Help! My dog won’t stop scratching his ears.

One of the most common reasons for a dog’s visit to the veterinary hospital is ear issues. Pet parents notice their dogs will not stop scratching their ears or that there is a foul smell permeating from them. So what exactly does this mean? Dogs, especially those with floppy ears, commonly get ear infections that cause pain and irritation. If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, a visit to the veterinarian is warranted.

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough ear examination using an otoscope. This device is used to look deep down into the ear canal to visualize the ear drum and the internal ear canal. A dog’s ear canal is “L-shaped,” which means that when you flip your dog’s ear up and see the canal, you are only seeing half of it. Debris can get stuck deep down in the internal ear canal which can provide the perfect dark, moist environment for bacteria to harbor and cause infection.

After examination, your veterinarian will collect a sample of the ear debris using a cotton swab. Then, that sample will be pressed onto a glass slide, stained, and examined under a microscope. Yeast and bacteria can be identified and quantified using this method. There should be rare to no bacteria and yeast present within your dog’s ears normally. If there is an abnormal amount of these organisms present in the sample, an ear infection is diagnosed and treatment is discussed.

Treatment consists of topical antimicrobial medications instilled within the ear. Ear cleaners are often provided to use at home to remove excess debris as well. Typically treatment is required for 7-10 days followed by a recheck to ensure the infection has fully resolved before medication is discontinued.

Uncomplicated ear infections are usually very easy to treat, but if the infection becomes persistent, it can penetrate the inner ear and cause complications. If you suspect your dog may have an ear infection, it is best to schedule a veterinary visit sooner rather than later.