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Ear Infections

Chihuahua Ear Infections

Overview

The medical term for an ear infection is otitis externa. This is the #1 health issue that brings puppies and dogs to the veterinarian. The cost to have it treated ranges from $100 to $125 USD and this does not factor in the cost of medications and cleaning products that are part of the treatment.

Ear infections can happen to a Chihuahua of any age and this condition is usually very painful. Most Chihuahuas will have at least one round with this during their lifetime. 

For most dogs, it will be acute (occurring once and clearing up with treatment). Some Chihuahuas, unfortunately, are plagued with chronic infections, which reoccur over and over even with proper care.
This section will cover all of the details you need to know, including:
  • Types of infections 
  • What causes a Chihuahua's ears to become infected 
  • Signs and symptoms 
  • Home remedies that can work in some cases 
  • The treatment that will resolve an ear infection 
  • Dealing with chronic infections 
  • Things you can do to try and prevent this health condition
Types of Chihuahua Ear infections and The Causes of Them

There are 2 main types of infections that affect canines:

Bacterial - This is the most common type of infection. Of this, there are two subcategories:

Nonpathogenic: This is the most common type of bacterial ear infection. The dog's body overproduces staph bacteria. Many things can cause this, including: a foreign body that is stuck in the canal, allergies and parasites. Less common but still possible are autoimmune skin issues and glandular disorders.

Pathogenic: With pathogenic forms, an outside source of bacteria reaches the Chihuahua's ear and settles in. This can happen in countless ways, however some examples are a puppy or dog lapping water from a contaminated source such as a dirty puddle.

Yeast (fungal)- This can be in the outer or inner ear. The most common reason for this is water in the ear. Even just a bit of moisture can become trapped in the canal which makes for a perfect breeding ground for bacteria; it is moist and dark. 

Another issue that can contribute to this is excess long hairs which help to hold in water.
Chihuahua outside in grass
Chihuahua Ear Infection Symptoms

Whether it is due to yeast or caused by bacteria, the signs and symptoms of ear infections are the same:
  • Itchiness and pain that will cause a Chihuahua to: 
- Rub his head against a surface such as the wall or carpeting.

- Paw at the ears

- Shake the head
  • Red, inflamed looking tissue on the ear flap and/or in outer canal 
  • Discharge - Drainage is often thick and will be a yellow color. Though, if dirt and debris is mixed in with the discharge, you may see specks of brown or black or the debris may cause the discharge to be a yellow-brown color. In some cases, it may look like a cloudy pus. While the Chihuahua sleeps, discharge may crust over. 
  • There may also be a bad odor emanating from one or both ears. This is more common with yeast infections but may also be present with bacterial issues. 
  • Eye discharge - In some, but not all cases, infection in the ears can trigger excessive tearing which can lead to tear stains; this will not be the most obvious sign, but may be a secondary clinical symptom. 
If it is not treated and allowed to progress, it can cause:
  • Dizziness 
  • Difficultly keeping balance 
This is because the ear drum can rupture, which allows the infection to spread to the middle ear. This through off a dog's equilibrium.

If it is still left untreated, it can cause:
  • Hearing loss - Inflammation and discharge may cause temporary hearing loss. However, if a Chihuahua puppy or dog does not receive proper treatment and the infection is allowed to ravage the ear, it will often spread to the middle ear. Without appropriate care, there can be permanent damage to the inner structures that result in permanent hearing loss. 
  • Erosion to the bones supporting the inner workings of the ear 
Chihuahua puppy hiding in flowers
Home Remedies that May Work in Some Cases 

Everyone finds themselves in a bind once in a while when paying for a vet visit is really going to strain the budget. For this reason, some owners may be hoping that there is an effective ear infection home remedy. 

It should be noted that in most cases of infection, the only treatment that is going to work is antibiotics. Anti-inflammatory medicine such prednisone may be needed for painful swollen tissue. These cannot be obtained over the counter.

There are many underlying causes of ear infection that must be treated professionally such as a foreign body in the canal or mites. Most important of all, if a Chihuahua is not effectively treated to eradicate the infection, it most likely will spread and cause lasting damage. 

This sort of health issue can be exceedingly painful and no dog should be allowed to suffer while owners procrastinate about making a vet appointment.
Since this is the #1 reason why dogs are brought to the vet, all owners are encouraged to budget money for this issue, as it is sure to strike at one time or another.

With this said, if a puppy or dog has pain or itching that is actually due to an ear clogged with wax it can be treated at home.

You will want to do a thorough ear cleaning and this is part of any successful treatment method. It is recommended to use a quality cleaning product and this is particularly important if you see visible wax buildup. Recommended products, along with ratings and reviews, can be found under 'Grooming' in the Chihuahua Specialty Shoppe.

However, if you are truly looking for a complete home remedy for Chihuahua ear problems you can mix 1/2 cup of lukewarm water with ONE of the following:

2 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide

1/2 cup of white vinegar (the mixture will be 50/50)

Note: Do not use rubbing alcohol as it can be exceedingly drying and cause additional problems. 
How to: You'll want to have clean, sterile cotton pads or gauze. 

Cotton balls can work as well, but they can tend to break off and you don't want to leave any debris, so we recommend gauze pads.

You will also want a method of placing the solution into the canal. 

Commercial ear cleaning solutions come with droppers, so if you are using this home remedy, you will also want to obtain a dropper which can be found at most local pharmacies. You can also purchase an inexpensive over the counter medication and use the clean dropper that comes in the box or clean and sterilize one that you already have at home.
With your Chihuahua secure between your legs and with a helper assisting you to keep him in place, put 4 to 5 drops in the ear. You will then massage the base of the ear for 2 minutes. This will loosen wax and move the fluid around to catch dirt and debris.

