Dog ear infections: a complete guide

One thing that varies a lot in different dog breeds is the shape of the ears. They can be long, short, droopy, perky et. Dogs have longer ear canals compared to humans. Their ears have both horizontal and vertical components. This leads to a formation of an L or J shape. This can contribute to the [...] The post Dog ear infections: a complete guide appeared first on The Happy Puppers.

Dog ear infections: a complete guide

One thing that varies a lot in different dog breeds is the shape of the ears. They can be long, short, droopy, perky et. Dogs have longer ear canals compared to humans. Their ears have both horizontal and vertical components. This leads to a formation of an L or J shape. This can contribute to the development of dog ear infections.

Since these shapes are more equipped to collect the debris, it also makes the dog more susceptible to developing dog ear infections. Dog ear infections can be extremely painful and uncomfortable. If it is left untreated, it can cause serious issues. In this blog. I will cover the causes, signs, diagnosis, and treatment of ear infections in dogs.

Dog ear infections

Studies have shown that dog ear infections are very common. In 2018, a survey showed that ear infections rank among the top five medical conditions for which dog guardians need insurance. In most cases, an ear infection means an infection of the outer ear canal of the dog i.e. the otitis externa. 

Dogs of larger breeds like cocker spaniels, old English sheepdogs, miniature poodles, etc are more susceptible to suffering from ear infections. However, this disease can affect any dog of any breed.

Causes of dog ear infections.

Ear infections in dogs can have a variety of causes. Some of these causes are listed here:


The most common cause of ear infections in dogs is the presence of bacteria. In case there is any injury or scratch on the ear canal, bacteria can invade the ear. Alternatively, if the ear canal stays moist for a very long, it can also lead to the growth of bacteria.


Another very common cause of ear infections in dogs is a yeast infection. Yeast is a form of fungus. It thrives extremely well in humid and moist environments. Thus, the dog ear canal is the perfect breeding ground for this organism. Dogs who have floppy ears are much more prone to such forms of infection.

Causes of dog ear infections
Causes of dog ear infections

Allergies as contributing factors to dog ear infections

If your dog has an allergy, an ear infection can act as a symptom of the same. When an allergic reaction occurs in a dog, it can lead to the inflammation of the ear canal. This in turn can cause an infection. The swelling of the ear canal can also make it very easy for yeast and bacteria to grow and thrive in hot and humid climates.

Ear mites

Ear mites are tiny parasites that can invade the ear canals of dogs. These can lead to irritation, infection, and inflammation of the dog’s ear canal. This in turn leads to an ear infection.

Presence of foreign objects

Dogs love to roll on the ground. Sometimes, while rolling, foreign objects may get into their ears like foxtails, grass seeds, eyes, etc. These can then enter the ear canal of said dog and breed leading to an ear infection.

Hormonal imbalances

Hormonal imbalances can also lead to ear infections. Eg: – if your dog has hypothyroidism, it can also lead to the development of a bacterial ear infection. Alternatively, if the dog has Cushing’s disease, they are more susceptible to developing yeast ear infections.

Symptoms of dog ear infections

It is important for dog guardians to know the signs and symptoms of dog ear infections. This way they can take the dog to the vet the moment the first signs of the ear infection appear. Here are the most common signs of dog ear infections.

Head tilting or shaking

If you notice your dog constantly shaking or tilting his head towards one side, it is a sign that your dog is feeling uncomfortable and his ear is bothering him. Shaking and head tilting in an attempt to reduce the discomfort and pain he must feel in the ear.

Rubbing or scratching the ears repeatedly

If you notice your dog constantly rubbing and scratching the ear, it indicates that your dog’s ear is feeling extremely itchy and he is trying to relieve the discomfort by scratching the ear, rubbing it against furniture or ground, and finally pawing at his ear to remove the discomfort.

Redness and swelling

One of the most common symptoms of ear infection is swelling and redness of the ear flap or canal. You may notice that the inside of the dog’s ear is looking very red and swollen. If you see such signs, take the pup to the vet immediately.



The growth of bacteria and yeast releases a foul odor. If your dog has a yeast infection, his ear will smell like a bag of Frito chips. Do not ignore this sign. The presence of this odor indicates that yeasts have already made your dog’s ear, their home. Thus, the sooner you get your dog to the vet, the better.


