Ear infections in Golden Retrievers are a common problem. In this article we cover many of the questions that you may have about ear infections in your dog. As always, a good prevention plan is better than waiting for the problem to occur.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Get Ear Infections?
Golden Retrievers are especially prone to ear infections for several reasons. Three of the most common reasons are listed below. Some of the characteristics that make us love our dogs so much, can also have an unfortunate downside.
Reason #1 – Golden Retrievers tend to have long thick hair, even around their ears. This extra hair holds in warmth and moisture, creating the perfect environment to grow bacteria and yeast.
Reason #2 – Golden Retrievers have floppy ears. Floppy-eared dogs tend to have more ear infections than those who have ears that stand up. The reason is similar to reason #1, the floppy ears tend to hold in moisture and warmth which encourages bacteria and yeast to grow.
Reason #3 – Golden Retrievers are prone to allergies and thyroid disease. These conditions are some of the underlying causes of ear infections.
What Causes An Ear Infection in Dogs?
Ear infections are typically caused by a variety of bacteria, yeast, or a combination of both. There are usually predisposing factors that encourage these infections.
A dog’s ear canal is different than a human’s because a dog’s ear canal is L-shaped. They have both a horizontal and a vertical external ear canal, while humans have a straight ear canal. Because of this anatomical difference, wax and debris tends to accumulate in the ear canal. When the wax accumulates it creates an environment that encourages bacteria and yeast to grow, thus causing an ear infection.
All breeds of dogs can get ear infections, but the floppy-eared dogs, like Golden Retrievers (or Basset Hounds as an extreme example) are more prone to these infections compared to dogs that have ears that stand straight up. With floppy ears, the ears can’t air out easily and it traps moisture and debris inside a warmer environment, which predisposes them to infections.
As previously mentioned, Golden Retrievers have thick long hair which, while gorgeous, can get matted or accumulate around their ears. When there is a lot of hair around the ears, it keeps moisture, warmth, and debris inside the ears rather than it naturally migrating out. This sets up that ideal environment for an infection.
Golden Retrievers were bred to retrieve waterfowl while hunting and so naturally, most love the water. When water gets into the ear of a dog, it can set up for an infection if not cleaned and dried out right away. Ear infections tend to happen more frequently in dogs that love to swim because their ears are often wet. This combined with their floppy- eared and long hair characteristics makes the perfect place for an infection to start.
Allergies can affect any dog, but Golden Retrievers tend to suffer from allergies commonly. There are several types of allergies including environmental allergies, food allergies, or most commonly, flea allergies. When your dog suffers from allergies, this affects the barrier of the skin including the skin inside the ears. Allergies cause your dog to become itchy and they will irritate their ears by scratching and shaking their head. Bacteria and yeast then grow in the ears which causes the dog to become even more itchy and painful. If not treated quickly, there can be a lot of inflammation and tissue damage in the ears.
Various endocrine diseases such as Hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease tend to predispose dogs to skin and ear infections. If your dog gets recurring skin or ear infections, your veterinarian may recommend testing for these endocrine diseases. If your dog is diagnosed with one of these diseases, be prepared to frequently check and clean your dog’s ears in order to prevent an infection.
Ear mites are most commonly found in young puppies. It is rare to find them in adult dogs. Ear mites can be found in a characteristic dark crusty ear wax. Ear mites can be found alone or cause an ear infection.
What Are The Signs Of An Ear Infection?
- Scratching at the ears – Ear infections can be extremely itchy. Dogs will scratch at their ears to itch them, but in doing so can cause more damage and irritation.
- Shaking the head – Shaking the head is another way a dog will try to itch the ears. It looks as if they are trying to shake water out of their ears.
- Redness – An infected ear is often red on the inside of the ear flap and/or in the ear canal.
- Wax and debris build up – Infected ears will have more wax and debris built up in and around the ear canal. The debris can be infected pus, blood, dark black or brown debris, yellow debris, tan colored wax, flakey skin, or a combination of these findings.
- Odor – Infected ears often have a bad smell. Yeast is often the most common culprit with smelly ears, but a bad bacterial ear infection can stink too.
- Swelling – When the ears are infected, they become inflamed which can lead to mild to severe swelling. In severe cases, the ear canal can swell to the point where the ear canal is closed. This can be extremely painful to the dog.
- Pain or sensitivity – An ear infection can lead to painful or sensitive ears. You might notice that your dog avoids ear rubs or even head rubs and when you touch the ears they may flinch or whine.
How Do You Treat An Ear Infection?
If you suspect that your dog has an ear infection, the first thing you should do is take your dog to see your veterinarian.
You veterinarian will do a full physical exam including looking at the inside and outside of your dog’s ears. A sample will be taken of the ear debris and examined microscopically to see if it is a bacterial or yeast infection.
There is often a combination of bacteria and yeast. Knowing what type of infection it is helps your veterinarian determine what type of medication will be best to treat the ears. Your veterinarian will do a thorough ear cleaning so they can adequately examine the inside of the ears to make sure the ear drum is in good shape.
They will then discuss a treatment plan that often involves at home ear cleaning and topical ear medications. You will clean your dog’s ears as directed and then once the debris is cleaned up, apply an ointment medication.
Sometimes, the ear infection is best treated with medications that your veterinarian will apply to the ears and leave in for 2-4 weeks.
In some cases, your dog will need oral medications as well, either to help with the infection itself or to treat any underlying allergies.
If you don’t know how to clean your dog’s ears, make sure to ask the veterinarian to show you how to clean them properly. It is important to follow their recommendations and return for a recheck visit to make sure the infection is completely gone.
How Do You Prevent An Ear Infection?
Preventing ear infections is key to a happy healthy pup and is something you can easily do at home.
- Keep your dog’s ears clean – You can clean your dog’s ears with an over the counter ear cleaner or one recommended by your veterinarian. You should clean the ears after bathing or swimming, if your dog starts to scratch the ears or shake their head, or when you start seeing a buildup of wax in the ears. Some dogs require their ears to be cleaned on a regular basis to prevent an infection.
- Keep your dog’s ears dry – This is often easier said than done. Regular cleaning is the best way to do this, make sure you dry them well when cleaning. You can also put cotton balls in their ears when giving a bath to prevent water from going down the ear canal.
- Check your dog’s ears regularly – As part of your regular dog care, make sure to take a quick peek in your dog’s ears regularly even if they aren’t showing signs of an infection. By doing regular checks, you will be able to catch an ear infection early, before it becomes a big infection that makes your dog uncomfortable. Make sure to check the ears often especially if your dog is prone to getting ear infections.
One of my favorite ear cleaners for golden retrievers is Virbac Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleaner. It is very affordable and available on Amazon. Prevention is the best plan of attack.
We all love our dogs. We want them to be healthy and happy. While we can try all the prevention methods we want, the truth is, sometimes they will get ear infections.
If you do find your dog suffering from ear problems, be sure to visit your veterinarian. And don’t forget to give your Golden some extra love.
To learn more about issues your Golden might be facing, be sure to check out our article about Common Golden Retriever Health Issues.