Dog ear infection : Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Dog ear infections can be frustrating and make a dog quite restless. While any dog can have an ear infection, certain breeds with excessive hair, floppy and non-erectile ears like Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, etc. are more susceptible to ear infections.

Ear infections are the most common medical conditions in dogs because of the shape of their long ear canals. A dog’s ear is more vertical and less horizontal which forms a ‘J or L’ shape. This is why a dog’s ear holds in dirt and traps debris more easily, which in turn, can cause an ear infection.

Dog ear infections can make a dog deaf or cause facial paralysis. So, if you have a dog with itchy ears, then you must deal with it seriously.

Let’s read this guide to recognize the signs of dog ear infections, identify the causes, know how to provide an effective treatment, and learn ways to prevent it.

3 key takeaways

  • Ear infections are very common in dogs, especially in breeds like Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, Golden Retrievers, etc.
  • Dog ear infections happen mostly due to bacteria and allergies.
  • Knowing the signs of dog ear infection is the key to prevent it from getting worse.

Symptoms of dog ear infection

My dog has itchy ears but how do I know if my dog has an ear infection? Well, a dog with ear infection will be scratching his ears frequently but there will also be other signs, like:

  • Flapping the ears frequently
  • Shaking the head and tilting it to one side
  • Scratching at their head, neck, along with the ear flaps
  • Rubbing their ears and head on furniture or the floor or on you
  • Smelly ears
  • A colourless, or black, brown, white, green, or yellow watery discharge in the ears
  • Redness and/or swelling in the ears
  • Whining or yelping in pain when someone touches the ears
  • Crusty or thickened ears (Dry skin or scabs)
  • Blood oozing from the ears (Chronic infections)

Reasons for dog ear infection

A clean and dry ear is a sign of a healthy dog ear. Normally, a small amount of dust, bacteria and yeast in the outer ear canal cause no harm to a dog’s ear.

But when residue build-ups, the healthy ear canal becomes moist or inflamed. Soon, the healthy skin loses its protective barrier and that small amount of yeast and bacteria gets a suitable environment to grow, multiply and create an ear infection.

Typically, bacteria, yeast, or a combination of both are known to cause ear infections in dogs. However, many other factors can cause ear infections in dogs and puppies.

  • Environmental allergens like dust, grass, pollen, dander, foxtails (grass seed awns)
  • Extreme moisture from climatic conditions, bathing or swimming
  • Food allergies (especially new foods or ingredients)
  • Dust mites
  • Infection from other animals
  • Low thyroid function or hypothyroidism
  • Autoimmune diseases such as pemphigus, lupus, or vasculitis
  • Polyps (fleshy growths inside the ear canal)
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Trauma to the ear

Also read – Calcium deficiency in dogs : Causes, symptoms & treatment

Types of infection

Dogs can have an infection either in one or both their ears. In a dog’s ear anatomy, the outer passage is called the ear canal, just after the ear canal comes the eardrum, then the middle ear, and last is the inner ear which is deep inside the head.

The redness, swelling, and soreness of the ear is termed as Otitis. Based on the location of a dog’s ear infection there are three types of Otitis:

Otitis externa – when there is inflammation of the passage of the outer ear (ear canal)

Otitis media – when the middle ear is inflamed

Otitis interna – when the inner ear is affected

Out of the three types, Otitis externa (infection of the ear canal) is the most common one. This is because the ear canal is the part which is most exposed to external factors like dust, moisture, bacteria, yeast, etc.

Ear infections in dogs can be acute (with a sudden onset), or chronic (deep-rooted) and recurrent (occurring periodically anytime throughout the year).

If a dog ear infection is identified soon, it can be treated with minimal care and medication. But if the infection goes unnoticed and untreated, it can turn into a chronic ear infection.

Chronic ear infections are painful for a dog and along with your dog even you may have sleepless nights. Because the infection has taken root, it will require working closely with a veterinarian for the treatment.

Your vet will run some tests to choose the appropriate medication for your suffering dog and the chronic infections can require medication consistently for about 6 to 8 weeks.

Meanwhile follow-ups will be required and after treatment another round of testing will be needed again to make sure that all the infection has cleared up.

Important note: In chronic ear infections, if we stop the medicines too early or do not test to know the underlying problems, the infection will grow back, and sometimes become resistant to medications. 

Usually, dogs with a chronic or recurrent ear infection have underlying allergies or thyroid insufficiency which is commonly known as hypothyroidism.

Also read – Dementia in dogs symptoms, treatment and more

Dog ear infection treatment

If you see your dog uncomfortable with the symptoms and you are wondering how to treat dog ear infection, it is time to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

Once you explain the condition of your dog with ear infection, the vet will provide a treatment based on the seriousness of the infection. But, appropriate treatment for a dog ear infection completely depends on the diagnosis.

