Ear Infections in German Shepherds

Ear Infections in German Shepherds: Advice for Owners

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When it comes to ear infections, there is good news for German Shepherd owners. Since the shape of a dog’s ears can influence the chances of getting an ear infection, dogs with have upright ears are not especially prone to ear infections as much as floppy-eared dogs.

However, the fact that your German Shepherd has upright ears doesn’t necessarily mean he will never get an ear infection.  

According to AKC, 20% of dogs have some kind of ear problem. If you’re a German Shepherd owner, you may wonder if your best friend is susceptible to these painful and irritating infections.

What Kinds Of Ear Infections Are There In German Shepherds?

There are three types of ear infections in german shepherd dogs:

1- Otitis Externa. This is an outer ear infection of the external ear canal and is one of the most common types of ear infections seen in German Shepherd dogs. This condition is characterized by inflammation in the layer of cells lining the external portion of the ear canal.  

2- Otitis Media. This condition is characterized by inflammation of the middle ear. This can be more serious than an outer ear infection because it can result in damage to the tympanic membrane and bulla of the middle ear, and can cause very painful ears and possible vestibular signs. Middle ear infections can be caused by foreign bodies, or by untreated otitis externa.

3- Otitis Interna. This is inflammation of the inner ear, and is caused most often by a bacterial or yeast infection, and can also be caused by an inner ear infection. If your German Shepherd has ear mites in the external ear canal, mites can ultimately cause a problem in the inner ear and pose a greater risk for a bacterial infection. Inner ear infections can also develop if a foreign body or a benign polyp is present in the middle ear.

What Are The Symptoms Of Ear Infections In German Shepherds?

Some German Shepherds may not show any symptoms of an ear infection aside from a buildup of ear wax or discharge in the ear canal.

Ear infections can cause significant discomfort and irritation, and most dogs will show signs such as:

  • Shaking the head and ears
  • Painful ears
  • Scratching at the ear
  • Dark, sticky discharge coming from the ear
  • Distinct odor coming from the ear
  • Swelling and redness in the ear canal
  • The appearance of scabs in and around the ear

What Causes Ear Infections In German Shepherds?

The ear canal of the dog forms an L-shape that tends to catch fluid and debris, making them prone to ear infections.  Conditions that can predispose your dog to ear infections include:

  •  German Shepherds tend to be prone to allergies, which in turn can lead to ear infections.
  • Trapped moisture or water, creating an optimum environment for the development of bacteria and yeast.
  • Ear wax buildup can create a moist, warm environment for bacterial and fungal growth.
  • Endocrine disorders, such as thyroid disease, weaken the immune system and can predispose German Shepherds to ear infections.
  • Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, weaken the immune system predisposing dogs to ear infections
  • The presence of a foreign body, such as a seed or a grass-awn can cause inflammation and set your dog up for an infection.
  • Injury or trauma to the ear canal can also cause inflammation and infection.

Can Ear Mites Cause Ear Infections in German Shepherds?

Ear mites can cause symptoms of ear infections, including scratching at the ear, shaking the head, and ear discharge.

Ear mites can create an environment in the ear canal that can lead to a secondary bacterial or yeast infection, but ear mite infections are more common in puppies than in adult dogs.

When Should I Call My Veterinarian?

If your German Shepherd is showing any of the signs and symptoms of an ear infection, contact your veterinarian.

It is important not to wait because an external ear infection can rapidly grow more serious, and quick treatment is vital not only for your dog’s comfort, but also to prevent the spread of infection to the middle and inner ears.

When contacting your veterinarian, provide the doctor with a thorough description of your dog’s symptoms, and you may want to include the following:

  • How long the issue has been going on
  • Any signs of pain, swelling, discharge, odor
  • If your dog has any underlying health issues, allergies, or immune diseases.  
  • If your dog has recently had a bath or been swimming
  • If your dog is on any medications
  • Your dog’s regular diet
  • How frequently you clean your dog’s ears, and what kind of products you use
  • If you have trimmed around the ears or have plucked ear hairs
  • If your dog has a history of ear infections, how often, and how they were treated

What Happens During A Veterinary Ear Examination?

If your veterinarian recommends an appointment, he/she will obtain a complete history of your dog, and perform a comprehensive physical examination.

In cases where your dog is painful, the veterinarian may recommend sedating your dog to facilitate a proper examination of the ear canal.

