Golden Retriever Ear Infections: Identification & Care Guide (Vet Answer)
Ear infections, as most people know, can be a terrible thing to experience—including pain, loss of hearing (temporary, or sometimes permanent), and a general feeling of unwellness accompanying these infections just makes for no fun. But imagine that you’re a dog, and you can’t even speak to let someone know that your ear hurts! For this reason, quickly and accurately identifying ear infections in dogs can be helpful for not only resolving the issue in a timely manner, and ensuring your dog doesn’t suffer long-term consequences.
Unfortunately, because pets are often so good at hiding signs of illness, sometimes ear infections can be quite challenging to identify—particularly because they’re in a location of the body that’s not easy to examine at home. Therefore, some cases of ear infections, especially in dogs with longer, floppy ears like golden retrievers, can be present for weeks or months before appropriate treatment is sought.
Read on to learn more about identifying ear infections in golden retrievers: the signs, what causes these infections, and how to care for a golden retriever experiencing an ear infection.
What is an Ear Infection?
An ear infection is, by definition, an infection that involves the ear. Generally, it is understood that an ear infection either involves the deeper ear canal, the middle ear, or both. Conversely, a different term that tends to be used is an aural hematoma—if the external flap of the ear is involved. If it involves the external canal, it is called otitis externa, whereas if it involves the middle ear, it is called otitis media.
Ear infections can be caused by various different infectious organisms, including bacteria (aerobic or anaerobic), fungi, or yeast. Foreign bodies, or material that should not normally be found in the ear, can obstruct the normal drainage of the ear, and cause infections as well. Sometimes, a specific cause is not identified.
Ear infections are most commonly found in only one ear, but both ears can be impacted if physical causes, such as narrowed canals or other unusual ear anatomy are present. Similarly, a history of lots of swimming, or a breed predisposition to unusual skin flora (e.g., in breeds, such as shar-peis or Chinese crested dogs) may make bilateral ear infections more common.
What Are the Signs of Ear Infections in Golden Retrievers?
Ear infections can present in various fashions, depending on the individual dog, the severity of the infection, whether one or both ears are infected, and many other factors.
- Unusual or strong smell from one or both ears
- Pawing or rubbing the ears
- Holding ear or head at a funny angle
- Discharge or wetness of the affected ear
- Blood from the affected ear
- Hard swallowing
- Resistance to being touched on the head/face/ears
- Loss of hearing
- Change in appetite or reluctance to eat
- Shaking head
- Finding discharge on vertical surfaces around the house at head height
- Change in pupil size from one eye to the other
What Are the Causes of Ear Infections in Golden Retrievers?
As stated earlier, ear infections can be caused by a variety of different conditions. Let’s look at the following in more detail.
Bacteria can be found normally on the skin, but can cause infections in certain conditions where bacterial growth is favored. This can be especially true for golden retrievers that swim regularly and have wet inner ears, for dogs that have had prior infections that resulted in scarred and narrowed ear canals, or if wax plugs are blocking the normal drainage pathway of the ear.
Fungal and yeast infections also tend to favor moist environments.
Foreign bodies can occur in dogs with longer haircoats, like golden retrievers, and may include grass or other plant seeds, or hard wax plugs. If the foreign body completely obstructs the ear canal, the infection can develop quickly. However, some foreign bodies are small and only act as a source for bacteria to attach to, and slowly grow over longer periods of time. These infections may take weeks or months to develop.
How Do I Care for a Golden Retriever with Ear Infections?
First and foremost, caring for a golden retriever with an ear infection involves getting an appointment to see their vet to confirm the diagnosis. This is often simply done through an otic or ear exam, by visualizing fluid or pus in the ear canal or behind the eardrum. In more complicated cases, however, it may be that samples of the infection are needed to test for the underlying cause. Tests done on such samples may include bacterial cultures, or PCR testing for various pathogens.
Subsequent care generally involves home administration of pain medications, anti-inflammatory medications, and/or antibiotics, depending on what is determined to have caused the initial infection. Some medications may be administered directly into the ear canal, while others may be given orally. Follow the instructions your vet gives you regarding the medications and their timing. Most infections require 1–2 weeks of treatment, though some may require much longer periods.
Cleaning the ears to remove dried debris or discharge may also be needed. This can sometimes be done with a special ear cleaner your vet can prescribe, which is administered into the deeper canal. Top tip: soaking a cotton ball in the solution can make it easier to administer, by placing the cotton into the ear and squeezing. It also prevents your dog from shaking its head, and all the medication from simply flying back out! Lukewarm water on a gauze sponge or a towel can then be used to remove the remaining cleaner, and to dry the surrounding haircoat.
Sometimes preemptive care can be helpful in preventing ear infections. This can include keeping hair in and around the ear short and cleaned, removing any debris that builds up within the ear itself, and if your dog is often out swimming, helping to ensure that you dry their ears afterward.
Skin allergies can sometimes make ear infections more frequent, or worse; ear mites can similarly lead to ear infections if they are not treated promptly. Therefore, practicing good general hygiene for your golden is also a key component of caring for your pup’s ears!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How often should you clean a golden retriever’s ears?
Some goldens don’t require any ear cleaning; they are the lucky ones! In general, you should clean your dog’s ears if you notice a buildup of debris, an odor, or signs that their ears may be causing them discomfort. For many dogs, the appropriate interval is every 4–8 weeks. However, some dogs with chronic ear issues require weekly cleanings to stay comfortable and infection free.
Why do golden retrievers seem more prone to ear infections?
Golden retrievers have long, floppy ears, and love to swim—a potentially perfect storm for ear infections to develop. As they are often such sweet-tempered dogs, it can mean that they are great at hiding signs of discomfort, as well.
Ear infections in dogs are nothing to take lightly, as long-standing infections can lead to serious consequences such as pain, loss of hearing, and permanent damage to the ear’s structure. The good news is that, if they are caught early, they tend to be quite treatable, and can generally be treated at home under guidance from your vet. More severe infections may sometimes require cultures or another testing, or even an ear flush, to help fully address the condition. Good hygiene practices are also important, so keeping haircoats clean and dry can be a simple way to help ensure your pup stays healthy!
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