GRRMF rescues many golden retrievers
each year with chronic ear problems. It’s very common in
the breed, and if left untreated or not treated correctly
and consistently, ear problems can become chronic and affect
the dog’s quality of life.
One thing that's very important to remember, the ears
are basically skin turned “inwards,” so dogs that have
skin problems tend to have ear problems also. You usually
have to treat both at the same time.
There are generally three types of ear problems: 1) Yeast
2) Bacteria and 3) Mites.
Yeast is the most common cause of ear infections,
especially for dogs who swim a lot. It is a normal
inhabitant of the ear but when it overgrows it causes
redness, odor and itchiness. As the saying goes, the
best defense is a good offense. If your dog is prone
to ear problems, you can prevent them with regular
ear cleanings. This can be done through a homemade
mixture of 50% vinegar / 50% water, or ready-made solutions
available at pet supply stores.
Regardless of what brand or mix you use, the ear cleaner
should do two things:
- It should be able to break down the waxy substance
in the ear; and
- It should make the ear environment such that it
is hard for yeast to grow; usually this means it
will make the inside of the ear acidic.
Once a yeast infection starts, you will need to consult
with your veterinarian for appropriate treatment –
rinses no longer will be enough. Your veterinarian
will diagnose a yeast infection by looking at the ear
discharge under a microscope. The usual treatment is
a prescription anti-fungal agent, such as Otomax or
If a yeast infection is left untreated it can progress to a bacterial infection,
which is more serious. Bacterial infections are usually painful and have
a very strong odor. Bacterial infections can cause the dog to be physically
ill, including vomiting, anorexia and fever. These infections must be treated
aggressively. The infection can also progress to the middle or inner ear.
If this occurs usually the dog will have a distinct head tilt or may lose
its sense of balance. Treatment is the same for yeast, except the cleanings
are done more frequently, and the dog will also be put on antibiotics. If
there is no improvement after 7 days, a culture and sensitivity of the ear
should be performed to choose the appropriate antibiotic. Usually the dog
is on antibiotics for a minimum of 2 to 3 weeks. If left untreated, the dog
will eventually incur irreversible damage to the eardrum. Also, if the antibiotics
are stopped too soon, the infection will just come right back.
The third, and by far least common , cause of infection are ear mites or
Otodectes Cyanotis. Ear mites do not live in the environment. They have to
be passed from animal to animal. If your dog does not come in close contact
with any other dogs or cats, there is no way that he can get mites. Ear mites
cause severe itchiness of the ears, and there is usually a black, tarry wax
present. Mites are treated with cleaning, as described before, and a good
If your dog has an occasional yeast infection or an infrequently bacterial
infection, it is no cause for alarm if it gets treated. If your dog continues
to have problems then the underlying causes must be investigated. Some causes
can be environmental, swimming a lot, bathed frequently and getting water
in the ears. Other causes can be hormonal or hereditary such as hypothroidism,
food allergies or flea allergies. Finally, growths in the ear can cause persistent
or recurrent ear problems.
Prevention is the key. Goldens should have their ears thoroughly cleaned
at least once weekly. If they swim, the ears should be cleaned at the end
of the day on the day they are in the water.