In order to begin an effective treatment with the correct medication, the veterinarian will first need to find the exact cause of the infection. And for this your vet may conduct a ear cytology on your dog.

A ear cytology is a diagnostic test which involves taking an ear swab. First of all, the veterinarian will collect a sample of the debris from your dog’s ear using a long cotton-tip applicator. He will then spread the collected matter on a glass slide and study it with the help of a microscope.

Once your vet comes to know what caused your dog’s ear infection, he will then plan a suitable treatment and prescribe medicines based on the type of infection.

As a basic treatment, the vet will prescribe some oral antibiotics, an ear cleanser to clean your dog’s ears, and some anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, or pain relieving medicated drops for your dog to get rid of the existing problem.

While following this treatment, the most important thing is to make sure to clean the dog’s ears properly with the ear cleanser before putting in the medicated ear drops.

Also, if the existing treatment doesn’t seem to improve your dog’s ear condition or if your dog is not responding well to the medications, follow up with the vet ASAP.

If the underlying cause of the ear infection is an allergy, like a food allergy or allergy due to environmental factors, then the vet can confirm it with an allergen test and later administer allergy shots to your dog.

Home treatment for dog ear infection

Most dog ear infections are mild at the beginning and so they can be easily taken care of at home. This means that you do not have to worry if your veterinarian is unable to see your dog right away.

If your dog is simply scratching his ears, but runs, eats, plays, and does everything else like any other normal day, then you can treat his ear infection at home.

It would be perfectly fine to use an over-the-counter ear cleanser such as Virbac Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleaner, MalAcetic Otic Cleanser, or Vetoquinol Vet Solutions Ear Cleaning Solution to flush out the dirt and other matter. This will help to keep your dog’s ear infection from getting worse.

You will get these ear cleaners at pet medical shops only. Do not try any human-use medication on your dog. Medications made for only human use will not help with the ear infection and will definitely make your dog’s ears get worse.

If the infection doesn’t seem to get under control with the ear cleanser within a week or two, you will need to take your dog to the veterinarian to find out what is causing the infection and what medication can control it.

Also read – Seizures in dogs : Know the Signs, Causes and What you can do

Preventing ear infections in dogs

Now since we know what causes ear infection in dogs, let’s know about ways to prevent it. Follow these tips to minimise the risk of an ear infection in your dog:

  • Do not allow water in your dog’s ears during baths.
  • Use the ear cleanser to clean out your dog’s ears once a week or at least once in 15-days, especially if your dog goes swimming.
  • Regularly groom your dog, especially if your dog has long hair and resting floppy ears.
  • Always use professional dog ear cleansers as these are specifically formulated for dogs with balanced pH levels.

How to clean a dog’s ear ?

A dog’s ear is very sensitive and vulnerable to ear infection. So you must know the right technique to clean your dog’s ears.

Here is a list of dos and don’ts to clean a dog’s ear:

  • Do not use hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol or any kind of human-use disinfectant on your dog, as they can damage healthy ear cells in your dog.
  • Do not stick cotton swabs or Q-tips down into your dog’s ear, as this can push back the dirt inside the ears and rupture the eardrum.
  • Only use ear wipes to clean the ear flap and the crevices inside the ears.
  • Apply the prescribed dog ear liquid cleanser to the ear as directed by the vet.
  • Close the ear flap and gently massage the base of the ears in light circular motions for 10-15 seconds.
  • Let your dog flap his ears to slosh away the liquid.
  • Now with a clean ear wipe or cloth gently wipe your dog’s ears.
  • Apply any medication like ear drops as prescribed by the vet.
  • Treat your dog and praise him loads to be such a good boy.

Dogs at risk for ear infection

While any dog can develop an ear infection, there are some dog breeds certain of getting an ear infection at some point in their life. These at-risk dog breeds are:

  • Cocker spaniels
  • Basset hounds
  • Shih Tzus
  • Poodles
  • Bichon Frises
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Golden retrievers
  • Bulldogs
  • Bloodhounds

Also read – Dog blood types and blood donation in dogs – All your questions answered


Dog ear infections are a common health concern for dog parents and in most cases, a dog’s ear infection does not go away on its own. What’s worse, if you wait too long to treat the ear infection, it can become painful for your dog and be much more difficult to cure.

Carelessness and delay can put your dog into serious trouble like a nerve damage, hearing loss, and sometimes there can be a need for risky and expensive surgery.

So, if your dog is showing signs of an ear infection, seek help from a vet before things get out of hand.

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