Pseudomonas ear infection in dogs: symptoms and treatment

Pseudomonas ear infection is a specific and relatively common type of otitis in dogs. This condition is usually caused by a particular bacterium known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a type of opportunistic pathogen that is resistant to many antibiotics.

P. aeruginosa is a bacillus that is known for its resilience and adaptability to various environments, which presents a noteworthy challenge for many veterinarians and pet owners dealing with this bothersome disease.

Pseudomonas causes painful external ear infections. If left untreated, the disease will progress into an inner ear infection with a profound impact on your dog’s wellbeing. 

The more you know about this disease, the better equipped you are to support your pup. Here’s a guide that will help you understand why it’s so hard to treat this disease effectively and why it’s so important to follow your vet’s recommendations ☺️

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While I am a veterinarian, this article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. If you have any medical concerns about your pet, consult your vet immediately. Always seek professional assistance if you are unsure of your pet’s health.

white dog with brown head scratching his right ear

A dog’s ear is a complex and delicate organ designed to facilitate hearing and maintain balance. 

It has several structures with specific functions. By familiarizing yourself with the basics of canine ear anatomy, you will be better equipped to help your furry companion with his ear problems.

  • The outer ear, also known as the pinna, is the visible part of the ear – the earflap.
  • It serves to collect sound waves and direct them into the ear canal.
  • As you well know, the pinna can vary in size and shape among dog breeds. Breeds with hanging earflaps are at a higher risk of ear infections due to the reduced air circulation within the ear canal. This reduced airflow can create a warm, moist environment that is conducive to the growth of bacteria and yeast.
  • The ear canal is a tubular structure leading from the pinna to the eardrum (tympanic membrane).
  • It is lined with skin and fine hairs to help trap debris and prevent foreign objects from entering deeper into the ear.
  • The middle ear is an air-filled space located behind the eardrum.
  • It contains three small ear bones (ossicles) that transmit sound vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear.
  • The inner ear is a complex structure responsible for maintaining balance and hearing.
  • It includes the cochlea, which is responsible for transmitting auditory signals to the brain, and the vestibular system
  • You might not know this, but the inner ear’s vestibular system plays a pivotal role in maintaining equilibrium and spatial orientation. It detects changes in head position and movement, helping dogs (and humans), stay upright and coordinated. 
  • When the vestibular system is disrupted, as can happen in the case of inner ear infections or other related issues, it can result in balance disturbances. This often leads to symptoms such as head tilting, unsteady gait, and dizziness. 
  • Thus, a healthy inner ear is crucial for your pup’s ability to maintain proper balance and navigate the environment effectively.

Understanding the ear’s structure is vital for comprehending how infections like Pseudomonas otitis externa can occur:

  • Pinna (Earflap): The pinna can contribute to problems by trapping moisture and debris, increasing the risk of infection in the ear canal. In some cases, the infection may also extend to affect the earflap.
  • External ear canal: The external ear canal can be particularly susceptible to infection due to its shape and the presence of hair and wax. It is also where Pseudomonas otitis externa typically occurs, affecting the skin lining this canal.
  • Eardrum (Tympanic membrane): A healthy eardrum acts as a barrier that separates the external ear canal from the middle ear. Infections can spread to the middle ear if the eardrum is compromised, leading to more severe issues.
  • Inner ear: Infections that reach the inner ear, as in the case of otitis interna, can result in balance disturbances and affect a dog’s overall health and quality of life.

Proper ear cleaning and maintenance can reduce the risk of ear infections and ensure the overall well-being of your furry friend.

Ear infections are a common health concern for dogs that can cause discomfort and pain. 

These infections can affect various parts of the ear. Depending on the affected ear part we can divide them into two primary types:

Canine otitis externa, also known as external otitis, is an infection of the external ear canal in dogs. This condition primarily affects the ear canal and sometimes the earflap. 

It ranks among the top reasons dog owners seek veterinary care for their pets. 

Otitis externa can result from a variety of factors, including allergies, foreign objects in the ear, or excessive moisture buildup. 

Symptoms may include itching, head shaking, and a foul odor.

Otitis interna also referred to as internal otitis or inner ear infection, is a less common but more severe form of ear infection. 

