Summertime Ear Care and Preventing Dog Ear Infections
By Patricia Thomblison, DVM, MS
Summertime living is easy…but for your dog’s ears, it may not be so much fun. Summertime often means ear infections for dogs with allergies, who swim or live in humid areas. When the pollen and mold count rises you may sneeze when the allergens begin floating around but it can often mean irritation to your dogs’ ears. Irritation can cause the skin to become inflamed, allowing for secondary bacterial and/or fungal infections. The dogs who live in humid areas of the world or the ones who love swimming can also experience the summertime woes when excess moisture is in the ear, creating a dark, moist environment where microbes can thrive. This is especially true for those dogs with floppy ears that have reduced airflow and can trap moisture inside.
The ears are an important organ of hearing and sound and are much more sensitive to hearing than people, hearing sounds further way as well as hearing higher frequency sounds than a person cannot detect. Their ears come in two basic designs, flop ears (pendulous) or prick ears (erect). Healthy ears are pink with a light coating of wax. A dog’s ears are mobile and use up to 18 muscles to move the ear around and will tilt and rotate their ears to amplify the sound. That quizzical look your dog gives you may be him trying to hear better. It is easy to see why it is so important to keep their ears clean and healthy and to develop a regular schedule of checking and cleaning to avoid chronic problems.
Ear shape and size vary by breed. Look around and you will see all of the fascinating variations from Chihuahuas to Bassett Hounds. The one thing they all have in common is their anatomy. There are three functional sections of the ear: the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. The outer ear consists of the pinna and ear canal with the outside of the pinna being cartilage covered in fur and the inside which is usually hairless and goes into the ear canal. Sound waves are captured by the pinnae and funnel through the ear canal to the eardrum. Compared to humans, the dog ear canal is long and narrow and makes almost a 90-degree bend before it enters the middle ear. This is one reason they can hear better, but also a reason they are prone to infections.
The eardrum is a very fragile membrane and marks the start of the middle ear. It can be damaged by ear disease or during ear cleaning. Also within the middle are three small bones (hammer, anvil, and stirrup), an air-filled cavity, and a thin tube called the eustachian tube that leads to the back of the mouth.
The inner ear has two main functions. They are to help a dog hear and for balance. This part of the ear anatomy connects to the brain and includes the cochlea, the organ of hearing, and the vestibular system to provide equilibrium. Damage to the inner ear can lead to serious health issues.
Infections of the outer, middle, or inner ear can be extremely painful and can have long-term health implications. Prevention should be the main goal. It is far easier to prevent problems than to treat them after they occur. This is especially true for ear hygiene as well. Getting your puppy accustomed to a regular schedule of checking and cleaning the ears is great, but even if your dog is older this is an important preventive technique.
First, gather your supplies. You will need:
- Gentle non-toxic ear cleaning solution, such as ZYMOX® Ear Cleanser
- Cotton balls or gauze (NEVER cotton-tipped swabs)
Pick a quiet area and one where if your dog shakes his or her head it will be easy to clean flying debris.
- Exam the ears for any signs of problems. Signs of an ear infection can be observed if your dog has especially sensitive or painful ears. When an infection is suspected, this can be a good time to visit your veterinarian and also make sure the eardrum is intact.
- Hold your dog’s head and the ear flap firmly and apply the cleanser near the opening of the ear by gently squeezing the bottle. Be sure to use plenty of ear cleaning solution.
- Gently massage the entire ear canal from the base (near the jawline) upward. If you hear a smacking sound, that means you have enough solution in the ear. Massage for about 20 seconds.
- Wipe away the excess with cotton balls or gauze and then let your dog shake out the excess. You may want to hold that towel in front of you for protection!
- Wipe the ears again with cotton or gauze and give your dog a treat.
- Repeat with the other ear.
If your dog is shaking its head frequently, scratching the ears, or you detect a musky odor, you may need to do more than routine cleaning and remove exudate to maintain ear health. After making sure the eardrum is intact you can provide relief from ear infections with the use of ZYMOX Ear Solution, which uses a patented enzymatic formula to clean and disinfect the delicate ear structure without relying on antibiotics, avoiding future antibiotic resistance.
ALL YEAR LONG
It is not only in the summertime that you need to keep your dogs’ ears clean and healthy, but all year long. The problem may be worse during warm humid months, but if you notice issues during the other months, it could be an indication of allergies. Unfortunately, a cure for allergies hasn’t been found but we can help manage the complications of allergies to help keep our pets comfortable, healthy, and happy.
Dr. Patricia Thomblison is a graduate of Oklahoma State University where she earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Master of Science. She has devoted her career to keeping pets healthy and happy. She has served many roles in this endeavor to educate veterinary professionals and pet parents on many topics of animal health. She has worn several hats in the areas of clinical pathology, nutrition, and parasitology. She is a well-respected medical editor, veterinary consultant, and lecturer. She enjoys the company of her two cats, Miles Davis and Stewart, as well as a rambunctious dog named Barnibus and her children’s dogs.