Golden Retriever Ear Infection: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Updated September 3, 2023

Dogs with floppy ears are more susceptible to ear conditions than other dogs, so golden retriever ear infections are often chronic.

Dogs can’t clean their ears, and canine ear anatomy creates the perfect environment for bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms.

Ear inflammation causes severe discomfort to our furry friends, sometimes leading to coordination issues and hearing loss.

Causes of ear infections in golden retrievers are numerous, so identifying the root of the problem can be tricky yet vital for finding an effective treatment.

Apart from dealing with infection symptoms, owners should take preventative measures for dog ear infections and maintain the proper hygiene of their pets.

Why Are Golden Retrievers Susceptible To Ear Infections?

Golden retrievers are more prone to ear infections than most dog breeds because of their ear shape, long, dense fur, and love for swimming.

Dogs have an L-shaped ear canal, allowing water and debris to get in but not out. Moisture and gunk trapped in the ear create a perfect environment for thriving bacteria and yeasts, the primary causes of ear infections in dogs.

Breeds with floppy ears, such as golden retrievers, cocker spaniels, and bloodhounds, are more susceptible to infections because the anatomy of their ears entirely blocks the ear canal.

Floppy-eared dogs also have more glands producing ear wax than dogs with pointy ears, resulting in more gunk building up over time.

Suppose a dog with pointy ears swims in a lake. Although some moisture may get inside its ears, the water can evaporate because the ear canal is open. But in the case of floppy ears, water gets trapped inside, unable to evaporate entirely.

Golden retrievers are natural-born swimmers – the breed was created to retrieve waterfowl. These dogs even have webbed feet, almost like ducks or frogs. Unfortunately, such a love for water often leads to ear infections.

The risk is higher for dogs swimming in stagnant water polluted with parasite eggs, slime, algae, and organic matter, but dogs swimming in pools and sea can also develop ear infections.

Golden retriever fluffy fur only worsens the situation because it collects gunk, bacteria, and debris.

The more hair around and inside the ear, the greater the risk of ear infection, so some golden retrievers suffering from chronic ear problems may benefit from ear trimming.

Furthermore, golden retrievers are prone to thyroid deficiency. The thyroid is a hormone responsible for regulating the metabolic function in a dog’s body and maintaining a healthy immune system’s response. When thyroid levels are too low, a dog may suffer from chronic ear infections.

Ear Infection Symptoms

Ear infections in dogs can have various causes and affect either the inner ear, middle ear, or outside of the ear. However, the symptoms are similar regardless of the cause and affected ear area.

Golden retriever owners should regularly inspect their dog’s ears for infection symptoms, including redness, irritation, swelling, crusts, scabs, and odd discharge, typically brown or bloody.

Since ear infections cause itchiness and pain, a dog may be shaking or tilting its head, rubbing its ear on the floor or furniture, or scratching the ear excessively.

Unfortunately, scratching the ear only worsens the infection because a dog may rub the ear to wounds. And since dogs don’t wash their paws, bacteria from claws can get into the wound.

An infected ear may have a distinct foul odor, sometimes described as Fritos or stinky cheese. In the case of severe infections, a dog may lose balance and coordination, walk in circles, and make unusual eye movements.

Vestibular symptoms are prevalent in inner ear infections because the inner ear is responsible for balance, motion, and understanding of one’s location in relation to the surroundings.

It’s important to note that dogs may shake their head or scratch their ears for some time after swimming to remove water trapped inside the ear canal. However, if your dog continues doing this for days, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Apart from the symptoms mentioned above, a dog may become grumpy, anxious, whine, cry, be reluctant to play, lethargic, lose appetite, or have other behavioral changes due to the constant pain.

If you notice any abnormalities in your dog’s ear appearance or behavior, don’t attempt to clean its ears to treat the infection yourself but opt for a professional’s help.

Ear Infection Causes

The most common causes of ear infections in dogs are ear mites, excessive moisture leading to yeast or bacterial infection, foreign bodies stuck in the ear, allergic reactions, polyps, hormonal issues, autoimmune disorders, injuries, and incorrect ear cleaning.

