Just like humans, dogs can sometimes get ear infections. Unlike humans, dogs aren't capable of seeking treatment themselves. For this reason, responsible pet owners must remain vigilant and know the signs of an ear infection in their dog.
While some dog breeds may be more susceptible to ear infections than others, all dogs are at risk, and the longer an ear infection goes untreated, the more serious it can get. If you notice signs of an ear infection in your dog, you must take them to the vet immediately. The prevalence of such infections in dogs is between 7% and 16%. Deep ear infections in dogs can damage or rupture the eardrum, causing an internal ear infection, leading to permanent hearing loss, significantly decreasing the dog’s quality of life.
There are a variety of potential causes of ear infections in dogs, and understanding them can help you stay vigilant and potentially reduce the risk for your dog. The most common causes include foreign bodies (foxtails, grass, etc.), ear mites, excessive moisture, allergies, yeast, bacteria, and more. If you believe that your dog may be at risk due to exposure to these potential causes, the next step is watching your dog for symptoms they may display.
While there are a lot of potential symptoms of ear infections in dogs, each canine is different and will display them differently. Not all dogs will exhibit all of the possible symptoms. While one or two of these symptoms on their own may not guarantee an ear infection, they are something to keep an eye on, and if they persist or if more symptoms arise, seek veterinary advice immediately.
Major symptoms include:
Since dogs can’t communicate their ailment for themselves, it is the job of responsible pet owners to keep an eye out for persistent, recurring, or concerning symptoms so that they can seek veterinary assistance at the soonest possible opportunity. The sooner the condition is treated, the less extreme the treatment needs to be and the more likely it will succeed.
When you take your dog to the veterinary clinic because you believe they may have an ear infection, the veterinarian will likely conduct a preliminary examination to inspect the ear for abnormalities. The veterinarian will begin the exam with an otoscope, which provides magnification and light to observe the ear. Doing so will allow them to determine whether or not the eardrum is still intact and if any foreign bodies are present. Sedation may be necessary if the dog is in pain or strongly resists the examination.
Before the examination, the veterinarian may ask about the dog’s history and a complete list of their symptoms. For the sake of efficiency and thoroughness, it is recommended that you have this information prepared ahead of time.
After the initial examination, the veterinarian may continue the diagnostic process with other tests. After the otoscope examination, the next step is to retrieve a sample of the material from the ear canal and examine it under a microscope. Doing so will determine the type of infection and what is causing it. This step is essential, as it can aid the veterinarian in selecting the most effective treatment options, maximizing the chances of success. In addition, culture and susceptibility tests may be performed in the cases of chronic or severe ear infections.
When taking your dog to a veterinary clinic, it is often vital to know the price ahead of time so that you can be prepared for the cost and avoid significant financial impact. However, this is easier said than done, as there is no singular fixed price of veterinary care. The price of diagnosing and treating an ear infection in a dog varies greatly, and several factors can influence it.
One of the main influences on the cost of diagnosing and treating a dog’s ear infection is how far the disease has progressed before the dog is taken to the vet. More severe and advanced cases of ear infections will cost more to treat, as treatment will need to be more extensive to maximize the chances of a successful recovery. The more extensive the treatment is, the more it will cost.
A subsequent influence on the overall price of diagnosing and treating a dog’s ear infection is the location of your chosen veterinary clinic. There are two main ways in which the geographic location can affect the cost of treatment. Firstly, the cost of living in the area will affect the fees and costs that the veterinary clinic itself has to pay, thus affecting the price for you as well. Secondly, veterinary clinics in rural areas tend to charge less than those in urban or metropolitan areas because they have less demand.
The type of veterinary facility you take your dog to will also affect the cost of diagnosis and treatment. More specialized facilities like animal hospitals will typically cost more than a standard veterinary clinic. Private locations also tend to charge more, whereas chains get more business and don’t need to charge as much to get by. In addition, humane societies or specific organizations are often available in some areas willing to perform the procedure for little to no cost for those who qualify.
Lastly, the type of diagnostic procedures and testing required can influence the price. More severe or recurrent ear infections often require more advanced testing, which will cost more than a basic examination. Advanced testing may include a variety of laboratory tests with specialty equipment. In contrast, basic testing typically only entails a physical ear examination performed by a veterinarian and perhaps a microscopic examination of the contaminant.
