Puppy Ear Infections Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Puppy in a sink getting ready for a bath
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Veterinarians estimate as many as 20% of all dogs suffer from ear infections. Pet ears come in all shapes and sizes, from Doberman-cropped to outside wooly or hairy inside the ear such as Poodles. Despite the outside look, the ear structure and how puppies hear is quite similar.

Kinds of Ear Infections

Ear infections or other ear problems usually involve inflammation of the ear canal that causes extreme discomfort and in some cases can damage your pet’s hearing. Puppy ear canals are shaped like an L and easily trap moisture or foreign material like grass seeds. That creates the perfect place for bacteria, fungi and ear mites to set up housekeeping.

  • Yeast infections turn ears hot, red, and “goopy” and often smell rancid. A thick, dark or waxy discharge characterized by a distinctive musty odor is a sign of yeast or fungal infection.
  • Bacterial infections cause a nasty light brown, yellow, green or bloody discharge. Such infections are pretty common in dogs. An acute bacterial infection is often due to the staphylococci organism, and the discharge will be light brown. Chronic bacterial infections may be caused by the proteus organism, and will typically result in a yellow discharge, or they may be caused by Pseudomonas organism characterized by a soupy black discharge.
  • A buildup of oily yellow wax may be a sign of ceruminous otitis which is a sign of seborrhea or hypothyroidism.
  • Ear mites coat the inside of the ear with a black to brown, sticky or crumbly discharge. The tiny bugs live inside and bite the flesh of the ear canal, and drive pets to distraction with the resulting itch. Ear mites easily spread from cat to dog (and back again), and if the Kitty has a case of the bugs, you’ll need to treat the rest of the furry crew as well.

    Signs of Ear Infections

    No matter what causes the infection or problem, puppies ear problems have very similar signs of distress. These may occur by themselves or in combination so anytime you see these signs it’s best to get your puppy to the veterinarian for an exam.

    • Shake their heads
    • Scratch the affected ear
    • “Tilt” the head toward the sore side
    • Act dizzy and fall over
    • Walk in circles

    Constant head shaking can bruise the earflap—a hematoma. When that happens it can swell up like a giant blood blister, ballooning the skin with blood and serum. That takes surgery to correct.

    Puppies at Greatest Risk

    Puppies with floppy or hairy ears like Cocker Spaniels and Poodles have the most problems because their ears don’t air out as well as the “prick” ears of dogs such as German shepherds. During the summer months, water-loving Labradors or other water pups can develop chronic “swimmer’s ear” if you don’t take precautions.

    A “swimmer’s solution” can help protect water-loving pups by drying out their healthy ears after a swim. Mix one cup of water with two cups vinegar, and one tablespoon rubbing alcohol. Spray the outside of the ear canal once or twice a week and after every swim or bath. That normalizes the natural balance of the ear to prevent infection.

    Puppies with floppy furry ears greatly benefit from a weekly “airing out.” Fold your pup’s ears on top of his head and secure the ends with a stretchy bandage that keeps them in place, but won’t pull fur. Or, you can use clothespins to clip the furry ends of Cocker Spaniel ears together—only clip the fur! Then distract the dog with a toy or treats, so his ears air out for 30 to 40 minutes or so. Convince King it’s the latest in “canine couture” and a fashion statement—his ears will thank you for it.

    Treating Ear Infections

    Putting the wrong medicine in your pet’s ears could make the problem worse, or even damage his hearing. Severe infections with painful ears may require puppies to be sedated so a thorough cleaning can be done. Chronic infections can be tough to cure, and you may need to treat twice a day for several weeks. Sometimes pets need antibiotic pills, too, for as much as six to eight weeks.

    Many over-the-counter products are available for treating ear mites, once they’ve been diagnosed. Products from the veterinarian tend to contain ingredients that not only kill the mites but also soothe the sore ears. Some heartworm and/or flea prevention products also protect pets against ear mites.

    Puppies with fur growing inside their ears (Poodles, Cockers, Lhasa apsos, etc.) should have the fur periodically plucked out to increase air circulation and prevent infections. Ask your groomer or veterinarian to demonstrate so that you or a professional can maintain good ear grooming care.