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Dog Ear Infections

What Are Ear Infections in Dogs?

Ear infections in dogs are a frequent occurrence, often affecting the outer ear canal, a condition known as otitis externa. Normally, a dog’s ear is clean and dry, hosting small amounts of microscopic bacteria and yeast. However, when debris builds up or the ear canal’s health is compromised, these microorganisms can proliferate, leading to an infection.

Among dogs, Basset Hounds, Shar-Pei, Labradoodles, Beagles, and Cockapoos exhibit the highest rates of ear infections, although any breed can be susceptible. Clinical signs commonly include head shaking, scratching at the ears, ear odor, and the presence of visible debris within the ear canal. It’s important for dog owners to monitor their pets for these symptoms and seek veterinary care promptly if an ear infection is suspected.


There are three types of ear infections in dogs, categorized based on the location of the infection within the ear anatomy:

  • Otitis externa: Inflammation of the ear canal.
  • Otitis media: Inflammation of the middle ear.
  • Otitis interna: Inflammation of the inner ear.

Among these, otitis externa is the most common, as it’s the part of the ear most exposed to the external environment. Ear infections can manifest as acute (rapid onset) or chronic (recurring) conditions, and dogs may experience infections in one or both ears.

For dogs with chronic ear infections, effective treatment necessitates close collaboration with a veterinarian. Proper testing is essential to determine the appropriate medication. Chronic infections often require consistent medication for six to eight weeks.

Following treatment, it’s crucial to conduct further testing to ensure complete clearance of the ear infection. Premature cessation of medication or failure to address underlying issues can result in the recurrence of the infection, potentially leading to medication resistance. It’s imperative to follow the vet’s recommendations diligently to ensure the dog’s ear health is properly managed.


Typical indications of ear infections in dogs consist of:

  • Redness
  • Odor (reminiscent of a yeasty or corn chip-like smell)
  • Persistent itching or scratching at the ears
  • Signs of discomfort or pain
  • Frequent shaking of the head
  • Unusual head tilt
  • Presence of discharge
  • Formation of scabs or crusting around the ear pinnae

Dogs may also exhibit symptoms of hearing loss or experience difficulties with balance.

In rare cases, a dog’s appetite may be affected by a systemic impact of an ear infection, particularly in instances of otitis media or interna. It’s important for pet owners to monitor these symptoms closely and seek veterinary attention promptly if any signs of ear infection are observed.


Various factors contribute to ear infections in dogs. Often, an underlying issue disrupts the normal protective function of a dog’s ear, making it susceptible to infection when moisture or inflammation sets in.

Common causes of such infections include:

  • Presence of foreign bodies like grass awns or foxtails in the ear.
  • Infestation of ear mites.
  • Excessive moisture resulting from bathing or swimming.
  • Food allergies.
  • Environmental allergies.
  • Endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism.
  • Autoimmune diseases like pemphigus, lupus, or vasculitis.
  • Growth of polyps within the ear canal.
  • Certain types of cancer.
  • Trauma to the ear.

These factors compromise the integrity of the ear canal, making it more susceptible to bacterial and yeast infections.

In cases where a dog experiences pain, excessive scratching, and shaking, it may develop an aural hematoma, characterized by the accumulation of blood clots from ruptured blood vessels in the earflap, leading to swelling and discomfort. Early recognition and treatment of these issues are crucial for maintaining a dog’s ear health.


To diagnose ear infections in dogs, veterinarians utilize various tests and examinations to determine the appropriate treatment for the canine.

Diagnostic procedures may encompass:

  • Cytology: This involves staining a swab of ear debris with special stains to highlight microscopic bacterial cells or fungus. Through microscopic examination, the specific cause of the infection can be identified.
  • Culture/sensitivity testing: This test employs special medium or broth to cultivate and identify the particular bacteria responsible for the infection. It also evaluates which antibiotics will effectively eradicate the infection.
  • Blood testing: Occasionally, blood tests are necessary to check for underlying endocrine diseases that may contribute to the condition.
  • Skull x-rays, CT scans, or MRI: In severe cases or suspected inner ear diseases, these imaging tests may be required to assess the extent of the condition in the dog’s ear.

