Got any suggestions for a spaniel with ear troubles?
February 21, 2010 11:15 AM   Subscribe

My springer spaniel gets recurrent ear infections. Three times in the past year, the vet has given him full anesthesia and cleaned out his ears, then given him a prescription for antibiotic ear drops for a week. Then the infection comes back a month or two later. Is there any other solution? Help.

My vet is nice, but the practice is pretty old fashioned and conservative. They say there is no alternative treatment, but I'm hoping there's something else out there. This is a surgery type procedure that means he has to spend the day at the vets, is put under and then they scrape his ears out. This was done last March, last September and then in mid December. This last go round, my poor dog was miserable for two days, disoriented and crying and obviously in pain. Despite the procedure and the drops, I don't think the infection ever quite went away although he was in less discomfort for a month or two. Now, it seems to be back again: he's shaking his head constantly and the other dogs keep licking his ears and looking worried.

I don't want to keep on putting my dog through this when it's clearly not working. Also, these ear treatments cost $300 a pop and even if I thought they were working, I just don't have the money right now. I have been googling and I keep coming across this site, but I'm wary of squirting weird internet stuff into my dog's ears. Nevertheless, something has to be done. Have any of you had any luck with homemade spaniel ear cleaners? Is there anything over the counter that might help? Have you had some alternative treatment from your vet that's worked?
posted by mygothlaundry to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you plucking the hair from the insides of his ears? Removing the hair around the ear canals is vital for spaniel ear health.

Also, are you doing your own ear cleaning at home? Just with a q-tip or a cotton ball?
posted by Netzapper at 11:32 AM on February 21, 2010

Ear infections are commonly chronic in dogs with long, floppy ears. It would be good to do some regular ear cleaning. There are many dog ear cleaning products out there; most recommend use at least once a week, a good idea for a spaniel. You can buy these at any pet store or at the vet--surprised your vet did not offer this. I also clean/check my dog's ears with just a kleenex wrapped around a finger--stick it in, turn the finger once, withdraw. You can see what residue is there--if there more than just a few specks of color, there's likely an infection. (My dog loves this and comes right to me when she sees me wrap the kleenex. The liquid cleaner experience, she doesn't love.) You might also get into the habit of sniffing your dogs' ears--you'll soon be able to detect the whiff of infection early and nip it in the bud.
posted by Riverine at 11:41 AM on February 21, 2010

We have a beagle, who often have similar ear issues to the spaniels, with the floppy ears and all. He's had several ear infections, but our vet has never anesthetized him to deal with it.

Instead, she puts him on meds, and then gives us a non-prescription ear wash to use. We just make sure it is warm to body temperature, and give a good squirt in each ear. Then the trick is to put the ear back down and kind of massage the wash in - you know how you can still feel the ear opening through the floppy part? Rubbing over that to get the wash down the canal - and our dog LOVES that rubbing bit, really - we do it all the time even when we're not cleaning his ears - really squishing it in, helps to loosen things up. Then lift the ear and wipe everything you can reach with a cotton ball or gauze; just like with people, no cotton swabs! Doing that every day for a week would really get every bit of gunk out, and that, combined with the medication, cleared everything up.

We order a lot of pet supplies from Drs. Foster & Smith, and then have a number of ear cleaning products that would also work.

Is there any chance of you seeing a different vet for a second opinion? That seems like a LOT to put a dog through simply to deal with an ear infection, and another vet might suggest a less expensive, less traumatic process, like I describe above.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 11:42 AM on February 21, 2010

I have 2 Cockers now (bringing my lifetime total to 4), and my vet recommended a similar homemade solution to the linked one. If I remember correctly, hers was just vinegar, water and alcohol. I wasn't comfortable mixing up the homemade solution, so I use chlorhexiderm flush evry day. They used to hate it, but I read somewhere (probably MetaFilter) to warm it up before use. So I stick the bottle in a container of warm water to bring it up to body temp which helps a lot (so does the chicken jerky).

