Ear infections are a widespread health problem among dogs. However, not all ear infections are identical, and they certainly shouldn't be treated in the same way. Discover the signs that you may be dealing with a dog ear yeast infection and how to provide your pup with some relief.
What is a Dog Ear Yeast Infection?
Dogs naturally have yeast in their ears and on the rest of their skin. However, a yeast infection occurs when there's an overgrowth of this fungus. These infections tend to happen in areas where there's skin-on-skin contact, such as within the ear. A change in the ear environment (like the introduction of moisture), suppression of the immune system, or change in the skin's oil production (often associated with allergies) can all promote yeast overgrowth. An infection can happen for several different reasons, but the end result is usually an uncomfortable and smelly ear.
Causes of Yeast Infections in Dogs
Yeast infections in your dog's ear rarely pop up spontaneously. There's usually an underlying condition that acts as a catalyst that then leads to a full-blown infection. Some of the most common causes include the following:
- Moisture trapped within the canal (typically after bathing or swimming)
- Allergies (potentially from food, skin issues, environmental conditions, etc.)
- Flea allergy dermatitis
- Ear mites
- Hormone-related disease (such as hypothyroidism or Cushing's disease)
- Tumors within the ear
- Abnormal ear canal structure
Some dogs may be predisposed to yeast ear infections due to the structure of their ear canal or skin condition. Although this list is certainly not exhaustive, it includes some of the most common characteristics and breeds at higher risk for infections.
- Breeds with skin folds. Wrinkly breeds with natural skin folds commonly have narrow ear canals which readily harbor yeast. This includes the Shar Pei, Pug, English Bulldog, and French Bulldog.
- Long-eared breeds. Dogs with long ear flaps that cover the opening of the ear canal tend to trap water and moisture more easily than erect ears. Notable breeds include the Basset Hound, Irish Setter, Bloodhound, Cocker Spaniel, Beagles, and Dachshunds.
- Breeds with hairy ears. Those breeds who have copious amounts of hair within the ear canal commonly develop infections. These include the Poodle, Bichon Frise, Shih Tzu, and Schnauzer.
Signs of a Yeast Ear Infection
How can you know if your dog is suffering from a yeast infection within their ear? There are some telltale signs that owners can look out for to identify this type of infection.
- Excessive head shaking
- Scratching at ears
- Rubbing head on the ground
- Irritation and redness of the ear
- Hyperpigmentation of the ear
- Discomfort around the ear and head
- Dark, waxy debris coming from the ear
- Oily skin or hair in the ear
- Crusted, yellow earwax
- Foul but sweet odor from ear
Yeast Vs. Bacterial Infections
Dog ear infections typically consist of either yeast, bacteria, or a combination of the two. Unfortunately, it's very challenging for you to determine at home which is the culprit. This is because bacterial and yeast ear infections as well as those caused by ear mites present with very similar clinical signs.
It's best to have a veterinarian examine the ear early on to determine the best treatment plan. An untreated yeast infection can easily develop a secondary bacterial infection. When this happens, additional treatments may be necessary to combat both components of the ear infection.
Getting a Diagnosis
To diagnose an ear infection, your vet will have to look at a cytology under the microscope. By examining the debris within the ear, they can determine if the infection is yeast, bacterial, or both. It's fairly easy to obtain a sample -- they simply use a clean cotton swab to collect a bit of the earwax, transfer it to a slide, then carefully prepare it for viewing. Ideally, a cytology should be performed before any cleanser or ointments have been added to the ear, as these can impact the results.
Treatment for a yeast infections in the ear can differ based on the severity of the infection and the individual dog. Most treatments for this type of infection include the following:
- First, remove the debris from the ear and cleanse the skin within the canal. This is done with a veterinarian-approved otic cleanser. Before executing this, it's important for a vet to examine the ear and make sure the tympanic membrane or ear drum hasn't ruptured. If the ear drum has burst and a solution is flushed into the ear, it can cause irreversible deafness.
- A topical anti-fungal ointment or drops may be prescribed for several days or weeks. Follow prescribing directions closely and call your veterinarian if you have any concerns.
- A dog cone is often recommended to prevent further scratching of the ears until treatment is complete.
- Oral antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, or anti-fungal medication may be necessary depending on the case. Give these as directed and finish the entire course.
- You may also be instructed to clean your dog's ears at home to help fight the infection. Never insert a cotton swab into your dog's ear, as this can cause severe damage. Gentle cotton squares or tissue can be used to wipe out loosened debris while cleaning.
It's also important to address any underlying issues that could be to blame for the yeast infection. Investigate possible allergic conditions if your dog tends to scratch their whole body, or ask your vest about testing for hormonal diseases, such as Cushing's or hypothyroidism. Getting these problems under control will help prevent future yeast ear infections.
Tips to Prevent Ear Infections
While appropriate treatment is necessary to address an existing yeast ear infection, it's helpful to know how to prevent these nasty infections in the future.
- Rub, look in, and smell your dog's ears often. This will help you identify and address any greasy or stinky yeast overgrowths early.
- Prevent moisture from entering the ear canal. You can place a cotton square in your dog's ears before bathing (remember to remove it afterward!), or use a specifically designed protective water band while swimming. These measures aren't necessary, but can be helpful. Just be sure the ears are thoroughly dried after any water play.
- Keep your dog's skin and fur healthy with a high-quality, balanced diet. Fatty acid supplements can also help.
- Routinely cleanse your dog's ears with a veterinarian-approved solution or ear wipes, but avoid over cleaning. Ask your vet how often they think your dog can benefit from cleanings. Some dogs should have it done weekly, whereas others might be better off with monthly cleanings.
- Use monthly parasite controls to prevent ear mites and fleas, which can spur ear infections.
Keep Ears Clean and Dry to Ward Off Yeast
Although some fungal infections, like ringworm, can be contagious between dogs and from dogs to humans, it's unlikely that an ear yeast infection could be transmitted to another individual. Treating the localized infection within the ears, then addressing the underlying cause, should eliminate the problem and provide your dog with relief. However, chronic ear infections could warrant taking additional measures.