The amount and type of discharge will depend on the type of ear infection your dog has. The discharge can either be watery or it can be pus-like and thick.

Sensitivity towards touch

When there is an ear infection, the region around the ear may be swollen. Thus, your dog may be sensitive to you touching him around the ear. He may yelp or flinch if you touch the ear.

Balance loss is also caused by dog ear infections

If the ear infection is not treated and progresses to detrimental levels, your dog may face a loss of balance, and coordination or even fall over without any reason.

Hearing loss

Severe dog ever infections can lead to a loss of the ability to hear the dog. This loss of hearing may either be temporary or permanent depending on the level of ear infection your dog has. Thus, never take dog ear infections lightly. Take your dog to the vet at the first sign of an ear infection.

Dog ear infections: diagnosis

When you take your dog to the vet, the first thing they will ask for is to take a detailed history from you about the symptoms your dog has experienced so far. They will also physically examine your dog’s ear to understand the cause behind the inflammation of otitis externa. The sections around the ear and pinnae may show signs of external trauma. This trauma may have been inflicted by the dog himself in an attempt to ease the discomfort. 

Other signs and symptoms of dog ear infection that the vet may look for are primary and secondary skin abnormalities and skin redness. If your vet finds pinnae deformities or tissue growth in the ear canal, it can be a sign of long-term discomfort.

Using the otoscope

If the vet has to examine the inner section of the ear with an otoscope, they may have to sedate your dog. This is especially crucial if your dog has a painful ear, the canal is obstructed with the discharge, the dog is being uncooperative, or shows the presence of inflammatory tissue.

The otoscope will allow the net to examine the presence of foreign objects present in the inner section of your dog’s ears. Your vet will also check for impacted debris, deformity, or injury to the eardrum structure and for the presence of parasites. They may also take tissue samples from the ear canal to check for the presence of infection-causing microorganisms. The tissue will be taken at the same time when the ear canal is being examined by the vet.

Diagnosis of dog ear infections via smear


The vet may take a smear through a cotton-tipped applicator. This can provide immediate diagnostic information about the dog’s ear infection. In most cases, the ear canals of canines and felines have harmless microorganisms lining them. These microbes normally do not cause dog ear infections. However, if for any reason, the environment of the ear canal changes, it will cause the microbes to multiply leading to an infection. A microscopic examination of the ear canal with a cotton tip applicator will tell the vet if the infection is occurring due to the regular microflora.

Examination of discharge

If there is any type of discharge from the ear of your dog, you wet will most likely examine the discharge. A dark-colored discharge from an ear canal indicates that yeast is the most likely cause behind the dog ear infection. Alternatively, certain parasites like ear mites, bacteria, or both can also cause discharge. The vet will thoroughly examine the discharge for the presence of larvae, eggs, or adult ear mites.

Additional tests in case of dog ear infections

In some cases, the vet may conduct additional tests to better understand the cause behind dog ear infections. One of the tests can be to check for allergies as the cause. Your vet may also carry out ringworm testing on ear fur samples. Those dogs who show obstructive, long-term external ear inflammation in one ear may be administered a biopsy of the ear. This is to check if any tumor is present in the ear. For better visualization of the eardrum, the vet may also conduct x-days. This is done when the vet is suspecting an inflammation of the middle ear or when there are neurological signs like loss of balance.


Cytology is used to identify the microbes that might be responsible for the infection. In this, special stains are used on the debris swab collected from the ear of your dog. The stains color the debris and allow the vet to identify the causative organism.

Culture/sensitivity tests

A broth or medium is used for the growth of the causative microorganism. This method is also used to find out if antibiotics are a good option for the specific form of dog ear infection.

Blood work and other tests

The vet may conduct a blood test to identify if any underlying endocrine disease is the cause. Alternatively, the other tests that may be employed by the vet can be a CT scan, skull X-rays, or MRI for the assessment of the severity or the extent of the disease progression in the inner ear.

