You may notice your puppy scratching his ears a lot or shaking his head like he's in pain. Or you may find, when you're playing with your puppy or grooming him, that he has debris or unpleasant-smelling discharge in his ear canal or on his ear flaps, or that his ears are red and hot. All of these are signs that your puppy likely has an ear infection.
Ear infections are just as painful for puppies as they are for us. Usually, puppies get ear infections in the external ear, and these need to be treated right away so they don't go deeper into the ear and cause serious damage.
You'll need to take your puppy to the vet if you suspect he has an ear infection. Depending on how serious the infection is and what part of the ear it's in, the vet will either prescribe antibiotics or simply clean the ear out with solutions.
The sooner your puppy's ear infection is treated, the less chance there is that it will spread from the outer or middle ear into the inner ear. Inner ear infections are more serious and harder to get rid of.
Pay attention to whether your puppy's symptoms go away or persist. One course of antibiotics may not be enough to eliminate the problem. If your puppy still seems sick, take him back to the vet. He may need a longer course of antibiotics or a change to a different drug to completely get rid of the infection.
Most ear infections are caused by an excess of moisture in the ear, which creates a breeding ground for yeast and bacteria.
High humidity, and getting wet ears from swimming, can create moisture. Depending on your puppy's breed and ear shape, he may also be more susceptible to getting ear infections. Floppy-eared breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Bloodhounds, and Cocker Spaniels are more prone to getting ear infections. This is because if the ears hang down, they block air from easily getting in to dry any moisture.
Other triggers of ear infections in puppies include:
Use of ear drops or cleansers that irritate the ears
Health problems such as hormonal imbalance, allergies, or food intolerance
So what can you do to help your puppy avoid getting an ear infection? First, if he has floppy ears or likes to swim, pay particular attention to his ears. After your puppy goes for a swim, dry his ears with a cotton ball.
In all cases, get your puppy used to having his ears checked and cleaned at least once a week. Carefully wipe his external ears with a cotton ball moistened with mineral oil or water. Make sure the ear canal is clean, with no inflammation, no unpleasant odors, and no redness. Don't probe too deeply – just check the outside part of the ear, and lift up the flaps to check for redness and odors.
Your vet can be a good source of advice on how to prevent ear infections in your puppy. He or she will show you how to clean the ear canal of hair, debris, and ear wax.