From the long, floppy ears of Basset Hounds to the alert, pointy ears of Chihuahuas, all dog ears are susceptible to developing an ear infection. In fact, as many as 16.5% of dogs will contract an ear infection at some point during their lifetime.1
While you may be familiar with the telltale signs of your dog’s desire for a treat or need to go outside, you might not be sure how to identify whether your pup may be suffering from a doggie ear infection.
Fortunately, in this article, we’ll discuss the four common dog ear infection symptoms you can look out for if you think your dog may have an ear infection.
#1 Scratching or Excessive Rubbing
If you’ve noticed your dog has been frequently rubbing their head against furniture or aggressively pawing at their ears, it may be a sign that they’re suffering from an ear infection. This is because dog ear infections can be extremely painful and itchy, causing irritation around the aural cavity that they may try to alleviate with excessive scratching and rubbing.
If your dog can’t effectively reach their ear, they may instead shake or jerk their head sporadically in an attempt to rid their ears of the uncomfortable pain.
#2 Inflammation and Redness of the Ear Canal
In reaction to an ear infection, your dog’s ear may become swollen and red. Any itching, pawing, or excessive rubbing of the ears can further exacerbate this symptom and potentially lead to a worse infection.
Because inflammation and redness can also be a sign of other dog health conditions, such as ear hematomas, it’s important to take your dog to the vet for an accurate diagnosis if you notice this symptom.
#3 Scabbing, Crusting, or Bleeding Around the Ears
Seeing broken skin or bleeding around your dog’s ears may be a sign of a deeper infection, and is always grounds to consult a medical professional. If you approach your dog to inspect their symptoms and they bark, yelp, or recoil at your touch, they’re likely experiencing pain or tenderness at the infection site.
#4 Discharge with Odor
If you notice foul-smelling discharge or drainage coming from your dog’s ears, it’s a sign that their body is trying to rid itself of an invader or overgrowth in the dog’s ear canal. Ear discharge may be yellowish, greenish, or blackish in color, and indicate a visit to the vet is required as soon as possible to curtail the spread of infection.
What to Do If You Suspect an Ear Infection
If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Your vet will be able to accurately diagnose the infection and determine the best course of treatment.
Because many ear infection symptoms can also indicate other medical conditions, a proper diagnosis is crucial. Otherwise, you may risk treating your pup at home for the wrong condition, which will delay their convalescence.
To diagnose your dog, your veterinarian will perform an ear cytology, or an “ear swab” on the affected ear. Using a cotton-tip applicator, they’ll extract a sample from your dog’s inner ear, inspect it under a microscope, and assess the cause of the infection.
While the severity of ear infections can vary, if treated swiftly and with proper care, most dog ear infections resolve with few long-term consequences.
Can Dog Ear Infections Resolve on Their Own?
In the vast majority of cases, dog ear infections will not resolve on their own.2
Ear infections, like many other types of infections, tend to get worse over time, which is why seeking treatment as soon as you notice any symptoms is essential to relieving your dog’s discomfort and preventing the spread of infection. When neglected, ear infections can lead to more severe medical conditions, such as deafness or facial paralysis.
How To Treat Dog Ear Infections
To treat your dog’s ear infection, your vet may recommend a few options, including an in-clinic ear cleaning, as well as at-home treatment with a prescription ear cleanser and topical medication. In more severe cases, your vet may also prescribe oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.
With proper treatment, an ear infection in dogs will likely clear up in about 1-2 weeks.2
If you’re concerned about cleaning and administering your dog’s ear medication at home, talk to your vet. Not only are they likely to have tips and tricks for getting your dog to sit still while you take care of their aural treatment, but they may also be able to administer ear infection medication on a monthly basis at their office with minimal at-home interventions.
What Causes Ear Infections in Dogs?
