Ear infections in dogs are common, especially in breeds with droopy ears, like Spaniels and Setters. Droopy ears, although beautiful, unfortunately, tend to harbor moisture and other nasties more readily than pricked and pointy-eared breeds and can sometimes lend themselves to an increased incidence of infection.
I have two kooky Cocker Spaniels, one of which struggled with fairly regular ear infections in his first few years of life. After many vet trips, ear drops, research, trial and error, I finally feel like we’re on top of this issue and wanted to share what we’ve learnt works best for preventing ear infections in dogs (well, ours anyway!).
Before I begin, please know one thing – I AM NOT A VET, nor have I done any formal study or training in this field, I’m just a dog mum of 8 years to two droopy eared pooches. The below tips and tricks are what we have found work best for us. If you have a dog that constantly suffers from ear issues and/or infections, please seek professional veterinary advice before deciding on a regime that is best for your dog.
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5 Tips for Preventing Ear Infections in Dogs
Now that we’ve gotten the disclaimers out of the way, let’s begin!
1. Keep ‘em clean – prevention is key!
First and foremost – clean your dogs’ ears regularly.
For us, I’ve found that a simple wipe out of each ear weekly (or as required) with a square of toilet tissue does the trick (or you can use a square of gauze).
Wipe, then fold the piece of toilet tissue in half and go in for another wipe. I only wipe what I can see and never go poking around the sensitive ear canal. Definitely never use a cotton tip/Q-tip or anything like that, these can do more damage than good!
It’s important to remember that a bit of earwax is a good thing and is normal, it’s how the ears’ clean themselves.
Cleaning your dogs’ ears regularly will also help you to learn what looks and smells normal. In turn helping you to identify any changes/abnormalities quickly if they occur, giving you the best possible chance to seek veterinary advice and treatment (if required) before things get too out of control.
Getting into a regular ear cleaning schedule also gets your dogs used to you being in and around their ears – this makes it a whole easier for you to administer treatments if they’re ever required.
2. Keep ‘em dry (the best you can).
Thankfully, my two aren’t huge fans of the water and will only ever go for the occasional dip. However, for droopy-eared dogs that love the water, it is really important to give their ears the opportunity to ‘air out’ after a swim. Bacteria and fungal spores love dark moist environments after all!
In addition to giving your dog’s ears a good chance to air out, you may like also like to consider the use of doggy headbands (similar to a ‘Happy Hoodie’) to help soak up excessive moisture and prevent too much water from getting down into the ears when in the water.
Doggy top-knots and/or head bands are also great for allowing their ears to air out every so often too.
3. Keep ‘em trimmed and well groomed.
In addition to keeping my dogs’ ears’ clean and dry, I also like to keep them nice and trim.
One of my Cockers has particularly thick and hairy inner ears, so much so that I can’t even see his desexing and microchipping tattoos any more.
I’ve found that running the clippers across the hairier parts of the inside of his ears helps to keep the tangles to a minimum and also allows the air to circulate a little more freely around the ear canal (we use and recommend Andis AGC 2-speed clippers), ultimately allowing his ears to ‘breathe’, which is really important when keeping excessive moisture at bay.
For brushing and snipping stubborn knots and tangles, we love using the Mars Coat King and a pair of super-sharp Wahl haircutting scissors.
Some groomers offer an ear ‘plucking’ service. I have never personally tried this with my dogs, so cannot vouch for it – it seems like it might be a little painful to me and I’m not 100% convinced that it wouldn’t aggravate the hair follicles in an already sensitive area. If you’ve had success with this method in the past, please leave a comment below, we’d love to hear what you think about it and if your dogs tolerate this type of thing!
Regardless of how you choose to groom your pup’s ears, keeping inner hair length neat, tidy and on the shorter side can also help to keep those pesky grass seeds, burs and bindies to a minimum as there is less hair for them to cling on to. Win-win.
4. Use of over-the-counter ear cleansers and cleaners as needed.
Despite all of my best efforts, sometimes my dogs still develop ear issues (although, not at all as frequently as when I was a new puppy owner, thank goodness!). This can sometimes be in response to a diet change, allergy or other environmental factor. In this instance early intervention is key.
As soon as I notice a head shake or get a stinky whiff from one of my dogs’ ears, I give it a flush and massage with a squirt of EpiOtic, an over the counter ear cleanser for dogs and cats by a brand called Virbac.
When required, I will flush the offending ear once a day for 2-3 days before contacting my vet. Sometimes I find that this is all it takes to clear up the problem before it spirals, other times though, if I don’t see an improvement after 2 or 3 days, or if my dog looks like they are in pain or severe discomfort, I call my vet to make an appointment ASAP.
5. Know when to seek Veterinary advice, assistance and treatment.
When all else fails, and if ear troubles persist longer than 2-3 days, I call my local vet and make an appointment.
Telltale signs of an ear infection include (but aren’t limited to);
- Head shaking
- Ear scratching
- Excessive ear discharge or pus-y/gooey discharge and
- A bad smell – smell always gives it away for me!
For the first couple of years of Ollie’s life when he would get ear infections regularly, our Vet would always prescribe Dermotic ear drops – Ollie and I both hated these drops. They had to be administered twice a day and frankly didn’t seem to help much at all. Luckily, once we’d gotten into a really good cleaning routine, we didn’t have another infection for at least a couple of years. Then, when Ollie got his most recent ear infection a couple of years back, I took him to our new Vet who prescribed a short course of anti-inflammatories and a different type of ear drop called EasOtic (by Virbac) – this stuff worked wonders!
It only had to be administered once a day and I saw it working almost immediately. It was fantastic! Since that infection has cleared up Ollie’s ears have been by far the cleanest of both my Spaniels, barely any build-up at cleaning time and not another ear infection to speak of since – touch wood!
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