Ear infections can be no less troublesome in dogs than they can be in humans. Add to the problem an infestation of ear mites, and you're guaranteed to have a restless, unhappy pet, one that's constantly shaking its head and scratching at his ears.
Ear mites are easily treated by cleaning the ears with a medicated ointment. However, you'll need to get a solution from your veterinarian, since most mites have become resistant to the chemicals (sevin, pyrethins and thiabendazole) used in over-the-counter preparations. Be sure to clean the ears of all animals in the house, not just the affected pet, in order to prevent the mites from spreading.
Meanwhile, there are two major types of ear infections that strike both dogs and cats. Otitis externa is an infection of the external ear canal, while otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. The former is usually caused by bacteria or yeast, although it can be created by accumulated earwax, debris, matted hair, a foreign body in the ear, a tumor or anything else that hinders proper drainage of the ear. Otitis media, meanwhile, occurs when an already existing infection spreads from the external ear canal into the middle ear. Again, foreign bodies, debris and/or improper ear cleaning also can lead to this type of infection. Occasionally chronic ear infections also occur in response to allergies or thyroid disease.
Most ear infections are curable with proper veterinary care. If left untreated, though, serious damage and permanent hearing loss can result. Broken blood vessels also can occur if the dog shakes its head too violently. In addition to the shaking and scratching at the ears, these infections will cause the ears to become red and inflamed. There also may be a foul odor, in connection with a yellow or blackish discharge. If the animal is tilting its head constantly, that's also a symptom of infection deeper within the ear. It's important to have your dog's ear infection treated by a veterinarian who can determine the exact cause and then prescribe appropriate treatment. An important step in this process is to make sure the dog's eardrum hasn't been ruptured. That's because some medications can cause hearing loss if they're given to an animal with a ruptured eardrum.
Most ear infections are treated with medications, including broad-spectrum antibiotics, combined with regular cleaning of the dog's ears. More serious infections, however, may require surgery, especially if blood vessels have been broken by the dog shaking its head.
Any dog can develop ear infections. Breeds that are more prone to the problem, however, include those that sport long or pendulous ears and/or dogs with hairy inner ear flaps. Specific breeds known to be at risk are: Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Poodles and Schnauzers. It's recommended that owners of these dogs (and any conscientious pet owner) clean the ears regularly to reduce the risk of infection.