It involves the middle (otitis media) and inner ear (otitis interna), affecting delicate structures responsible for balance and hearing. 

Symptoms of otitis interna may include loss of balance, head tilting, and uncoordinated movements. 

Ear infections in general can be unilateral (only one ear is infected) or bilateral (both ears are infected). They can be acute or chronic. 

Ear infections can have primary causes (for example allergy, ear mites, or endocrine disease), or secondary causes (Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Pseudomonas, or Malassezia pachydermatis). Primary causes affect the healthy ear, making it easy for infectious agents to penetrate the area. 

Brown dog scratching his head

Pseudomonas ear infection is a specific and relatively common type of otitis in dogs caused by Pseudomonas spp. These bacteria are unique, adaptable, and highly resistant.

Pseudomonas is a genus of gram-positive bacteria that includes several species known for their versatility and adaptability. 

Pseudomonas ear infection in dogs is usually caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This bacterium is widely distributed in nature, resilient, and highly adaptable. This makes it quite challenging to eradicate 😕

P. aeruginosa is a facultatively anaerobic organism, which means it thrives in an oxygen-rich environment, but can also survive and reproduce in anaerobic conditions.

These rod-shaped organisms possess the ability to create a biofilm—a congregation of multiple organisms that adheres to the surface and is protected by a layer of slime. This biofilm provides Pseudomonas with increased resistance to antibiotics and immune responses, making the infections harder to treat.

  • Water sources: Pseudomonas is often present in water sources such as rivers, lakes, ponds, or even swimming pools and bathtubs. Contaminated water can introduce bacteria to a dog’s ears during activities like swimming or bathing.
  • Soil and environment: The bacterium can also be found in soil and various environments, including households. Dust, dirt, and outdoor exposure can contribute to the presence of Pseudomonas.
  • Medical settings: In some cases, Pseudomonas infections may originate from healthcare environments, as the bacterium can thrive in moist conditions like those found in veterinary clinics. It’s one of the most common colonizers of healthcare equipment, in both human as well as veterinary medicine

In general, they like moist environments and can be found almost everywhere. They don’t need oxygen to survive and can reproduce quickly and form biofilms for protection 😕

  • Biofilm formation: The ability of Pseudomonas to form biofilms in the ear canal is a significant challenge. This slimy layer protects the bacteria from the host’s immune response and makes it difficult for medications to penetrate and effectively treat the infection.
  • Resistance to antibiotics: Pseudomonas aeruginosa is known for its intrinsic and acquired resistance to many antibiotics. This resistance complicates treatment, requiring careful selection of antibiotics and sometimes a combination of therapies to combat the infection effectively.
  • Chronic infections: Pseudomonas infections in dogs’ ears often become chronic if not addressed promptly and appropriately. Chronic ear infections can lead to severe pain and potential complications such as inner ear infection or hearing loss.

I believe that understanding the nature of Pseudomonas will give you an idea of how crucial early diagnosis is and how difficult the therapy can be. 

Please, as a responsible dog owner, take your dog to a vet if you see any signs of ear infection. Otherwise, you risk that your pup will develop an ear condition that is very painful, hard to treat, and has a very high potential of becoming chronic. 

Pseudomonas is one of the most common ear infections in dogs. As opposed to yeast infection, pseudomonas can be treated with antibiotics, although with some difficulty due to high resistance. 

The ear disease starts as acute otitis externa, involving the external ear canal and pinna. If left untreated, the risk that it will progress into a middle ear infection and affect also the middle and inner ear is very high. 

Pseudomonas otitis is a secondary ear infection. This means that some other, primary cause altered the environment of the ear making it susceptible to secondary infection. 

If the primary cause is not addressed, there’s a high chance the ear infection will become chronic and recurrent. 

In one study the most common primary causes of Pseudomonas ear infection in dogs were allergies, masses, endocrine diseases, and autoimmune diseases. However, other predisposing factors can also easily lead to Pseudomonas ear infections. 

