Many dogs suffer from chronic ear infections, which can indicate they have allergies. Chronic ear infections can cause significant pain for your dog and potentially lead to hearing deficits, but they can be frustrating to treat. Our Groves Veterinary Clinic team wants to offer information about dog allergies and ear infections in case your four-legged friend is affected. 

Dog allergies

Allergies are common in dogs, and are most frequently caused by fleas, environmental allergens, and food. Allergic dogs are excessively itchy, constantly scratch, lick, gnaw, and rub their skin, and they may have skin lesions. Environmental allergens and food are the most common culprits responsible for a dog’s chronic ear infections. Here is information you should know about these conditions.

  • Atopy — Atopy is the term veterinarians use to describe a pet’s environmental allergies, which include allergies to substances such as molds, pollen, dust mites, and grasses. If atopy is suspected, allergy testing can determine what allergens are causing the dog’s reaction. Bathing, anti-inflammatory medications, and anti-itch drugs can be used to manage the problem, but hyposensitization therapy is considered the gold-standard atopy treatment. This involves injecting the dog with gradually increasing doses of the allergen to desensitize them to the substance. 
  • Food allergies — Dogs can be allergic to any food ingredient, but they most commonly develop a hypersensitivity to proteins such as chicken, beef, dairy, and eggs. An elimination diet trial that is performed for at least eight weeks is necessary to determine what ingredient is causing the dog’s reaction. During the trial, the dog cannot receive any food, treats, or medicated chews that contain off-limits ingredients to ensure the test is valid. Once identified, the offending ingredient should be eliminated from the dog’s diet forever.

Dog ear infections

Most dog ear infections are caused by yeast and bacteria, such as Malassezia pachydermatis, Pseudomonas, and Staphylococcus, that normally reside in the dog’s ear. Infection occurs when conditions inside the ear allow these pathogens to overgrow. Skin allergies cause the skin barrier to break down and increase wax production, which creates a perfect environment for bacteria and yeast growth. Other contributing factors include:

  • Ear structure — The human ear canal is a horizontal structure that allows fluid and debris to exit, but the dog’s ear canal has a vertical component that causes ear wax, skin oil, and other debris to accumulate, providing food for bacteria and yeast. 
  • Pendulous ears — Floppy-eared dogs, such as cocker spaniels and basset hounds, are more prone to ear infections, because their ear conformation holds in moisture.
  • Narrowed ear canals — Shar peis have narrowed ear canals that hamper ear drainage. 
  • Excessive ear hair — Dogs such as poodles and schnauzers, who have excessive hair growth deep in the canal, are also at higher risk for ear infections. 

Dogs affected by ear infections exhibit signs that include scratching the affected ear, shaking their head, discharge and odor from the ear, and vocalizing when the ear is touched. If the infection spreads to the middle ear, the dog can exhibit neurological signs, such as facial paralysis, incoordination, and head tilt. 

Dog ear infection diagnosis

Determining the underlying cause is key to successfully treating a dog’s ear infection. If the infection becomes chronic or recurs frequently, allergy testing or a food elimination trial may be recommended to determine whether the problem is because of an allergy. Other diagnostics include:

  • Ear examination — Our veterinary team uses an otoscope to examine your dog’s ear canal and tympanic membrane. If your dog is experiencing severe pain, we may need to sedate them for this procedure.
  • Culture — We take a sample from your dog’s ear to determine what pathogen is causing the infection. This is important, so we know what antimicrobial agent will effectively treat the infection. 
  • Imaging — In some cases, X-rays or ultrasound images are needed to further evaluate the damage to your dog’s ear canal. 

Dog ear infection treatment

Once the underlying cause is determined, this condition should be addressed to help resolve the infection and prevent recurrence. Other management techniques include:

  • Deep ear flushing — When our veterinary team examines your dog’s ear, we flush their ear to remove wax and other debris trapped in the ear canal.
  • Ear cleaning — Our veterinary team typically prescribes ear cleaners to remove ear discharge and improve the antimicrobial’s efficacy.
  • Antimicrobials — We prescribe topical antimicrobials based on the culture results. Systemic antimicrobials may also be necessary. 
  • Surgery — In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the damaged tissue to help resolve the infection and prevent recurrence. A total ear canal ablation and lateral bulla osteotomy (TECA-BO) is the most common procedure.

Dog ear infection prevention

Ear infections can be difficult to treat, and prevention is the best protection for your dog’s ears. Steps to decrease your dog’s risk include:

  • Drying your dog’s ears — Dry your dog’s ears after bathing and swimming, which will help remove moisture from their ear canal to prevent pathogen overgrowth.
  • Cleaning your dog’s ears — Clean your dog’s ears weekly using a veterinary approved product. Cleaning more frequently than once a week can cause irritation and increase your dog’s ear infection risk.
  • Following veterinary advice — If your dog is diagnosed with an allergy or another underlying condition, follow all veterinary advice to address the issue.

If your dog has chronic ear infections, an allergy could be to blame. Contact our Groves Veterinary Clinic team, so we can determine the underlying cause and relieve your dog’s suffering.