Golden retrievers are prone to allergies. Like human allergies, canine allergies are unique and can occur in response to pretty much anything, including new food, medication, dust, mold, pollen, or dander.

The symptoms of allergy in dogs can be categorized into gastroenteric, respiratory, and topical. Topical symptoms include skin rash, redness, swelling, itchiness, and dryness, primarily affecting the ears and face.

Because the symptoms of allergic ear infections in dogs aren’t different from symptoms of infections from other causes, diagnosing an allergy is often tricky. The vet must first rule out other potential infection causes, which can take a while.

However, if your dog has known allergies or was recently exposed to potential allergens, you can share your concerns with a vet to conduct a lab test.

Ear polyps in dogs are a variety of tumors occurring when cells grow at an abnormal pace. Polyps that occur from the wax gland cells are typically benign, but those growing from the ear skin tissue can be very aggressive.

The problem with diagnosing ear tumors is that they are often located too deep and are impossible to see due to inflammation. Usually, a veterinarian performs a biopsy after dealing with the primary infection symptoms.

Ear mites are the easiest to diagnose – the owner may notice tiny particles resembling coffee grains inside the dog’s ears. However, ear mites can sometimes be confused with grass seeds that often get into dog ears during the summer months.

Sometimes, blisters, swelling, redness, itchiness, and other infection symptoms are caused by autoimmune disorders pemphigus or lupus. Such conditions are typically inherited but can be triggered by environmental factors.

One of the most common dog ear cleaning mistakes is using plain water instead of a veterinarian-approved cleaning solution, resulting in bacterial growth.

Incorrect ear grooming is another common cause of ear infections in golden retrievers because trimmed fur can get stuck in the ear canal.

Ear Infection Treatment

Ear infection treatment in dogs depends on the infection’s cause, so the first step after noticing the symptoms should be bringing the dog to a vet to diagnose the issue.

Regardless of the infection cause, a vet will prescribe cleaning the dog’s ears with a specially formulated solution. Often, vets also prescribe topical medications to relieve pain and irritation.

However, ear cleaners and topical medications only deal with the symptoms but don’t fight the infection cause. If the infection is bacterial, the dog may need to be administered oral antibiotics.

In the case of allergic ear infections, the primary objective is to reduce exposure to the allergen. If it’s impossible, the dog may be prescribed antihistamines or steroid injections.

Ear polyps can only be treated surgically. Additionally, the vet may recommend conducting bloodwork, urinalysis, and an X-ray to ensure that the tumors haven’t spread to other body parts.

Ear mites can be fought with regular ear cleaning and topical medications, but a dog may need oral prescription medications if the infection is severe.

If the ear infection is caused by thyroid deficiency, a widespread condition in golden retrievers, the dog will be prescribed oral hormonal medications.

Unfortunately, thyroid deficiency can’t be cured, so the dog will have to take thyroid replacement hormone for the rest of its life to prevent the development of infections in the future.

Autoimmune disorders can’t be cured either, but they can be managed with immunosuppression drugs, antibiotics, and medicated baths.

How To Prevent Ear Infections

As said by Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” so knowing how to prevent ear infections in dogs is critical for every canine owner.

The most effective way to prevent infections is to regularly clean your dog’s ears. Be careful not to overclean them – cleaning once a month is sufficient for most dogs.

However, dogs that swim frequently may need to have their ears cleaned every other week because ear cleaners remove water trapped inside the ear canal and dry out quickly.

Golden retrievers typically don’t need to have hair inside their ear canal plucked. But if your dog has very hairy ears and regularly suffers from ear infections, you can have its ears trimmed inside and outside by a professional groomer.

If your dog’s ear infection is a result of an allergic reaction, minimize exposure to the allergen. If the allergen is airborne, clean your home frequently and use HEPA filters to reduce the concentration of allergen particles in the air.

Lastly, provide your dog with a healthy diet and sufficient exercise to strengthen its immune system, making it more resistant to infections.

Image credit: Pexels

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