  • Allergies or hypersensitivity disorders
  • Parasites
  • Autoimmune/immune-mediated diseases
  • Endocrine diseases
  • Epithelialization disorders 
  • Foreign bodies 
  • Glandular disorders
  • Excessive moisture (for example after swimming)
  • Ear anatomy: pendulous pinna, excessive hair in ear canals, or stenotic canals
  • Insufficient or excessive ear hygiene

There’s a breed predisposition for otitis externa in dogs. This seems to be connected to the shape of the pinna. Breeds with pendulous pinnae and V-shaped drop ear carriage seem to have a higher risk of otitis externa compared with breeds with erect ear carriage. 

In a British study done on over 22,000 dogs, the breeds with the highest risk of otitis externa were Basset Hound, Chinese Shar Pei, Labradoodle, Beagle and Golden Retriever. 

In another study, the most affected breeds were Poodle and Cocker Spaniel. 

However, this does not mean that a cute mutt with erected ears cannot suffer from ear infection. 

Infographics: Title reads the most common primary causes of pseudomonas ear infection in dogs

Depending on the severity, the signs can range from mild to very serious. Even in the case of mild otitis externa, there is a high risk that the condition will progress rapidly if not treated properly. In severe cases, the disease has a serious impact on the patient’s well-being.

  • Ear discharge: Pseudomonas ear infections often manifest with a noticeable discharge from the affected ear. The discharge may vary in color, ranging from yellow-green to very dark brown.
  • Odor: An unpleasant odor emanating from the dog’s ear is a common symptom. Pseudomonas infections can produce a distinctive and strong smell due to the bacteria’s metabolic byproducts.
  • Ear scratching: Dogs with pseudomonas ear infections frequently exhibit increased scratching or rubbing of the affected ear. It’s your dog’s response to discomfort, irritation, and pain caused by the infection. It might progress to self-mutilation and hot spots around the ear or on the earflap. 
  • Head tilting or shaking: Dogs may tilt their heads or shake them vigorously in an attempt to alleviate the discomfort and irritation. 
  • Redness and swelling: The inflamed ear may appear red and swollen.
  • Pain or discomfort: Dogs may vocalize signs of pain when their ears are touched or manipulated. They may resist having their ears touched or examined and if the pain is too strong might even bite. Please always be careful and gentle if you want to have a look in your pup’s ears.
  • Changes in behavior: Dogs with painful ear infections may exhibit changes in behavior. They might become more irritable, lethargic, or exhibit signs of distress. Changes in appetite can also occur.
  • Hair loss, scratch marks, or hot spots: Continuous scratching can lead to visible scratch marks around the ears. Additionally, dogs may lose hair around the affected area due to repeated scratching and rubbing.
  • Ulceration: Sadly, Pseudomonas infection often causes ulcers in the ear canal, which can become extremely painful.

In severe cases, if the infection spreads to the inner ear, dogs may also experience

  • Balance issues – unsteady walking or stumbling
  • Head tilt
  • Hearing loss
  • Pain when opening the mouth or swallowing

If you notice any signs of an ear infection in your furry friend, it’s essential to schedule a visit to the vet. Neglecting this could increase the likelihood of your pup experiencing a painful, challenging-to-treat ear condition that may easily become chronic.

Infographics: Title reads the most common signs of pseudomonas ear infection in dogs

While Pseudomonas infection does have typical signs, the diagnosis shouldn’t be based on them alone. 

After a general physical exam, your vet will perform a thorough otoscopic examination to assess the severity of the case. 

We need to see what’s going on inside your dog’s ear. If the procedure is too painful for your pup, we might need to use anesthesia to be able to examine him. 

The diagnosis is confirmed through cytology. A vet or a nurse will take the samples from your pet’s ear with a cotton-tipped sterile swab, and smear them on a microscope slide. These are then processed and examined under a microscope. 

Alternatively, the swabs can be sent to a laboratory. After verifying the bacteria, the lab is also able to perform culture and susceptibility testing if your vet recommends them. 

On top of all this, your vet still needs to identify the primary cause of the infection, which might involve further testing. 

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Pseudomonas is a bacterium that can very effectively protect itself from antibiotics and your dog’s immune system. Due to its highly resistant nature, the treatment of Pseudomonas ear infection in dogs requires a comprehensive medical therapy plan and the owner’s full cooperation. 

