Why is my dog scratching at his ears and shaking his head?
The most common reason is an ear infection. Ear infections are very painful.
Many dogs will have a characteristic odor coming from their ears when they are infected. The pain associated with ear infections causes some dogs to scratch at their ears and shake their head so much that blood vessels within the ear flap may rupture and cause their ear flap to distend with blood. This is called an aural hematoma and it usually requires surgical correction. If you think your dog is showing any of these symptoms, or you have questions about ear infections please contact your regular veterinarian.
Why does this happen?
Some dogs are just unlucky and have ears that are shaped in a way that predisposes them to having ear infections. Those wonderful large, floppy ears in dogs like Spaniels, Retrievers, and Basset Hounds make them unfortunate targets of ear infections. Not to leave out toy breeds; their narrow ear canals with excessive amounts of hair also contribute to them being common patients for ear infections. Swimming and bathing without cleaning the ears out afterwards also predisposes dogs to having ear infections.
In all of these situations, a warm, moist environment is created in the ear canal allowing the normally low level of bacteria and yeast that is present to grow out of control and create an ear infection. Ear infections may also happen secondarily to other medical conditions, such as food allergies, foreign bodies in the ear, hypothyroidism and other endocrine diseases.
How do you treat ear infections?
Ear infections are treated by proper cleaning or flushing of the ear canal followed by topical and sometimes oral medications prescribed by your veterinarian. It is very important to treat ear infections promptly and for the full course prescribed by your veterinarian. When ear infections are allowed to happen repeatedly, the tissue within the ear canal thickens and makes the ear canal progressively narrower. This makes the ears harder to clean and ear infections harder to cure. If this vicious cycle is allowed to keep occurring, some dogs will eventually need surgical correction of the ear canal.
One of the most important things you can do to help prevent your dog’s ears from becoming infected is doing regular ear cleanings, especially after your dog swims or is bathed. Using the proper ear cleaner for your dog coupled with the right method of cleaning the ears is important for success. This will remove any buildup of wax or debris present, as well as acidify and dry out the ear canal so that bacteria and yeast are kept at bay. Your veterinary team would be happy to show you how to properly clean your dog’s ears as well as discuss the appropriate ear cleaner for your pet.
Various staff members at Lomsnes Veterinary Hospital in Red Deer contribute to this column on pets that appear every second week in Sunday Life. Staff provides medical, surgical and dental care for pets and education and wellness counselling for pet owners. Contributors to the column include Dr. Lisa Lomsnes, Dr. Cathy Dick and Dr. Hayley Biederbeck.