Do you own a Labrador? Then you've probably had to deal with an ear infection at one point or another.
I'll never forget this...
One year I took my dog to the vet SEVEN TIMES for ear infections!
Cooper wasn't my first lab, and it certainly wasn't the first ear infection I've dealt with. I did everything I could to keep his ears healthy and clean, but the infections just kept creeping back in.
Then one day we finally found the real culprit... he had Allergies.
After this revelation, and with proper meds, Cooper has now been infection free for three years.
Labrador ears get infected for various reasons. And these infections are seriously awful and cause tremendous discomfort, not to mention can be quite costly after multiple trips to the vet.
I'll show you what signs to look for, how ear infections happen, and most importantly:
How you can prevent them from happening again.
Signs of Infection
- Discharge from the ear
- Excessive buildup of dark wax in the ears
- Interior ear is red and hot
- Constant head shakes
- Unpleasant smell
- Rubbing face and ear on the ground
- Itchy ears, constantly trying to get their paws in ears to scratch
If you suspect your dog’s ears are chronically infected right now, go to the vet, get them cleaned, and get the proper prescription for treatment. There’s no avoiding it. It’s extremely uncomfortable for them (even if it’s not apparent), and the longer you wait the worse (and more costly) it gets.
Do NOT use homemade remedies to clear up an infection, these can cause more problems.
Causes of Ear Infections
Labrador ears are poorly designed. Unlike dogs with pointed ears that allow air to flow, those cute flappy Labrador ears enclose the canal and keep moisture locked in which may be harboring yeast or bacteria.
Alternatively, your dog may be suffering from Allergies or Ear Mites.
Yeast is a fungus that grows in moist areas, so Labrador ears are a perfect place to call home. You’ll often see a large buildup of wax or discharge from the ears (sometimes resembling coffee grounds) and a very unpleasant odor.
Vets will prescribe ear drops specifically to treat the yeast infection in ears.
2. Bacterial Infection
Bacterial infections are also common, often associated with a yellowish color and an unleasent odor. Vet’s will prescribe ear drops to treat the bacterial infection, and may include anti-biotics.
3. Allergies and Secondary-Infection
Labradors commonly get allergies at some point in their life, and it can lead to itchy skin, puffy and runny eyes, and inflamed and itchy ears.
Dogs suffering from allergies are more prone to ear infections, which leads to what Vet’s call “Secondary Infection”.
Secondary infection means your dog is more susceptible to infection while battling a completely different condition. In this case, allergies can make your dog more likely to get ear, eye, and skin infections.
Vets can treat the secondary infection, but you’ll have to address the allergy symptoms as well or else your dog will continue to get ear infections.
How to tell if your dog has allergies:
- Itchy, inflammed, and red ears
- Puffy, runny, itchy eyes
- Itchy, red skin
- Excessive scratching
- Patches of hair missing (from scratching)
Dog allergies are similar to human allergies, so they can be caused by the food they eat or by exposure to certain environmental allergens. Discovering what allergens your dog is reacting to will take time and testing.
4. Ear mites
Ear mites are tiny white insect like creatures that live and feed off dead skin and other debris. They are difficult to see with the naked eye, but a vet will be able to take a closer look and identify if mites are present.
Vet’s will prescribe a treatment to kill the mites, but mites spread to other animals they've been in contact with, so you will need to treat all your pets.
Preventing Ear Infections
Remove Excess Moisture
We know that moisture trapped in the ear canal create favorable environments for fungus and bacterial growth. Does your Lab go swimming (in rivers, creeks, lakes, etc..)? Was water left in their ear after bathing or grooming?
An easy solution is to simply use a cotton swab to gently remove water and moisture that may be trapped in their ears. Do not go deep with the cotton ball as you may damage the ear canal and cause pain.
Preventing Ear Infections by Treating Allergies
Dogs that suffer from allergies are more prone to getting ear infections. If you suspect allergies may be the cause, then you’ll need to discover what’s causing the reaction.
Just like humans, dogs can be allergic to just about anything, so it takes some testing and patience to discover the cause.
Dog food is a common cause for allergies, and simply changing your dog's main protein in their food for several weeks may show signs of improvement.
