What could be causing my puppy to sneeze and why is she scratching her ear and biting her foot? How do I properly clean a puppy’s ear?
Original Question: Hi there my puppy is a 7-month-old Malamute/Husky. Since we got her at 8 weeks old she has always been sensitive with hand sanitizer and other strong smells. She will sneeze up to three times or more. Lately, she has been sneezing a lot more and I thought maybe it’s due to it being spring here in Australia with the pollen or dust. However, she has also been trying to itch her ear with her foot and biting her foot. I checked her ears and her left ear seems to be dirtier than her right with wax. I cleaned them with warm salt water and a cotton bud but I feel like maybe I'm doing the wrong thing. The ear seemed to clear up but now it’s dirty again and she hasn't stopped biting her foot and scratching her ear. Are you able to help me? Thank you so much" - Tamara
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First let’s address the sneezing. It’s rare for puppies to get upper airway infections and when they do they more often cough rather than sneeze. The source of sneezing for puppies is their sinuses. You’re absolutely right when you discuss allergies and pollen. This is certainly a possibility and you may just want to wait until the season passes. I would not encourage you to diagnose or treat the condition unless the sneezing is significantly frequent and intense, leading to issues with appetite, play, comfort, etc. You may also want to look around your house for materials or products that could cause allergies as well, such as floor cleaners, laundry detergent, etc. There are other more serious conditions that can cause sneezing but they are rare, especially for a puppy. Some include aspergillosis (a fungal infection of the nose), an infection, a foreign body lodged in the sinus or airway, or a nasal bot which is a parasite that enters the nasal cavity creating irritation, among others. I believe these would be highly unlikely. I suggest diagnostics such as radiographs, blood work, sedation and close examination, and possibly nasal scoping only if this is at a level of concern, which I would define as intense frequency, nasal discharge, constant rubbing of the nose, reduced appetite, lethargy, laboured breathing, etc. If those signs aren’t present, I strongly suggest you simply monitor the problem. A simple treatment would be offering an anti-histamine treatment trial based on the assumptive diagnosis of allergies if you think it’s not serious but certainly a strong annoyance.
Now for the ear and paw biting. The first thing I’ll say is that puppies certainly investigate their paws and shake their head much more often than adult dogs, often making their owners think they have infections in these areas. On occasion, I will tell them to monitor it but I don’t believe this is the case here. The difference in discharge between the ears certainly suggests a problem worth investigating. I recommend that you visit your veterinarian and have them perform something called ‘ear cytology’. This is a simple inexpensive test where they swab the ear, roll it on a glass slide and look at it under a microscope. They can evaluate it for bacteria, yeast or mites and then implement the correct treatment. The licking of the paw may be due to the wax getting on it and your puppy then being attracted to it. However, the other more concerning possibility is that an infectious agent from the ear has transferred to the skin of your puppy’s paw and created an infection in that location. This would be really rare for a mite, possibly bacteria, but more likely with a yeast infection. I would recommend that your veterinarian perform a ‘skin scraping’ on the paw which again is a simple, inexpensive test, where a scalpel is dragged bluntly over the skin to scrape it and then similarly applied to a slide for evaluation. The slide of both the skin scraping and ear cytology can be compared to determine if the same infectious entity is present in both areas. This should help determine the problem and the appropriate treatment.
I would also strongly recommend that you watch our video tutorial ‘How to Properly Clean a Dog’s Ear’ where it provides you with more instructions.
It’s possible that if the infection is mild, daily thorough cleaning could clear the infection without the need for medical intervention. I would still highly recommend you visit your veterinarian for the testing that I previously discussed.
I hope this helps and good luck.
Dr. Clayton Greenway
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