Treatment methods

Before the vet embarks on the treatment of the dog’s ear infection, they first need to figure out the cause behind the occurrence of the infection. The next thing they will focus on is managing the pain level. The vet will clip the fur around the ear so that the cleaning and treatment can be easier. If inspection of the inner ear canal is required, the hair from the ear canal may also have to be removed. Since this is a painful procedure, it is usually done under the effect of anesthesia.

Cleaning the ears

The constant and heavy discharge of ear wax due to the infection can easily inactivate the topical medication effect. Therefore, before starting the treatment, your vet will first gently clean and dry the ear. If the cleaning process is painful for the dog, the vet may put him under anesthesia before starting the cleaning process. 


Your vet may also advise you on how to clean your dog’s ears at home. Always follow the method advised. Your vet may also suggest that you don’t clean the ear of your dog until the next appointment which would usually be in 5-7 days.

Application of topical medication

When applied in the right manner, the ideal medication will make a coating on the cellular layer which line the region of the external ear canal as a thin film. If the vet suspects an inflammation of the middle ear or a long-term inflammation of the ear canal, they will probably include oral medications or injections as part of the treatment regime.

Most of the topical medications that are provided to your dog during treatment may involve a combination of antifungal drugs, glucocorticoids, and antibiotics. Depending on the type of infection, your vet will prescribe a medication that is suitable for treatment.

Avoid irritating mediations

Medications or home remedies that may irritate the ear must be avoided eg: – vinegar, other home remedies involving acidic items, etc.) these substances lead to inflammation of the ear canal. The inflammation can cause an increase in the production of glandular secretions. These secretions can in turn predispose the animal towards yeast or bacterial infections.

Substances that would not irritate a healthy ear canal may boost the irritation in case of a swollen ear canal. This is specifically the case if propylene glycol is used. These powders are generally used on the ear canal after a session of ear canal hair plucking. Such powders have the ability to form irritating concentrates inside the ear canal. Thus, the use of such items is discouraged.

In case of bacterial infections

If there is a severe bacterial infection of the ear canal, the vet may prescribe corticosteroids along with antibacterial drugs to reduce the pain, swelling, and discharge from the ear. These drugs will also help decrease glandular secretions.

If your dog suffers from bacterial infections of the external car repeatedly along with a history of ear mites infection, then the vet may prescribe a topical product containing anti-parasitic and anti-bacterial drugs. This is to ensure that any parasites invading the ear can be eliminated.

Do not stop the treatment

The treatment must be continued until the infection has been completely eliminated, In case your dog is suffering from a mix of yeast and bacterial infections, he may require a bi-weekly or weekly physical examination and tests of the ear until all signs of infection are gone. In most cases, this may take 2-4 weeks. If a longtime treatment is needed, it may take months. In certain instances, the treatment may have to continue indefinitely. Always consult your vet if you feel that a change in medication is required.

Chronic dog ear infections

Chronic dog ear infections can be extremely frustrating, for the dog’s guardian and the vet. Certain dog breeds are more prone to developing chronic ear infections as per the veterinary information network. The most common reasons behind this are ear shape, ear conformation, or genetics. Eventually, there may be the formation of proliferative ear tissue. This can make treatment much more difficult.

Springer spaniels and cocker spaniels most often get chronic dog ear infections due to their long and floppy ears. Another reason behind their higher susceptibility is the presence of higher numbers of ceruminous glands (sweat glands in ears responsible for producing earwax).

Chronic ear infection
Chronic ear infectionChronic ear infection
  • Golden retrievers and Labrador Retrievers have a higher susceptibility to allergies. They also have underlying sensitivities that cause them to be more prone to recurrent and chronic ear infections.
  • Poodles and schnauzers most often have large tufts of hair in their ear canals. This leads to the secretion of more, earwax, leading to a highly humid environment which makes it the perfect breeding ground for bacterial, yeast, and fungal infections. 
  • Share pei’s have ear canals that are small. These easily trap and drive the debris which makes it difficult to get them out.

Chronic ear infections may require medications consistently for a period of 6-8 weeks. Make sure that your dog is getting tested consistently over the period. After the treatment, another test must be conducted to make sure that the infection has been cleared. If the medication is stopped before time, the infection may return with resistance to the commonly used drugs.

Are dog ear infections contagious?

