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

dog ear infection

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.

ear yeast
Yeast ear infection as seen under the microscope
ear infection dogs 2
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

– 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.

– 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.

– 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.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. I have just come across your site and live in Brisbane, Australia and wondered if i could ask you a question my mother who is 88 has a13 yr old cav king charles and was given dermotic for mites so she was told being on a budget she wants me to obtain some from  the internet  from your comments it would appear he may have yeast infection would you be able to tell me what  would be the best medication to use and something that I would be able to buy off the internet making life a little cheaper.  I do hope I have not been a nuisance in asking you for your advice in this matter.  I will keep a note of your site and visit it more often as I to have a dog and a cat and the ifromation I have received from you has been very helpful. Thank you.

    Kind regards


    1. Mary,

      Thank you so much for reading our blog! 

      The whole point of this post was to STOP people from buying random tubes of goo off the internet to put in their dogs ears. If I’ve stopped you from buying a random tube of goo to treat earmites and instead convinced you to buy a random tube of goo to treat yeast, I’ve failed miserably.

      There are many different kinds of ear infections, involving many different organisms, and with many different primary causes. Before you order anything online, please bring the dog to a licensed veterinarian in your area.

      Look, I’m all about saving money too, but one short office visit with a real veterinarian will save you way more money, and get your poor dog some relief WAY faster – than will ordering multiple tubes of medicine from the internet that may be treating the wrong problem.

      To the vet you go!

  2. I have a question about getting your dog to let me put the cleaner in his ears. He can be a biter if he really feels something is going to happen to him that he really doesn’t want to happen. He is a puggle so a muzzle doesn’t really fit him. Sometimes he’ll let me do 1 ear for a treat but once the cleaner goes in that ear, he will not let me touch the other one. Any suggestions? Thanks.

  3. I am not sure if my question will be read since this post is already 2 years old but I still want to try. You mentioned that the ears should be thoroughly dried ( the last sentence of your post) I want to ask how can we dry it (since it has a horizontal tube at the base and I am afraid of the cotton ball getting stuck if I push it in more into the ear (that’s just stupid, imo) lol. Thanks! and thank you for your very informative blog!

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