A vet can help you identify the cause of their allergies, and a prescription may be necessary to control them. Keep in mind dogs can have multiple allergies, and Labs are known to get them at any age.
Our Chocolate Lab and Allergies
My poor Chocolate Lab is an allergy sufferer. After testing many different proteins I finally saw improvements by switching his dog food protein to Lamb, as it’s an uncommon protein from his regular diet. This took a lot of time and testing to discover what worked best for him.
I also have a prescription from my Vet to control his environmental allergies.
Simply cleaning your Labs ears once a month to remove moisture and buildups can prevent infections.
If your Lab’s ears have already been infected (see symptoms above), then a regular cleaning will not improve their condition. You will need a medication to treat the infection as well.
Ear Cleaning Solution
For best use, get an alchohol-free ear cleaning solution for your dogs.
You can get these from Amazon, any pet store, pet groomer, or vet, and are very inexpensive. These are totally safe and effective, and I personally recommend them over home-made recipes.
Do NOT use soap, alcohol, apple cider vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil, vinegar, shampoos, or any similar products. The inner ear is sensitive and you can cause extreme pain and further infection to your dog.
I worked as a Veterinarian Assistant for several years, and I’ve seen many cases of home treatments gone wrong. Vets will often use a specialized cleaning solution for infections along with proper medications that cannot be replicated at home.
Cleaning Your Labs Ears
1. Pour a small amount of ear cleaning solution directly into the ear.
2. Place a cotton ball into the ear and gently massage, cleaning up any wax and debris, while soaking up the ear cleaning solution.
3. Do not push the cotton ball deep into the ear.
4. Remove the cotton ball, and allow your dog to shake their head, causing any inner ear moisture and wax to come to the surface.
5. Use a new dry cotton ball to soak up solution and clean remaining wax.
6. Repeat Step 5 until cotton balls come out clean.
7. Follow a routine of cleaning your dogs ears once every 4 weeks
If your dog is stressed out by ear cleaning, then you may choose to do the other ear another day. Feel free to reward your dog after each ear cleaning sessions to relieve some of the stress.
Tips while cleaning
- Be patient, give yourself enough time to finish the process without being rushed.
- Avoid using anything other than an ear cleaning solution from your vet or pet store.
- Do not scrub or intensely push cotton balls into the ear. Dog’s ears are extremely sensitive, so be gentle to avoid causing pain or stress in your Lab.
- Pushing the cotton balls too deep may cause inner ear damage, and you may not be able to retrieve the cotton balls afterwards.
- Avoid leaving any excess moisture in the ears after cleaning as this can promote growth of fungus or bacteria.
- Do not use Q-tips as they may push debris and growths further into the ear canal or rupture the ear drum.
If you’re still unsure or worried about cleaning your Lab’s ears, ask your local Vet if they will take a few minutes to show you how. Chances are they will be very willing to do this free of charge!
How The Vet Treats Ear Infections
Visiting your vet is always recommended if your dog is suffering from ear infections or irritation. What a vet will often do is take a sample from the discharge produced from your dog’s ear and look at it under a microscope to identify whether it’s mites, yeast, bacteria, or something else.
Your vet will then clean your dog’s ears and prescribe your dog with proper medication based on what they found. Often treatment is with ear drops that you apply directly into your dog’s ears. They may also prescribe an oral medication.
Vets will also give you an ear cleaning solution to clean out infectious growths, and is to be used before administering the ear drops.
Finally, your vet may find that allergies are the main cause, give you something to treat the allergy symptoms, and recommend you control their diet or environment to see if allergy symptoms change.
Allergy tests are also available for your pet to narrow down the primary causes.
- Keep moisture out of your Labradors ears, their enclosed ears are a perfect environment for yeast or bacteria to grow. Gently dry with a cotton ball if necessary.
- Routine cleaning once a month will help prevent further ear infections.
- Be aware that allergies are common in Labs, and may be the main cause of their itchy ears. Watch for other allergy indicators, such as itchy skin, or runny and itchy eyes.
- If your dog has an ear infection, go to your Vet for proper treatment. Do not attempt to use homemade remedies to clear up an infection.
Talk To Us
Have any tips to share? Has your dog suffered from ear infections in the past? Share it with us in the comments below.
If you want to learn more about the Lab, check out all the facts about the Labrador Coat.