Although there is no set price for ear infection diagnosis and treatment, having an estimate to work with is still extremely helpful. While the overall treatment price varies significantly based on the above factors, the procedure cost (without pet insurance) will range from $500 to $1,000.
The cost of the otoscope exam is often rolled into the consultation price and can range from $100 to $200. For further testing, including a bacterial culture, the price typically falls somewhere around $200. However, bacterial cultures are not always needed and will not be recommended by the veterinarian unless necessary. While the medication price will vary depending on the prescription, pet owners without insurance typically expect to pay around $100 for a seven-day prescription.
Topical treatment is the most common and often preferred treatment method for ear infections in dogs. It is the easiest to administer and often the least costly for the pet owner. These topical ointments will typically be a form of corticosteroids, a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal cortex. They are often used to reduce pain and swelling for various conditions, as they are a form of anti-inflammatory.
Oral medications may be prescribed if topical treatments are deemed insufficient or if, for some reason, the dog is incompatible. Different oral medications may be prescribed for a dog’s ear infection, depending on the type of infection and its cause. The vet may prescribe an antibiotic such as amoxicillin if the infection is bacterial. Similarly, an antifungal, such as miconazole, may be prescribed if a fungal infection is the cause. An oral steroid treatment may also be prescribed if topical corticosteroids aren’t an option.
As a last resort for severe or chronic cases that have persisted through all other treatment options, surgery may be recommended. The surgery, known as Total Ear Canal Ablation and Bulla Osteotomy (or TECA-BO for short), involves completely removing the ear canal down to the middle ear, where the infection often forms. This extreme and permanent surgery is only performed if the ear infection is severe and no other treatment has worked.
As a veterinarian recommends, regular ear cleanings can be crucial to preventing an ear infection for your dog. Not all dogs will need routine ear cleanings. Over-cleaning may irritate the ear canal, which can increase the infection risk. Unless the dog has had ear infections in the past, is of a susceptible breed, or if a veterinarian has recommended ear cleanings, then don’t perform regular ear cleanings. If it is helpful for your dog, consult with a veterinarian before proceeding.
Environmental allergies can be one of the leading causes of ear infections in dogs. Allergies cause the skin barrier to break down and increase the wax production in the ear canal. This can increase the amount of yeast and bacteria in and around the ear, leading to inflammation. All of these factors can significantly increase the risk of ear infection. Giving a dog anti-itch medication as recommended, inquiring about regular cleanings, and seeing a vet can help reduce the risk of allergy-related ear infections in your dog.
If your dog has allergies, giving them hypoallergenic foods can soothe the skin and reduce inflammation, thus reducing the risk of ear infections. Ingredients such as corn and wheat can be allergens for dogs, so decreasing the amount in your dog’s diet can be helpful. While hypoallergenic food and routine cleanings may seem costly, this regimen is significantly cheaper than seeking treatment once an ear infection has occurred.
It is essential to recognize the potential severity of ear infections in dogs and understand that, in most cases, they will not go away on their own. All types of ear infections should be examined and treated by a veterinarian.
Allowing them to go untreated for prolonged periods gives them a chance to worsen, which can lead to a rupturing of the eardrum. If the eardrum is ruptured, the middle ear will be exposed. The middle ear cannot tolerate certain cleaners and medications, which may cause damage if misused. The sooner a dog’s ear infection is diagnosed and treated, the less impact it will have on its quality of life in the long run.
Early detection and treatment of an ear infection in a dog is vital. Although it may not seem like a severe condition, it can worsen surprisingly quickly, leading to potential hearing loss and even a rupturing of the eardrum. The longer it goes untreated, the more extreme the treatment will need to be for a successful recovery to be achieved.
Not only does the treatment for an ear infection get more advanced the longer it’s untreated, but so does the cost of treatment. Mild ear infections can often be treated with topical solutions, such as corticosteroids. These are the least expensive option, and can often be successful in as little as seven days.
The veterinarian will move to oral medication if the infection is too advanced and the corticosteroids are ineffective. This is often an antibiotic or antifungal (depending on the source of the infection). Lastly, if all else fails, the vet must resort to surgery, which can be extremely expensive.