Dogs’ ear canals are structured like an L and are far steeper than those of humans. This architecture makes them more vulnerable to fluid retention, which creates a prime environment for microorganisms and bacteria to flourish.1
There are several reasons why dogs may develop an ear infection, but the most common culprits are:
- Bacterial infection – The most common type of bacterial infection are caused by pseudomonas, proteus mirabilis, and staphylococcus bacteria (colloquially known as a “staph” infection). Each of these different strains targets different areas of the body and may result in an array of comorbid symptoms, including irritation to the ear.
- Yeast infections – Yeast infections are discernible by itching and flaking around the aural cavity. While easily treated (usually with a topical ointment), they can also arise as a result of another underlying issue, such as seasonal allergies to tumors. By taking your pup to the vet at the first sign of infection, you’ll be able to identify and treat any underlying issues.
- Ear mite infections – Ear mites generally affect cats more than dogs, but this type of parasite may be to blame for a canine ear infection. If your dog’s obsessive ear scratching is accompanied by a brown, grainy substance within the ears, contact your vet. Ear mites can migrate swiftly between animals, so if you have more than one pet at home, it’s best to bring them all along for a check-up.
- Allergen hypersensitivities – At times, an ear infection can be the result of a hypersensitivity to allergens, such as dust, pollen, or mold, or a pathogen, like fleas. If your dog is exhibiting any signs of discomfort, it’s always best to consult your vet to get a full picture of their wellness beyond their symptoms.
It’s important to note that some breeds of dogs are also more vulnerable to developing ear infections than others.3 These include:
- Basset hounds
- Bichon Frises
- Cocker spaniels
- Golden retrievers
- Labrador retrievers
- Shih Tzus
As a general rule, dogs with long hair or long ears are particularly susceptible to developing ear infections. If your dog matches the description—or loves taking frequent dips in bodies of water—it’s important to check their ears for infection regularly.
How to Prevent Ear Infections in Dogs
Like so many other health conditions, the most effective way to deal with ear infections in dogs is through preventive care.
Here are our top three recommendations for tackling ear infections in your pup before they arise.
#1 Wash Ears with a Non-Toxic, Antimicrobial Cleanser
Thorough ear washings should be performed weekly or every other week. Frequent ear cleanings prevent microbes and bacteria from incubating in your dog’s ears, and the routine will enable you to perform regular at-home check-ups so that you can spot signs of new infections ahead of time.
When doing a deep clean, the best thing you can use for your dog is to use a non-toxic, high-quality ear cleanser with hypochlorous acid to drain their ear canal of bacteria and pathogens.
Your dog will also get used to you poking around their ears, which may make for a less fussy experience should you need to apply topical medicine to the area in the future. But remember—it’s always a good idea to use treats as a motivating factor while they learn to love superior ear hygiene!
#2 Dry Ears After Swimming
Drying your dog’s ears thoroughly and regularly is the best way to ward off ear infections—particularly if your pet is especially partial to bathing and swimming.
#3 Eliminate Potential Allergens
If your dog has been suffering from ear infections, you may need to get them screened for allergens. Allergens may be a contributing factor to these dog ear problems.
Your veterinarian can test your dog for allergies with a physical exam and lab tests. Some common allergens among dogs are:4
- Pollen or plant matter
- Perfume or incense
- Cigarette smoke
- Meat products
- Dairy products
- Wheat products
- Corn-based products
- Soy-based products
Depending on the lab results, you may need to make some adjustments to your lifestyle to ensure that your pet isn’t in undue discomfort or pain.
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- Pet MD. How to Identify, Treat, and Prevent Dog Ear Infections. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/how-treat-and-prevent-dog-ear-infections#Go%20away
- AKC. Dog Ear Infections: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dog-ear-infections/
- Good Rx. How to Tell If Your Dog Has an Ear Infection. https://www.goodrx.com/blog/how-to-tell-if-dog-has-ear-infection/
- This Dog’s Life. Here’s How to Find Out What Your Dog Is Allergic To. https://www.thisdogslife.co/heres-how-to-find-out-what-your-dog-is-allergic-to/
- Fetch by WebMD. Remedies for Dog Ear Infections. https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/remedies-for-dog-ear-infections#2