In examining the ears, your veterinarian may:

  • Gently palpate, and feel the ear to assess the level of pain if present
  • Complete a complete assessment of the ears, looking for signs such as redness, swelling, odor, and discharge
  • Examination with an otoscope, which allows a visual evaluation of the ear canal and eardrum
  • If samples of discharge or yeast are taken, microscopic examination of those samples
  • Possible lab culture of ear samples
  • Radiographs, endoscopy, or biopsies in severe or chronic cases
  • Clean and flush the ears

How Are Ear Infections Treated In German Shepherds?

During an appointment with your veterinarian, your dog’s ears will be thoroughly flushed and cleaned using a medicated ear cleanser.

Your veterinarian may prescribe an ear cleanser and a topical medication for you to use at home, but in severe cases, oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed. Once treatment is started, most basic ear infections resolve within a couple of weeks.

Today’s Veterinary Practice explains It is always critical to follow your veterinarian’s instructions closely and to finish the full course of all prescribed medications because finish the full course of treatment may lead to additional problems such as antibiotic-resistant infections.

How Can I Prevent Ear Infections in My German Shepherd?

As with any health issue, prevention is the best medicine.  The presence of excess moisture and fluid is the most common cause of ear infections, so it is always recommended to make sure your dog’s ears are thoroughly dry after swimming and bathing.

If your best friend is prone to chronic or recurrent ear infections, pinpointing the causes and learning how to manage them can help prevent new infections from occurring.

How Can I Clean My German Shepherd’s Ears At Home?

Cleaning your dog’s ears at home can also help prevent future ear infections, and owners can follow these four easy steps:

1- First, fill the canal with a veterinary-approved dog ear-cleaning solution and massage the base of the ear canal from the outside, then let your dog shake his head to release any excess solution and debris.

2- Gently wipe out the ear canal with absorbent gauze or an approved ear wipe product. It’s not a good idea to use paper towels, cotton, or Kleenex because these substances easily shred and can leave fibers behind, which can cause irritation.

3- Using a cotton swab, you can clean your dog’s pinnae (the inside and outside of the external ear flaps).  It is important to avoid using cotton swabs directly in the ear canal, as they can inadvertently push debris deeper into the ear canal.

4- For very dirty ears, repeat steps #1, #2, and #3.  

NOTE: Avoid using cotton-tipped applicators (Q-Tips) to clean your dog’s ears, as they can damage the eardrum if you go too deep, according to VCA Hospitals.

Video Demonstrating How To Clean Your Dog’s Ears

Watch this YouTube video of veterinary-recommended ear-cleaning procedures.

What Kinds Of Ear Medications Help With Ear Infections?

If your veterinarian has prescribed ear medication for your dog, these medications target several kinds of bacteria and at least one type of fungus (yeast). Depending on the cause of the infection, your veterinarian may recommend a specific antibiotic, ear drops, or ointment.  

Most veterinarians will obtain a sample of discharge from your dog’s ear, examine it under a microscope, or culture it to determine whether or not the cause of the infection is bacterial, fungal, or something else: Identification of the cause will determine the type of medication prescribed.

How Do I Administer Ear Medication To My German Shepherd?

As mentioned above, the dog’s external ear canal is L-shaped, and it’s recommended to administer the medication into the lower part of the “L,” or in the horizontal ear canal.

You can apply ear medication using the following steps:

  1. Gently pull the tip of the ear with one hand.
  2. Using your other hand, apply the prescribed amount of medication into the vertical part of the ear canal while still holding onto the tip of the ear. Hold the ear tip-up long enough for the medication to run down the base of the ear
  3. Then massage the base of the ear canal between your finger and thumb. You should hear a “squishing’” sound telling you that the medication has gone into the ear canal.
  4. Release the treated ear and let your dog shake his Most ear medications have a solvent that dissolves debris, which can be dislodged when your dog shakes his head.

If your veterinarian has prescribed a second medication, apply it in the same way, but wait five to thirty minutes before applying the second or additional medication.  Always follow your veterinarian’s directions when applying ear medication.

Video Demonstrating How To Medicate Your Dog’s Ears

Watch this YouTube video of veterinary-recommended ear-medicating procedures.

How Important Is It To Treat An Ear Infection?

Dogs with ear infections are uncomfortable, and infected ears can be a source of constant pain and irritation causing chronic head-shaking.  

In chronic cases, this can cause a condition called an “aural hematoma,” in which blood vessels in the ear flap break, causing the tissue in the pinna of the ear to swell, requiring surgical treatment.

Ear infections that occur in the middle or inner ears can damage or rupture the eardrum, causing possible permanent hearing loss.

Taking care of your German Shepherd’s ears is an important part of your best friend’s health and well-being.  

With regular monitoring of your dog’s ears, ear cleaning, and regular check-ups with your veterinarian, you can avoid the occurrence of painful ear infections.

Ear Infections in German Shepherds

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