One of my dogs is almost 2 and had never had an ear infection (she's been getting the hex twice a week since I brought her home). The other one is almost 3, and she was born with ear and sinus issues. She has way more skin folds inside her ears than any cocker I've ever had, but even still, she's only had the whole go-to-the-vet-for-professional-treatment once. She gets the hex daily.
posted by dogmom at 11:47 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Does your spaniel also produce a lot of ear wax and eye gunk? Sometimes food intolerances (usually to cheap fillers like corn) manifest in increased ear wax and eye gunk production and switching food can get rid of them. With a floppy eared dog the increased ear wax can lead to a tendency to get more ear infections and in that case the best treatment is to find a food that isn't causing these symptoms.
posted by hindmost at 12:01 PM on February 21, 2010

My dog had recurring yeast infections in his ears. We treated him with daily ear washings of a clove oil preparation that we got at the pet store and we changed his diet to duck and potatoes. It helped a LOT.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:04 PM on February 21, 2010

We use Epi-Otic ear cleaner for our cocker spaniel - squirt a bit in there, clean out with cotton ball. Also I think keeping the hair on the inside of the ear clipped is really helpful. We're kinda lazy with our routine because our dog hasn't had ear issues, but this is what our vet recommended. You should definitely be doing some sort of cleaning in that dog's ears. I'm surprised your vet hasn't thought of it.
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:21 PM on February 21, 2010

My dog got recurrent ear infections, and changing her diet resolved them 100%. She's now on Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet Sweet Potato and Venison, and she doesn't get any treats other than sweet potatoes and duck jerky. I've also heard that letting dogs stick their heads out of the car window can trigger ear infections.
posted by emilyd22222 at 12:31 PM on February 21, 2010

My Lab had chronic ear infections until we switched her food. We looked to see the protein source on the food she was eating (lamb), then switched to a food with a completely different protein source (chicken only, not chicken meal, and no corn or corn gluten). Since the switch, she hasn't had any infections. It's worth a try!

We get the Kirkland brand food from Costco. It's actually a really nice food with very little crap in it for a good price.
posted by Addlepated at 12:34 PM on February 21, 2010

Nthing food allergies... My Brittany Spaniel had ongoing ear infections for seven years. We switched to a corn-free dog food on a relative whim. Her ears have only flared once or twice since. I felt pretty guilty about those first seven years. As another data point, my cousin has a Boston Terrier that can only eat fish and potato based foods; otherwise his ears "blow right up."
posted by wg at 12:38 PM on February 21, 2010

Definitely try changing his food, and doing the ear washes with cotton balls. This site has tons of comparisons of dog food brands and types, and is informative in explaining why the first 3-5 ingredients are so important. Not all ear infections are related to food allergies or poor quality dog food, but it's a high enough chance that it's worth it to try for a few months.

What is he eating now? If you change dog food, especially make sure that you change to a single protein source. That way you can monitor what's working, and if venison doesn't work, try duck, fish, chicken or something else. This includes treats!!
posted by barnone at 12:51 PM on February 21, 2010

Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet Sweet Potato and Venison

I used to feed the NB LID Duck and Potato food to my dogs, but they changed the formula last year with very little fanfare to contain more potato (more carbs, less protein, even changing the name to 'Potato and Duck'), AND made the bags smaller, AND increased the price.

Natural Balance admits they changed the formula in response to customer inquiries.

There are complaints about the formula change in their Venison and Green Pea cat food.

I now feed my dogs Taste of the Wild. It contains multiple protein sources (duck and assorted poultry) but is grain free and very high quality.

Great sites for comparing dog foods:
posted by Seppaku at 1:03 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a Lab with chronic ear infections (mainly yeast, sometimes bacterial) and food sensitivities. Switching up her diet helps a lot (I switch her from duck and potato to salmon and veg). She is also sensitive to certain ear drops and it's taken a long time to get something that works. To help with the yeast problems, I also add a bit of apple cider vinegar to my dog's water and give her plain yogurt a couple times a week.