In most cases, dog ear infections are not contagious. However, if the cause of the infection is ear mites, then it is definitely contagious. In case your dog has been diagnosed with an ear mite infection, you should treat the ears of all the dogs and other animals at home. Cases of ear mites are very common in kittens and puppies. These may be overlooked during the adoption process. However, once the new animal enters, you will notice all the other animals scratching and shaking their ears as well.

In rare cases, your dog may be infected with a strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or other infection that may be cultured from an infected ear.

In case you are treating and administering meds to your dog with an ear infection, practice good hand-washing. Also, keep the other animals away from the infected ones. Good hand-washing practices are also encouraged if you are medicating the ear with a topical medicine.

Preventive care

Prevention is always better than cure. Always inspect the ear regularly. If you note any temperature variations, color, or condition, increased production of ear wax, or any other changes, don’t ignore them. Take your dog to the vet for a prompt check-up.

Tips on how to clear your dog’s ears at home

  • When cleaning the ear of your dog, do not use any item that can push the debris inwards. Never use cotton-tipped applicators. These can push the debris in.
  • Use real cotton balls (non-synthetic ones) with the ear-cleaning solution. You can also use saline eye solution for ear cleaning. Never use over-the-counter ear cleaners or wax removal liquid for car cleaning.
  • Squirt out the ear-cleaning liquid into the ear canal till it fills the canal. Following this, massage the base of the can till you hear a squishing sound.
  • Take hold of the tip of your dog’s ear and pull the pinnae section up and away from your dog’s head. This helps straighten the L shape of the canal.
  • Make the cotton into a tube-like shape and insert it into the ear canal. Allow it to keep going as far as it goes.
  • Again, massage the base of the ear gently to help move the debris and cleaning solution toward the canal where the cotton is.
  • If your vet prescribes the use of tropical medication, then wait for a few minutes after cleaning the ear to administer the medicine.

When to see a vet for dog ear infections?

You need to understand that it is imperative that you do not ignore the signs and symptoms of ear infections in your canine. The following are some situations when a vet visit must not be ignored.

Persistent symptoms

If your dog is showing signs of ear discomfort for more than 2 days, you must pay a visit to the veterinarian. Ear issues can cause a lot of discomfort and an early treatment is necessary to keep it from exacerbating.

Recurrent infections

In case your dog has suffered from multiple bouts of ear infections in the past few days, you must seek veterinary care to identify the underlying cause of the infection so that future infections can be prevented.

When to see a vet
When to see a vet for dog ear infections

Discharge in dog ear infections

If you notice that there is a gunk or discharge coming out of your dog’s ear, get to the veterinarian without wasting any time. Discharge from the ear is a sign that the infection is either bacterial or fungal in nature. Early treatment is vital to prevent the infection from spreading.

Changes in behavior

If you notice that your dog is behaving differently; being lethargic, displaying aggressive behavior, or showing a decrease in appetite, you must seek veterinary care as soon as possible. These changes can be indicative of discomfort or pain. Early treatment can help quickly relieve the symptoms.

A few final words on dog ear infections

If your dog is showings signs of a dog ear infection, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can help alleviate the symptoms and relieve the discomfort. This can also keep the infection from becoming serious and prevent loss of hearing in your dog.

If you have any queries about this blog post or any others on The Happy Puppers, feel free to reach out to me via the comment section or the contact form. If you like watching videos, subscribe to the YouTube channel of The Happy Puppers, Shruti, and Delta. Remember to ring the notification bell and set it to all.

See you in my next blog post

Dr. Shruti

Frequently asked questions

Do dog ear infections go away on its own?

In most cases, the ear infection will not leave on its own. All forms of otitis need a veterinarian who will evaluate the ear infection and eardrum situation. In case there is an eardrum rupture, certain varieties of medications and cleaners can be very toxic to the middle ear.

Can dog ear infections be treated at home?

Simply stated, the answer is No. Dog ear infections need proper medication and vet treatment to restore the ear canal to its original state.

Can dog ever infections be caused by allergies?

Yes, certain forms of allergies can cause the occurrence of dog ear infections as a sign of the sam

The post Dog ear infections: a complete guide appeared first on The Happy Puppers.