Let me state something here: You will not be able to effectively treat your pet using home remedies and over-the-counter medication. This disease will not respond to them. It doesn’t even respond to strong antibiotics! 😧

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a multidrug-resistant pathogen recognized for its intrinsically advanced antibiotic resistance mechanisms. It’s also associated with serious illnesses and hospital-acquired infections in human medicine. 

An effective treatment of this bacterial infection requires a multilevel therapy plan and your full cooperation. I’ll say it again – without you, the treatment will not work 🤗

Depending on the severity of the case, the therapy plan usually consists of cleaning the ear daily with a specific cleanser. If it’s too painful for the dog and you are not able to do it at home, your dog will need to undergo a thorough ear flushing under general anesthesia.

Most Pseudomonas otitis cases require topical medication. Many topical products contain a combination of glucocorticoid, antibiotic, and antifungal medications. You need to follow your vet’s instructions when using them.

In very severe cases, your dog might need glucocorticoids to help reduce the inflammation, pain relief medication, and/or systemic antibiotics to help battle the infection.

Because Pseudomonas is such a resistant bacteria, an antibiotic sensitivity test is recommended before starting systemic antibiotic therapy. 

You need to follow your vet’s instructions and take your dog for regular check-ups. 

In severe cases, it might take a couple of weeks of home treatment to successfully treat the disease.

Your vet will also need to treat the underlying primary cause. If it’s left untreated, there’s a high chance that the pseudomonas infection will return and your pup will suffer from chronic ear problems.

While you cannot completely prevent the disease, there are a few things you can do to help reduce the risk of infection. 

To thwart the development of Pseudomonas ear infections, many dogs need regular gentle cleaning of their ears.

Use veterinarian-recommended ear cleansers to ensure they are appropriate for your dog’s needs. Let your vet show you how to clean your dog’s ears. Follow your vet’s instructions on dosage and frequency. 

While regular cleaning is essential, overcleaning can disrupt the natural balance of the ear environment! Stick to a routine recommended by your veterinarian based on your dog’s susceptibility to ear issues.

Moisture in the ears can create a breeding ground for bacteria. After your dog has been in the water, make sure to thoroughly dry the ears.

Monitor your dog’s ears for any signs of discharge, foul odor, or redness. Detecting these early indicators can prompt timely action before a potential infection takes hold.

If your dog has a history of otitis, routine veterinary check-ups are essential. A veterinarian can identify early signs of infection, inflammation, or abnormalities that may predispose your dog to Pseudomonas infections.

Work with your veterinarian to develop a personalized prevention plan based on your dog’s breed, age, and health history. Tailoring preventive measures can significantly enhance their effectiveness.

If your dog has an allergy or some other health condition, follow your vet’s prescribed therapy plan. Regular monitoring and management of these diseases can help prevent secondary bacterial infections.

Be aware that your dog’s ears can become infected as a result of his disease and take your pet to the vet when you observe any signs of ear problems. 

Pseudomonas ear infection in dogs usually starts as otitis externa (infection of the external ear canal), but the disease can become very serious if it spreads to the middle or inner ear. Depending on the severity, the signs can range from discharge, foul odor, or head shaking to severe neurological signs such as head tilt, balance issues, or loss of hearing.

Yes, while Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a multidrug-resistant pathogen, it can be treated effectively. A comprehensive medical management plan and the pet owner’s full cooperation are essential for a successful treatment. So yes, it will go away when treated properly but it might take a few weeks.

Pseudomonas is a bacillus that is widely distributed in nature, it can be found in soil, water, and decaying organic matter. There’s always a primary cause that changes your dog’s ear environment and enables this secondary bacterial infection. Certain predisposing factors can also play a role. Without addressing the primary cause, the risk of recurrence is very high. 

That’s all from me! Now that you’ve got a better grasp of this challenging condition, you’re in a great position to give your furry friend the support they need. By teaming up with your vet, you can figure out the best plan for diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing care.

Remember, the sooner you take action and work closely with your vet, the better for your pup!

If you notice anything off or just want to chat about your dog’s health, don’t hesitate to reach out to your vet ☺️

Hope your pup will get better soon! ❣️

PS: If you are as crazy about animals as I am and want to get more pet health tips, subscribe to my newsletter! Today you will get a free pet planner as a bonus 🤗


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