These diagnostic measures aid veterinarians in accurately diagnosing ear infections and tailoring appropriate treatment plans for the affected dogs.


Once the specifics of your dog’s ear infection are identified, the treatment plan will likely involve multiple components, which may encompass topical, oral, or surgical interventions.

Topical Treatment:

Depending on the nature and severity of the ear infection, your veterinarian may recommend an ear cleaner, which could be medicated or non-medicated. Generally, cleaning your dog’s ears with the prescribed ear cleaner will be advised daily or every other day during the course of treatment. It’s crucial to adhere to your vet’s instructions regarding the use of the ear cleaner. Ear cleaning should precede the application of medications to prevent interference with the efficacy of the treatments.

Ear medications usually come in the form of ear drops accompanied by an applicator for convenient administration into your dog’s ear canal. Depending on the type of ear infection, the medications may include antibiotics, antifungals, or a combination of both. Some medications may also contain topical steroids to alleviate itching. Typically, ear medications are administered once or twice a day for a duration of seven to 10 days, necessitating strict adherence to the veterinarian’s instructions.

Oral Treatment:

In cases of severe ear infections, your dog may require oral antibiotics, antifungals, or steroid medications, depending on the extent of the infection and the underlying cause.

Surgical Intervention:

For ears afflicted with severe and chronic disease unresponsive to medical treatments, surgical intervention may be necessary. The objective of surgery for such ears is to either open the ear canal or, in some instances, completely remove all diseased tissue. This surgical procedure is referred to as a total ear canal ablation (TECA) and ventral bulla osteotomy (VBO).

The selection of treatment modality depends on the individual dog’s condition, and the veterinarian will tailor the approach to best address the specific requirements of your pet’s ear infection.

Living and Management

The majority of dogs recover smoothly from ear infections. Yet, if your dog experiences frequent or chronic ear infections, your veterinarian will probably suggest further testing to identify any underlying causes.

Long-term management strategies may involve weekly preventative cleaning of the ears and/or dietary adjustments. These measures aim to minimize the likelihood of recurrent ear infections and promote your dog’s overall ear health.


Preventing ear infections in dogs involves regular grooming, ear cleaning, and consistent ear maintenance, particularly for dogs that swim frequently.

When cleaning your dog’s ears, it’s best to use a veterinarian-approved ear cleaning product designed specifically for dogs. These products are formulated to maintain the appropriate pH levels for dogs and often contain drying agents to help prevent moisture buildup.

Dog Ear Infections FAQs

How should I treat my dog’s ear infection at home?

Dog ear infections require veterinary treatment and medication to restore a healthy ear canal. Your vet will determine if any additional home treatment is appropriate, especially if minimal debris is present and the eardrum is intact.

Can a dog’s ear infection heal by itself?

Typically, dog ear infections do not resolve on their own. Evaluation and treatment by a veterinarian are necessary for all types of otitis, as improper treatment can be damaging, especially if the eardrum is ruptured.

What are the consequences of leaving a dog’s ear infection untreated?

Untreated ear infections can lead to hearing loss, ear damage, and systemic illness, potentially causing symptoms such as lethargy and loss of appetite. Prompt veterinary attention is crucial if you suspect your dog has an ear infection.

Can a dog’s ear infection spread to the brain?

While rare, severe inner ear infections could potentially extend into a dog’s brain. Most ear infections in dogs are external, but middle and inner ear infections can occur, albeit less commonly.

Are dog ear infections contagious?

In most cases, dog ear infections are not contagious, unless caused by ear mites, which are highly contagious among pets. Good hygiene practices, such as hand washing and preventing other pets from licking the infected pet’s ears, are important when dealing with ear infections.

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