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Otitis Media in Dogs (Middle Ear Infection) – Symptoms & Treatment

Ear infections like otitis media can cause your dog a lot of discomfort. Today, our South Florida vets discuss middle ear infections (otitis media) in dogs, and how they are linked to certain eye conditions, in addition to symptoms and treatment options.

How Moisture Causes Ear Infections in Dogs

Dogs tend to be much more vulnerable to ear infections than people due to the shape of their ear canals. If your dog swims frequently or has long, floppy ears, they will be even more susceptible to ear infections since moisture can get trapped in the ear and create an environment that fosters bacteria. 

Signs of Otitis Media 

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear that leads to inflammation and accumulation of fluid behind the eardrum.

Ear Infections can be very uncomfortable, even painful, for your pooch. If your dog shows any of these signs of an ear infection, contact your primary care veterinarian right away to book an examination for your pet. Early treatment of ear infections can help prevent more serious symptoms from developing and reduce the risk of complications. 

Otitis media and other types of ear infections in dogs can cause one or more of these symptoms:

  • Pawing or rubbing at the ear
  • Brown, yellow or bloody discharge
  • Odor in the ear
  • Redness inside of the ear
  • Head shaking
  • Tilting head
  • Crusts or scabs just inside the ear
  • Swelling of the ear

If your dog's ear infection is more severe or has been left untreated, you may notice additional symptoms such as:

  • Indications of hearing loss
  • Loss of coordination or balance
  • Unusual eye movements
  • Walking in circles

The Link Between Otitis Media & Eye Conditions

In severe cases, otitis media can cause facial paralysis and eye conditions like Horner's syndrome and neurogenic keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye). 

While most CKS cases are typically caused by autoimmune inflammation in the tear glands, an interruption in the nerve supply to the tear glands causes neurogenic KCS. Middle ear infections cause inflammation deep within the middle ear, which irritates the nearby nerves that supply the tear glands.

This condition usually occurs in only one eye and can cause symptoms such as a copious thick discharge, rubbing, dull eye appearance, squinting, corneal ulcers, and corneal pigment or scarring. 

Treating the underlying otitis media will likely resolve neurogenic KCS. However, this is not always easy, as we discuss below.. 

Treating Otitis Media in Dogs 

If your dog has an ear infection, your primary vet may recommend diagnostic tests such as X-rays, a CT scan or MRI to confirm the diagnosis. They will use a medicated cleanser to clean your dog's ear and potentially sedate your pup to perform a middle ear flush.

The eardrum may need to be punctured to release fluid and pressure, then prescribe any antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications appropriate for treating your dog's ear infection. Your veterinarian may also prescribe a topical medication to improve nerve transmission and tear production. They will describe how and when to apply it to your dog's ear at home. 

Alternatively, if an eye condition is persistent or your primary vet is unable to treat it effectively, they may refer you to our veterinary ophthalmologists at Animal Eye Guys for treatment. 

When otitis media ear infections in dogs are diagnosed and treated in the early stages, an uncomplicated ear infection will typically clear up within just a week or two with proper treatment. If your dog's ear infection is more severe or is caused by an underlying health condition, treatment may be more challenging and may take months to resolve. Unfortunately, more severe cases can result in chronic ear infections in dogs or repeated ear infections throughout the pet's lifetime.

Following your veterinarian's instructions very carefully will be essential to clear up your dog's ear infection as quickly as possible. Not finishing prescriptions, or stopping treatment before the infection has completely cleared can lead to a recurring infection that becomes increasingly difficult to treat.

Follow-up appointments with your primary vet are highly recommended when it comes to dog ear infections. While it may look as if the infection has cleared there may still be traces of infection that are difficult for owners to spot. Finishing treatment before the infection has fully healed can lead to recurring symptoms that are difficult to treat.

Preventing Canine Ear Infections

Our vets believe that prevention is always better than treatment when it comes to ear infections, which can lead to eye conditions. To help prevent your pup from developing an ear infection it is important to keep your pet's ears clean and dry.

Speak to your primary vet about the best cleaning solution to use for your dog's ears, take the time to gently clean your dog's ears every week, and always dry your dog's ears whenever they come out of the water.

Note: Animal Eye Guys specializes in treating eye conditions and illnesses. The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical or behavioral advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.

Does your dog have a persistent eye condition you suspect may be related to an ear infection? Contact our South Florida vets to book an appointment with a veterinary ophthalmologist.

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