If your dog has been spending an inordinate amount of time with her foot in her ear or is shaking her head a lot, the problem may be an ear infection. As the owner of four floppy eared dogs, I can report that ear infections are a common problem.
Your dog doesn’t "catch" an ear infection from another dog. Usually, there is an underlying reason for the infection. Some dogs are just more likely to get chronic ear infections than others. Often infections develop when moisture remains in the ear so bacteria and yeast can move in. A dog may be susceptible to ear infections simply because of the shape of his ears or due to health problems such as allergies, parasites, or a hormonal imbalance such as hypothyroidism. Some dogs that live in humid environments or love to swim also may be prone to infections.
Given that infections thrive in a closed, moist environment, dogs with big floppy ears are the most likely to get infections because the ear canal is covered by the ear flap. Basset hounds are notorious for having terrible problems with ear infections, so owners of this breed have to be especially vigilant.
To check your dog’s ears, lift up the flap and see if the ear canal looks dirty. Also check the smell (yes, the smell) of the ear. Many ear infections give off a particular peculiar odor, so if the dog’s ear "smells funny" it’s time to head off to the veterinarian. If there’s an active infection, the vet may give you antibiotics to put in the dog’s ear. To prevent recurrence, he may also prescribe a drying agent to keep the moisture level down in the ear canal.
If your dog gets recurrent ear infections, you should take some preventative measures to keep your dog’s ears healthy. Your vet can show you the best way to clean your dog’s ears. Usually, the vet will give you an ear cleaning solution and recommend that you use a cotton ball or swab to remove any debris. Be very sure not to go deep into the ear canal; stay on the external surfaces you can see. Also never point the swap toward the dog’s head; keep it pointed down toward the ground. As long as you can see the cotton part of the swab, while you’re cleaning, it should be safe. You don’t want to damage the dog’s ear in your effort to clean it.
Like anything else, overdoing ear care can be just as bad as no care at all. But if your dog starts shaking his head or scratching, check the ears. By paying attention to your dog and following your veterinarian’s advice, you should be rewarded with a dog who has healthy ears.