle ear, an infection inevitably emerges, exacerbated by excess wax and seepage from wounds.
Foreign objects – plant materials such as foxtails, seeds and grass awns cling to hair and skin, eventually working their way into the ear and down the ear canal. Like a parasite infestation, these items produce itchiness and inflammation, the two primary precursors of a dog ear infection.
Heat and humidity – bacteria and yeast thrive in moist, dark, overly warm conditions, such as a dog’s inner ear. Keeping your dog’s ears as clean as possible in hot weather is one way to help prevent ear infections.
Allergies – respiratory, food, parasite and contact allergies can all promote ear infections in dogs by increasing fluid build-up in the sinus cavity and Eustachian tube.
Wounds and trauma – bite wounds, frostbite, chemical irritation or other traumas can instigate an ear infection when bacteria invade damaged skin and underlying tissues near the ears.
Canine Vestibular Syndrome – CVS is an idiopathic (“of unknown origin”) ear disease primarily diagnosed in older dogs. Although veterinarians aren’t sure what causes CVS, they suspect inner ear lesions, immune system disorders or fluid abnormalities affecting the inner ear may be the origin of CVS. Symptoms of canine vestibular disorder include vomiting, dizziness, difficulty walking and appetite loss.
Symptoms of Ear Infections in Dogs
- Constant pawing and scratching at a particular ear is the first sign that something is wrong with the dog’s ear
- Head shaking, often followed by scratching and more head shaking
- Smelly, yellowish discharge/pus seeping from the ear. Smells emanating from a serious ear infection may be detectable when standing several feet from the dog
- Excessive wax build-up in the outer ear. A healthy dog ear canal should be shiny from a little wax but not encrusted with earwax
- Facial asymmetry (head tilt, ear and upper lip droopiness)
- Hearing loss (dogs that normally respond to your voice may take more time to respond or not respond at all)
- Hair loss, sores and bright redness around the ear flaps
- Fever and lethargy
- Aural hematomas (swelling of the ear)
- Whining or yelping if the ear is touched
- Loss of coordination and balance (ataxia)
- Walking in directed circles (if the left ear is infected, the dog will walk “towards” that ear)
Breeds at Risk for Suffering Ear Infections
Basset hounds, Bulldogs, Shar-peis, Chow-chows, Cocker and Springer Spaniels and Bloodhounds are breeds prone to suffering recurring ear infections due to their pendulous, flop-over ears. In addition to having ears that provide an ideal breeding ground for bacteria (dark, moist and warm), these breeds also have stenotic ear canals that are narrower than other breeds’ ear canals. Retrievers, water-loving dogs and dogs with excessively hairy, outer ear canals (Poodles, Lhasa Apsos and Schnauzers) are also vulnerable to experiencing chronic ear infections.
How Veterinarians Diagnose Canine Ear Infections
- After sedating the dog, a veterinarian will use an otoscope to closely examine the dog’s inner ear and ear drum for signs of infection or rupturing.
- Biopsies of ear tissues may be taken to determine the type of bacteria causing the infection.
- Samples of ear discharge are examined under a microscope to find out whether the infection is caused by yeast, parasites, bacteria or all three. Allergy testing and bloodwork may be indicated as well.
- If hearing loss is suspected, a vet may perform a brainstem auditory-evoked response test to measure brain activity when sounds are played near the dog’s affected ear.
Treatment Options for Dog Ear Infections
Antibiotics are the treatment of choice for most canine ear infections that are uncomplicated by more serious, underlying conditions. However, dogs suffering chronic ear infections are often excessively exposed to antibiotics which can promote development of many other infections. This happens because the dog’s immune system is not functioning as well as it should due to constantly battling recurring ear infections.
While antibiotics are great for eradicating “bad” bacteria, they sometimes works too well and kill “good” bacteria necessary for maintaining optimal functioning of the dog’s gastrointestinal system.
When the canine GI tract contains the ideal amount of beneficial bacteria, it can efficiently filter out and eliminate harmful entities, such as bacteria, waste products and toxins. Additionally, a healthy canine GI tract is capable of readily absorbing nutrients from water and food and delivering these vitamins and minerals to cells where they are needed to keep the dog healthy and capable of fighting off infections.
Benefits of Probiotics in Dogs for Chronic Ear Infections
Unlike antibiotics that kill all bacteria in a dog’s GI tract, probiotics gently and naturally eliminate infection-producing bacteria while restoring healthy levels of good bacteria in the dog’s body. In addition to helping prevent ear infections and other medical problems in dogs, probiotics significantly improve immune system functioning as levels of beneficial bacteria increase and work to inhibit infectious bacteria growth.
Probiotics can help dogs avoid the pain, discomfort and potential hearing loss caused by ear infections that reduces their quality of life. Keep your canine companion healthy, vigorous and happy with the benefits of safe and natural probiotics.
Disclaimer: the advice and information in this article is not intended to be used as a replacement for seeking medical attention if your dog has an ear infection or other health issues.