The only drops I've ever used that have worked to get rid of her infections as well as maintenance care is a 1% aluminum acetate/1% hydrocortisone/1% boric acid solution. For treatment, she would get 1ml in each ear once a day for 7 days, then every other day for 7 days, then once or twice a week for regular maintenance. This stuff is amazing, practically magical (in my experience) but my vet is no longer carrying it. Now I use MalAcetic HC which is 1% Acetic acid/1%boric acid/1% hydrocortisone and which works well, but not as well as the vinegary-smelling solution I used to get. This might be because there is some kind of fragrance added to the MalAcetic HC to give it kind of an appley smell. Additives to ear cleaners drive me crazy -- they really don't help my allergy-prone dog.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 2:21 PM on February 21, 2010

My comment above should have said "I switch between duck and salmon." My dog tolerates both foods well, so I'll buy a bag of salmon then a bag of duck, switching back and forth so I can try to avoid her developing sensitivities to either one.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 2:23 PM on February 21, 2010

Best answer: I work for Animal Dermatology Clinic ( and I tossed this to one of the veterinary dermatologists where we routinely see cases like this. Here is what he said:

Ear infections are almost always a secondary issue. Meaning that underlying issues are generally present which allow for relapsing or recurrent ear infections. Bacteria and yeasts are normal residents of the canine ear canal and normal dogs but in normal dogs infection generally doesn't develop because of the normal clearing mechanisms of the ear canal. However when there are underlying problems, often allergies (food, environmental), or numerous other causes, the epithelium of the ear canal becomes inflammed which allows for the normal resident bacteria or yeasts to colonize the skin cells and ultimately infection will develop. The body in response to the infection then produces inflammation with neutrophils and other types of white blood cells which leads to swelling and pain.

Without addressing an underlyng issues recurrent ear infections will likely continue to occur long term. Now if those ear infections are only sporadic and can be managed with simply topical therapy, that may be acceptable to the owner without addressing an unknown underlying etiology. Routine ear cleaning with antimicrobial ear cleaners will help to reduce the resident organism and may result in lessening of the infection frequency.

Certainly, this like dietary changes can be helpful but only if these are related to a food allergy, which unfortunately only accounts for about 10 percent of allergies in dogs. Environmental allergies are far more common and using things to help reduce the inflammation of the ear canal will help to prevent recurrence. While many owners rely on things like steroids, or cortisone, they can be helpful in controlling allergic symptoms but come with inherent risks and side effects. Antihistamine can be helpful but only work in relatively low percentages of cases. Ultimately allergy testing to identify the offending allergens in allergic dogs and attempting hyposensitization with allergy shots is ideal. Now certainly there are numerous other underlying issues other than allergies that can predispose dogs to recurrent ear infections and ultimately, doing some investigation into those underlying causes is critical to preventing ongoing ear infections and subsequently more and more damage to the ear canal.
posted by Don92705 at 3:26 PM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

For about 5 years now I've only fed grain free foods, either Innova EVO or BC (Before Grain). It does wonders for the dogs skin and coat and pretty much eliminates doggy odor and ear gunk. You have to try a few to find the best one for your dog, for me it's been the EVO chicken/ bird formula. The beef is kinda rich and can lead to some interesting intestinal issues. My vet also says it's a little known fact that a lot of dogs will have skin reactions to beef.

Bonus: the dogs usually eat it right up. They also make a wet food if you have any picky eaters.
posted by fshgrl at 3:40 PM on February 21, 2010

Best answer: (idb's better half here) I'm not a veterinary dermatologist, nor do I play one on TV, however I am a vet who deals with these kinds of problems on a regular basis. A lot of the advice that you've been given here is sound, however there is some misinformation mixed in as well that I think you will find frustrating if you do not tackle this problem in a logical manner.

1. Ear cleaning: Very important. Difficult to do in a painful ear. So often the first step is to control pain and inflammation initially with medication until the ear can be cleaned comfortably. There are only so many topical ear meds out there for use, so sometimes an individual cocktail needs to be created for your dog based on an ear culture. If the ear canal is incredibly swollen, you might not even be getting the medication where it needs to go until the swelling of the canal is decreased. You might need a combination of therapies to use in order to open up the ear canal for accessibility to the ear medication, including oral medications such as antibiotics, steroids and in some cases, antifungals as well (such as ketoconidazole).

Once you have the ear canal reasonably calm, medicated cleaners can help change the environment of the ear and make it less favorable to the overgrowth of yeast and bacteria. The secret to ear cleaning is if you wet it, you must dry it (unless the cleaner specifically says to leave it in). So after you clean out the ear, chase out the cleaner with dry cotton.

