The Canine Ear

Identifying Infections & General Maintenance Tips for a Healthy Ear

By:  Mary Lou Gerace

Many Golden Retriever owners will, at some point in their dog’s life, be faced with the dreaded “itchy and smelling” ear syndrome.  If you see your dog shaking his head excessively and/or scratching at either one or both ears, he  (or she!) could have a problem!  If detected early, and diagnosed property, ear infections are easily treated at home.  However, if ignored, the easily treated problem can escalate into a more serious problem!  Also, keep in mind that because Golden Retrievers have flop-ears, they are more susceptible to infections rather than dogs with erect ears.  Dogs with erect ears have the added benefit of their ears getting more “air” to keep them dry!

The three types of ear infections that I am familiar with are:

·        Outer ear – This is generally confined to the ear canal area and stops at the ear drum;

·        Middle ear – This affects the area of the ear right inside the ear drum;

·        Inner ear – This is the area that is closest to the brain and will involve the bones of the inner ear;   

Most ear problems (infections) start out in the Outer Ear.  The dog will shake his head often, scratch with more intensity, rub his head on the carpet, moan while rubbing his head, and generally show other signs of discomfort.  When you lift the earflap, the flap itself will most likely be red and inflamed, as will the outer portion of the ear.  You may also notice a brown discharge.  The discharge color can range from a light brown to a dark brown.  This discharge may have an odor. This type of infection could be either a bacterial or yeast related infection. A diagnosis by a veterinarian is the best route to take if this is the first time you are faced with an outer ear infection.  Your vet will most likely dispense ointments or drops and these can be administered at home.

While bacterial and yeast related infections are the most common, other causes of Outer Ear infections may be a result of allergies (including foods), ear mites or foreign bodies in the ear such as plain old dirt, water (if your dog is a swimmer), plant material (if your dog is a roller) and of course, those nasty fleas and ticks! Repeated outer ear infections can become “chronic” if not cared for properly and this will set the wheels in motion for Stage 2—Middle Ear Infections! 

Middle Ear Infections are usually a direct result of chronic Outer Ear infections.  Chronic Outer Ear infections will weaken the eardrum and thus, the infection moves downward!  Tilted heads, balance problems and nausea should give you the first clue you are now dealing with a Middle Ear Infection.  This infection is more difficult to diagnose and treatment is more intense.  Ointments and drops can’t reach the infected area, so oral antibiotics are usually prescribed.

Ears that have been neglected and overly damaged because of chronic untreated infections can often result in hearing loss.  Over time, the ear canal thickens, the ear cartilage may turn into bone and thus, the dog may appear to be deaf!  Prescribed drops, ointments, nor antibiotics will reserve this condition.  Surgery is the “only” option and it is, I have been told, quite painful to the dog! 

If after reading this article and checking your dog’s ears, you find that they are a pretty pink, debris free, and smell quite fresh….what should you do to keep them that way?

·        Keep the ears clean and free of wax and debris build-up.  Gently wipe out with a cotton ball moistened with an ear cleaning solution prescribed by your veterinarian or a solution sold specifically for ear maintenance.  It is best to avoid using a cotton swab, such as Q-Tips.  Using a Q-Tip can actually push any wax and/or debris back down to the eardrum.

·        When you bathe your Golden Retriever, place a cotton ball in each ear to avoid water getting into the ear canal.  If you swim your Golden Retriever on a regular basis, you may also want use a “drying agent”.

·        Lift your dog’s earflaps on a regular basis and “take a sniff”.  If there is trouble brewing, you will see the start of the brownish discharge and your nose should let you know also that something is starting!


Now, should you lift your Golden Retriever’s earflap and see “red”…and smell toxic fumes, the first thing you need to do is call the vet and make an appointment! 


·        Make sure you use up the entire prescription of drops or ointment that the veterinarian prescribes!  Just because the ear starts to look better in a day or two, don’t be fooled!  If you do not finish the medication, as prescribed, the infection will return!  Also, if there is no improvement in a day or two, call your vet!!


After that, and for a period of time until the dog’s ears are 100% healthy again you should:


·        Keep the ears free of excess hair (scissor it out).  Hair can trap dirt and wax and overall just be a nasty place for bacteria to breed!

·        Make sure you continue to lift those “flaps” and take a “sniff” on a regular (daily) basis!

·        Make sure you use the cotton balls when bathing and use a drying agent if you have regularly swim your Golden Retriever.


While I strongly recommend consulting your veterinarian for a diagnosis before attempting any “home remedies”, for the occasional “outer ear” yeast-type infections, I have used the following with good results:


·        One part Isopropyl alcohol and 2 parts white vinegar. Put in a needle-less syringe, squirt in the ear, massage the ear canal and wipe out. Best done outside or in a shower, the shake response is immediate!  DO NOT use this preparation if the ears are highly inflamed, as it may sting!  This solution is better used for an occasional ear cleansing of a healthy ear.

·        To soothe irritated ears before you are able to get your dog to the vet, brew CHAMOMILE TEA and allow it to set out to room temperature. Put 15 drops in each ear, gently massage and then allow dog to shake remaining tea out. If really severe, add a little VITAMIN E to mixture as well. VITAMIN E promotes healing.  Use a cotton ball to dry the ear. 

·        Olive Oil is also a nice ear bath.  Warm it and then allow it to reach a soothing temperature.  Again, put about 15 drops in each ear, gently massage and allow dog to shake.  Use a cotton ball to dry the ear.

·        Slightly diluted Hydrogen Peroxide will also loosen earwax.


Two good “commercial” products that I have used over the years are Bio-Grooms “Ear Care-Ear Cleaner” and “Wonder Ear” powder, which is manufactured by Chantilly Kennels. 


The final flip-flap on “ears” is regular at-home maintenance can avoid problems and the sooner a problem is identified, diagnosed and treated, the sooner your dog will be back to his happy Golden Retriever “life is a party” self again!


Until next time, remember…. "The great thing about a dog is that you can make a fool of yourself in front of him and not only will he not scold you, but he will frequently make a fool of himself, too." – Unknown


The above information is based on my personal research and first hand experience with my Golden Retrievers.  I can be reached at


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