October 13, 2021
Earlier this spring, we dog-sat for my brother-in-law. As soon as he dropped Leni off, I reached down to scratch her behind the ear. She whimpered instantly, so I calmed her down and took a look at her inner ear. Prominent patches of dark wax and a strong yeast smell told me all I needed to know.
While I’m not a veterinarian, I did own a golden retriever at one point that was prone to ear infections. Actually, she was plagued by them. It was terrible, and a near constant source of anxiety on our part because we knew when we’d get them cleared up, it was just a matter of time before she’d come down with another one.
Lux was predisposed to them through an allergy, we now believe. But there are a lot of ways a dog can get an ear infection, and while most infections don’t pose much long-term harm, some can.
Causes for Ear Infections
According to the American Kennel Club, everything from moisture, which creates a prime growing environment for bacteria, to autoimmune disorders, wax buildup, and foreign bodies in the ear canal can all catalyze an infection. Some of the causes are just bad luck genetics-wise, but others are related to environmental factors.
Our retrievers, which revel in wet conditions, are prime candidates all year long. From summer pond training sessions to big-water diver hunts, our retrievers are wet a lot. Your average Labrador retriever might not ever develop an infection while doing what Labs do, but some will— either randomly or with some level of consistency.
In other words, this is something worth paying attention to for all duck dog owners.
Canine Ear Infection Symptoms & Treatments
Obvious pain at the base of the ear is a good sign that there is an infection. But you might also notice a little redness, swelling or some discharge. Or, you might just notice that your Lab is scratching at his ear more than usual, or shaking his head more frequently.
There are a lot of simple ways to diagnose a suspected ear infection, but a veterinarian is necessary to really declare it and to prescribe a treatment. Over-the-counter treatments are available, but the treatments need to contain an antibiotic or an anti-fungal. If not, the treatment might only address the symptoms and offer temporary physical relief, while not actually fixing the problem in the first place. This is not good.
Instead, take your dog in and closely follow your vet’s treatment advice. Most of the time, a properly medicated ear infection will clear up within two weeks. This usually involves some sort of treatment applied to a cotton ball and then worked gently into the external ear flaps. It never, and pay attention here, involves you (the owner) sticking anything like a cotton swab or a Q-tip deep into the dog’s ear canal. This can cause damage and might even result in a nasty injury to you when the dog bites your hand.
With your vet-recommended treatment, you not only have to follow the instructions closely, but see the treatment through to the very end. Oftentimes, the symptoms will clear up early into the treatment, which provides a false sense that all is well and the remaining treatment isn’t necessary. This isn’t the case, and is a great way to allow the infection to resurface after a few weeks.
Now, some dogs are prone to chronic ear infections, which can also occur due to reactions to their food. A one-off infection is easy enough to handle and treat, but chronic infections are a different story. Once again, pay close attention to your vet’s advice here, and understand that untreated or improperly addressed infections can cause serious issues.
In some cases, a Total Ear Canal Ablation surgery is necessary to remove the ear canal. In others, it’s just a matter of switching foods and closely monitoring the dog’s progress. You can also use over-the-counter ear cleaners if your dog swims a lot (your dog does) to clean out the ears after a training session and then dry them out.
Flappy, floppy ears are more prone to ear infections, as are dogs that take to aquatic environments often. This pretty much describes most of our duck dogs, which means ear health is something we’ve got to pay attention to and understand that, while it’s rarely a serious condition, ear infections can turn into something pretty rough. And just like with most medical issues, catching ear infections early or preventing them entirely is the real best medicine.