The home remedy of alcohol, vinegar and water is okay for some dogs; too irritating in others. Epi-Otic and chlorhexiderm are both reasonable agents. You *cannot* hit your dog's ear drum with your finger and a cotton ball, so don't be shy about getting down in there and wiping it out. The dog ear canal takes a 90 degree turn into the head. You can't get around that. Clean it out well, a minimum of once weekly. I recommend using baby wipes on a daily basis in between cleanings; I prefer *not* to keep the ears too wet by over cleaning with solutions. If your dog's ear is too painful to clean--get it less painful first and then always give your dog treats while cleaning the ears to help them learn a positive association with it.

2. Allergies are often the underlying problem in the ear problem that recurs as soon as you stop medication. Most specialists want you to have successfully completed a food trial before coming to them because it is important to rule that out before testing for inhaled allergies such as mold or pollen. HOWEVER, you need to know the basic concept of a hypoallergenic food trial. You can't just pick a diet willy-nilly. There are two ways to do a *real* trial.

You either chose a limited ingredient diet with a novel protein/carb source (such as duck and potato or salmon and sweet potatoes) or a hydrolyzed protein source (more on that later). A novel protein is one that your dog has not eaten before and *shouldn't have an allergy to as a result*. We used to use lamb and rice until the dog food industry began including them as common ingredients. It is becoming harder now to find a diet that meets the above criteria. If you play diet roulette here, there is a good possibility that you might continue to feed an ingredient in the diet that your dog is allergic to and you will think the food change is not helping.

For a novel diet to have a chance to work, it must also be a limited ingredient diet as well. It is very hard to find a commercial, non-prescription diet that will meet this criteria. There are some that are close (such as Dick Van Patten's Potato and Duck, and Wellness Brand Fish and Sweet Potato). By limiting the other ingredients, you won't run into by-products that might trigger a reaction.

A hydrolyzed protein diet has been chemically altered so that the protein particles are less than 13,000 daltons in molecular weight--too small to trigger an allergic reaction. So even if your dog is allergic to chicken or soy, it can eat these products in the *hydrolyzed* form.

These diets are very expensive, but so is allergy testing, so it's worth ruling out before you take that step. A true food trial needs to be done over a period of 3-6 months for chronic ears in order to rule out food as a player and there must be *no cheating*. If it is successful though, you will save yourself much in medical bills and your dog years of pain.

If a food trial fails, then the next step is referral for allergy testing, which involves skin tests to determine what your dog is allergic to, and then creating a series of shots to desensitize your dog to the things he's allergic to. It can be very successful, but between the testing and the creation of the serum for your dogs, it can be a large investment in your dog's health and you will eventually need to give your dog shots at home. So you need to do your homework, so to speak, before seeing the specialist. If you have not done a proper trial there is a good chance you will be sent home to comply with that before undergoing testing.

3. While allergies can be a huge component to chronic ear problems, there are other health issues that can predispose to chronic conditions, such as hypothyroidism, so they are also worth checking out before taking the step to a referral situation.

I'm probably leaving something out, but this is the gist of the conversation I have with any client in your same shoes. Hope that helps somewhat.
posted by idb at 4:25 PM on February 21, 2010 [5 favorites]

Do you take him swimming a lot, or at all?
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:41 PM on February 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks a lot, y'all, this is great info!

I had never even considered diet or allergies as an issue here - Django always seems so solidly healthy and indestructible (this is the dog who ate 40 CDs and 2 couches as a puppy, yet didn't even get indigestion) so I just assumed everything was okay. At the moment he's on Sam's Club Exceed kibble and a little bit of canned Alpo to make it more delicious. He gets Milkbones as treats. I think I'll start making my own food - I have three largeish dogs, so unfortunately buying the seriously good stuff at the store is not financially practical but I have made my own dog food before and can do that again.

I haven't been cleaning his ears out regularly - he's about three; these infections started this year. No, the vet has never offered me any information or help here; this is frustrating and due to that and some other issues I think it is probably time to change vets. I clipped the hair around his ears this morning and from now on I'm going to clean them out often; the directions above are very helpful. He does swim a lot in the French Broad River and splashes in every creek, stream and muddy puddle he comes across. here were a lot more puddles than usual this year - this is our usual morning run as of last week - so I have kind of been thinking perhaps his ears were just not getting dry and that might well be it.

Django thanks you again for all the help!
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:25 AM on February 22, 2010

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