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Ask a Vet: What Causes a Yeast infection in a Dog's Ear?

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What Causes a Yeast infection in a Dog's Ear

A yeast infection in a dog's ear is not at all uncommon. Countless dog owners deal with this annoying problem in their dogs and wonder what causes it in the first place, and most of all, what can be done about it. If you suspect your dog has a yeast ear infection, please see your vet for diagnosis and treatment. A yeast infection in dog's ear causes lots of pain and discomfort to dogs. Following is information about yeast infections in dog ears by veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec.

Dog has thickened leathery skin

Yeast Infection in a Dog's Ear 

Ear problems in dogs are among the most common reasons why dog parents visit vets. Fortunately, most of these problems can be easily prevented through regular ear checks and taking proper care of the ears.

What causes a yeast infection in a dog's ears? The dog’s ear is specifically designed. Its peculiar and "L" shaped anatomy protects the actual organ of hearing from injury. At the same time, however, the length of the ear canal and simple gravity together encourage excessive accumulation of wax, debris, and foreign material that cannot be shaken out of the ears.

Infections of the outer ear may be bacterial, fungal or caused by yeast. Dogs do not catch ear infections from other dogs. External ear canal infections are caused by opportunistic microorganisms that are already in your dog’s ears. Given the opportunity, they will multiply in excess and displace the beneficial bacteria.

The most common cause of otitis externa is Malassezia pachydermatis. This yeast is a prime opportunist, taking advantage of mite infestations, allergies or other causes of ear canal inflammation. Malassezia pachydermatis often occurs concurrently with a bacterial ear infection.

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Due to the anatomy of their ears certain dog breeds are at higher risk of developing yeast infections. Those breeds include: cocker spaniels, basset hounds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, poodles and schnauzers. Generally speaking, dogs with erect ears that have no hair inside are less prone to develop ear infections than those with hairy ear canals or droopy ears.

Dogs with yeast ear infections will manifest the following signs and symptoms:

  • Smelly, inflamed, hot and painful outer ear
  • Brown to yellow, bloody or waxy ear discharge
  • Scabbing around the opening of the ear
  • Head shaking
  • Head tilting
  • Hair loss around the ear
  • Scratching either behind or inside the ears.

At the Vet's Office

The tissue sample taken from the liver is checked under a microscope.

Diagnosis of a yeast infection in a dog's ear often requires looking at material under a microscope

The dog shakes its head and scratches or rubs the affected ear, which is painful. It may tilt the head down on the affected side. There is usually a waxy discharge with a bad smell. The vet will carry out a culture and sensitivity test or examine the ear discharge under the microscope to investigate the underlying cause.

Depending on the severity of the infection the vet may suggest a full cleaning of the dog’s ear canal. Based on the dog’s personality, the ear flush can be performed with or without sedation.

Once the ear is cleaned, it is time to use medications. The treatment usually includes a lotion that combines an antibiotic, an antifungal and an anti-inflammatory drug. When combating Malassezia pachydermatis infections it is highly recommended to use oral ketoconazole or miconazole.

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Sometimes, complicated cases require surgical approach – to remove the vertical portion of the ear canal or to even seal the canal. Nevertheless, before planning the surgical procedure it is important to put the infection under control.

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Yeast infections are stubborn and hard to get rid of. In some cases it can take up to 6 months to completely eliminate the infection. However, for non-complicated cases, the prognosis is excellent.

If left untreated, non-complicated cases can easily progress to complicated. The most commonly seen complications include: aural hematoma, proliferative ear canal change and middle ear infection.

Ear Plucking

Grooming can help reduce incidences of yeast infection in a dog's ear

How to Prevent Dog Ear Yeast Infections 

Regular Ear Checks

Look inside your dog’s ears every time you groom them. Your vet will inspect your dog’s ears with an otoscope as part of a regular check up, especially if the breed has an"unnatural" shaped ears or is one with hair growing inside the flap and ear canal.

Never ignore any early signs of ear problems. The sooner a vet looks at the ear, the better the outcome of any treatment is likely to be. Small problems that are neglected can lead to worse conditions and more damage to the ears.

Cleaning a Dog’s Ears

If your dog’s ears are clean, leave them alone. Routine cleaning is usually unnecessary. Wax can be cleaned by using a cloth moistened with mineral oil. Use your finger to wipe all accessible parts of the ear. Only use a cotton swab dipped in mineral oil with extreme caution. If you push it too far, it turns into a plunger, pushing debris and wax deeper into the canal.

If wax has accumulated in the visible part of the ear canal, instill a few drops of mineral or baby oil, leaving it in the ears for few hours to soften the wax. Alternatively, use a proprietary wax remover made with a diluted salicylic acid solution.

After the solution has had a chance to work, gently flush the ear canal with a solution made of equal portions of lukewarm white vinegar and distilled water. Make sure that you use only the gentlest pressure. When you have finished, press cotton balls inside the ear to dry up the solution. Never use alcohol-based solvents in your dog’s ears. Alcohol-based solvents can cause severe irritation.

Keeping the Ears Dry

Warm, moist conditions encourage the organisms that cause ear infections to multiply, so do not let water remain in your dog’s ears and enter the ear canals. Pack each ear snugly with cotton balls before you bathe your dog and always dry your dog’s ears thoroughly after it has been swimming.

Caring for Droopy Ears

Reduce the weight of thick hair by routinely clipping or shaving the hair from the inside surfaces of the ear flaps. This allows better air circulation in breeds such as spaniels. Such dogs benefit from having their ears taped back for few hours each week, especially in hot and humid climates.

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About the Author

ivana crnec

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.

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