Once that is complete, use the gauze to wipe out the swirls of the inside flap of the leather and as far as you can safely go without digging deep into the canal which can cause damage, push things further in and even exasperate an infection.

Herbal Remedy for Chihuahua Ear Infections

One holistic approach to helping to resolve an ear problem is to clean the inside of the ears with Mullein Oil, which is a fluid extracted from the Mullein flower. It is not recommended to treat infection; rather it is an herbal cleaning solution to maintain good ear health. 

It is suggested to use a well-known brand with a non-alcohol formula. If you would like to see our recommendations, you may wish to look to 'Grooming' in the Chihuahua Specialty Shoppe.

Treatment for Chihuahua Ear Infections

While you can use home remedies for cleaning the ears as discussed above and it may clear up minor issues, when a Chihuahua has a full-fledged, raging infection you will want to seek the care of a reputable, experienced veterinarian.

The vet will perform an examination to look for signs of swelling, redness, discharge and irritation. The canal should be inspected for a foreign body such as grass seeds, tiny blades of grass, a sand pebble and other elements that may have fallen down into the ear during playtime outside.

The veterinarian should take a sample swipe of the outer canal to look for bacteria, yeast or parasites (mites). For Chihuahuas that have chronic ear infections, other tests should be run as well such as looking for thyroid issues or allergies.

A professional cleaning should be performed at the office. Once done, this will be followed by prescribing medications to be given at home. With most Chi, this will include both oral and topical medicine.

You will probably be instructed to perform a daily cleansing in order to keep them clear enough to absorb the medication.
Be sure to follow through will all doses, even if your Chihuahua appears better. Just a trace of bacteria left in the ear can grow into a widespread infection.

Chihuahua Dogs with Chronic Ear Infections

It can be so frustrating to work to clear up an infection, only to have it come back again and again. Each time that the ear is assaulted in this way, it can cause small amounts of damage. In time, this will add up and can lead to permanent damage including loss of hearing.

Owners will need to work together with a trusted veterinarian to ensure proper treatment both at home and with prescribed medications.

When the problem keeps coming back, the vet should look for an underlying cause. One of the most common reasons for reoccurring problems is allergies. This may be an inhaled allergy (weeds, pollen, trees, and grasses) or a food allergy. Aside from ear infections there may also be other signs such as watery eyes, wheezing, coughing and/or skin and coat problems.

In the case of food allergies there may be vomiting, upset stomach, loose stools and/or diarrhea.

While prescribed medications are given, owners must work to keep the ears both clean and dry. Cotton balls should be gently placed in the ears before baths are given and the outer flaps and outer canal should be wiped dry afterward. Dogs with chronic ear infections should not be allowed to swim until the condition is under control.

Hygiene is vital, done by removing excess wax and by plucking any thick long hairs that may contribute to the issue.

When a dog does not respond to antibiotics and is nearing the point of permanent damage, surgery may be recommended as a last course of action. There can be bone degeneration that can be seen via x-rays. It may seem drastic; however with stubborn infections it actually is quite successful.

The surgery is called Total Ear Canal Ablation (though other less evasive operations may be done, they do not have the high success rate in eradicating ear infections as this does)

During the procedure, the diseased ear canal is removed; though the hearing organ remains. This involves pre-surgical dosing of antibiotics for 10 to 14 days. After the surgery, the dog is given medication to control pain along with another course of antibiotics.

The success rate for resolving chronic ear infections is quite high with this surgery and many owners report that their Chihuahua has a happier and easier going personality once he no longer had to endure ongoing pain.
Prevention 

There are some things that you can do to stop a Chihuahua from getting ear infections. Here are some tips:

1) Keep the ears dry - Even though this breed only needs a full bath about once every 3 weeks, any water that enters the ears can remain there. This creates a moist and dark environment that is the ideal breeding ground for bacteria and yeast. 

Always place cotton in your dog's ears during baths. Even with this protection, be sure to wipe the flap and the outer canal during the drying process (do not point a hot blow dryer at the head).

2) Do routine cleanings - Even if there is no problem - can catch things before they even begin. When you clean the ears, it removes excess wax, dirt, debris and may pull out yeast or bacteria in the very beginning stages. 
Use a quality cleaning solution or a home remedy if you choose, however water alone will not help. Making a set schedule can help you stay on track. Many owners find it easy to do this task after baths, which means every 3 weeks.

3) Watch out for dirty water - Do not allow your Chi to drink from any potential contaminated water source. This includes lapping at puddles and ponds.

4) Inspect the ears for any thick clumping of stray hairs that may be growing there. Some hair is fine and pulling them out can actually create a problem. 

You'll only want to pluck this area if the hair is excessive, long and thick which blocks healthy air flow. This can be done using ear powder and either your fingertips or a hemostat tool (recommended)

5) Put a ban on swimming - To prevent ear infections, if your Chihuahua is going to swim do be sure to dry the ears well right afterward

6) Routinely inspect the ears, looking for irritation, redness, swelling and/or discharge. Catching problems early offers the best chance at a speedy recovery.

7) If a food allergy is suspected to be the cause of chronic infections (and this can cause other issues such as dry skin, coat thinning, etc.) you may want to switch to a hypo-allergenic food. However, it should be noted that a large portion of dogs that are deemed to have intolerance for certain foods are actually having a problem with the chemical compounds in that commercial brand. This includes chemical preservatives, artificial coloring and artificial coloring. If so, it is advised to home cook which allows you complete control over the food ingredients.  
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