Q: My black lab gets chronic ear infections. What causes this and how can I prevent it?
Q: My black lab gets chronic ear infections. What causes this and how can I prevent it? Also My 3 year old shih tzu repeatedly gets ear infections in the same ear. How can I prevent this, and what is the best way to treat it at home?
A: There are many reasons why some dogs have chronic ear infections. Anatomy is one - long floppy ears make the ear canal a warm humid environment perfect for bacteria and yeast - spaniels and labradors are perfect examples.
Swimming can be part of the problem or getting water into the ear canal during a bath. The extra moisture and bacteria in the water can easily allow an infection to set up. If your dog is a swimmer, cleaning and - importantly - drying the ear afterwards will help minimise infections. Likewise, try not to get any water into the ears while you are bathing your dog, and dry the ear canals thoroughly afterwards with cotton wool and cotton tips.
Underlying allergies are a common cause of recurring infections. Affected dogs will often have other skin problems (itchy feet, red irritated skin under the legs or on the abdomen), but some dogs with allergies will only have ear problems. Allergies include food, pollens, grasses, dust mites, and many others. Food trials and blood test would be necessary to make a diagnosis, and hypoallergenic diets and allergy vaccines can be used with a lot of success to minimise symptoms in allergic dogs.
Hormonal imbalances are sometimes the underlying cause - either low thyroid levels, or excessive cortisol levels. These can be diagnosed with blood tests, and are treatable problems.
A very common cause of recurrent ear infections is not resolving the original infection completely. Rechecks are very important, because a dog's ear canal is very deep and may look perfectly clean on the outside while there is still significant infection going on inside. Some infections may take several weeks to resolve completely, and on occasion a bacterial culture swab may need to be taken if the infection is not responding as expected. Cleaning the ear frequently during the treatment period is also important, and sometimes that means daily cleaning for the first week or two.
Dogs prone to recurrent ear infections may benefit from regular ear cleaning at home. It is important to use the correct ear cleaner, and to know how to clean an ear correctly. If your dog does have recurring infections, make an appointment with your vet to discuss the possible underlying problems. The vets and nurses at your practice should also be able to show you how to clean your dog's ears well.
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