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Dog Ear Infection – Symptoms, Types, and Treatment

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Author: Jacob Kay

If your furry friend shows signs of scratching around the ear, shaking of the head, redness or swelling near the ear canal, or sensitivity to touch then, it indicates a dog ear infection. Ear infection in dogs is common in dogs, especially in dogs with floppy ears. If you have a Cocker spaniel or a Basset hound then, you must have noticed these signs.

However, at times, dog owners tend to miss these signs and I have seen newbies come to me after the situation has already gotten worse. But, if you are an experienced owner and have made such a mistake in the past then you must know how to identify this issue. So, keep reading and you’ll get details about causes, symptoms, and treatment for dog ear infections.

Dog Ear Infection

The ear canal of dogs is more vertical compared to humans. It forms an L-shape which holds the fluid. This makes dogs vulnerable to ear infections. The common causes of ear infections in dogs are bacteria, yeast, parasites, or a combination of all. Ear mites can also cause infection in the ear. Below are some of the common causes of ear infections in dogs:

  • Moisture – Wetness left around the ear post swimming, grooming, bathing, or humid weather can allow bacteria or fungi to manifest. This can lead to infection.
  • Allergy – Some dogs might suffer from ear infections after having an allergic reaction. They get an allergic reaction because of dust, pollen, and sensitivity to food items or other substances.
  • Ear mites – These are small parasites residing in the ear canal. They feed on wax and skin causing intense inflammation, itching, and infection in dogs’ ears. Sometimes these mites could also lead to crumbly discharge which appears to be like coffee.
  • Foreign bodies – insects, grass seeds, or dirt can get stuck in dogs’ ear canals and lead to issues like inflammation, infection, or irritation.
  • Shape of ear – as mentioned earlier, some dogs have long, flappy, or hairy ears and it can make dogs prone to infection.

Ear infection in dogs symptoms

Wax buildup and discharge in the ear canal are not the only symptoms responsible for dog ear infections. There are some other symptoms as well. Here are some of them:

  • Itching – infection can lead to inflammation and irritation in dogs’ ear canals. Excessive irritation and inflammation of dogs’ ears can cause itchiness issues for the dog. Itchiness can make dog scratch their ears continuously or shake them more. This behaviour can cause more damage to the skin and make dogs’ ears more susceptible to severe ear infections.
  • Swelling – pus and fluid accumulation because of an infection in the ear canal can cause swelling issues for the dog. Swelling can obstruct the drainage of the ear, and trap more moisture. The moisture makes conditions favourable for the bacteria.
  • Redness – swelling in the ear canal and increases in blood flow can make dogs’ ears look inflamed. On touching the ears, you will feel the warmth of the dogs’ ears.
  • Discharge – secretion of pus, blood, debris, or wax can discharge the fluid and cause infection issues. The presence of fungi, bacteria, yeast, or parasites in the fluid can lure different insects towards dogs’ ears.
  • Pain – damage to the ear canal caused by inflammation, irritation, or swelling makes the dog feel pain. On touch, the dog might whine or exhibit signs of discomfort.

Types of ear infection in dogs

There are different ear infection types that dogs might suffer from. Here are some details about each of them:

  1. Otitis Externa – is one of the most common infection types which dogs suffer. This impacts the layer of cells lining the external part of the ear canal. It is the least serious form of infection and is easily managed with proper treatment.
  2. Otitis Media – the dog’s middle ear is affected by this type of infection. But, it’s progressive and can lead to deafness, facial paralysis, and other complications. So, needs immediate treatment to help the dog recover. This infection can also occur due to trauma, immune disorders, or polyps.
  3. Otitis Interna – this infection occurs in the innermost canal of the dog’s ear. The eardrum of the dog is significantly damaged. Unlike Otitis Externa or Otitis Media, dogs suffering from this ear infection will need immediate assistance and treatment from the vet. If they don’t receive the treatment, they might end up being deaf.

Diagnosis of Ear Infection in Dogs

Diagnosis of Ear Infection in Dogs

Once you notice any signs or symptoms suggesting an ear infection in your dog, you will need to get your dog examined. A proper diagnosis is needed otherwise the infection could get worse, and make the dog more uncomfortable. Sooner the infection gets treated, better for the dog. So, here are some details on how the diagnosis of a dog ear infection might happen:

#1. A detailed medical history

Providing the vet with a detailed medical history of your dog is crucial. It helps in identifying the underlying cause of an ear infection in dogs. This helps the vet begin with the diagnosis as it’s possible that prior exposure to certain food items, elements, or medication might have caused ear infections.

#2. Physical examination

To analyze the severity of the infection, the vet might use the otoscope. It helps in checking the ear canal and eardrum of the dog to notice signs of ruptures, tumours, or foreign objects that might be causing the issue.

#3. Microscopic examination

This examination allows the vet to know the type of infection and potentially the cause as well. Taking the swab of the fluid from the dog’s ear and analysing it under the microscope will help the vet know if there are bacteria, parasites, yeast, or other microorganisms present in the ear causing infection. Knowing this can help the vet decide the course of treatment or prescribe medications or ear drops.

#4. Palpation of ears

This is a technique which involves gently feeling the dog’s ear and applying slight pressure to assess the discharge, pain, and swelling the dog is suffering. Based on dogs’ reactions, vets can roughly estimate the severity of the inflammation and infection in the ear canal. The palpation of ears also helps the vet to identify other underlying problems such as tumours, or severe anomalies that are responsible for the ear infection in dogs.

Further, if there is a need to assess the deep ear canal of dogs’ ears, the vet might sedate the dog. Sedation is necessary because the pain is severe and the dog might not be able to handle it properly.

Treatment for dog ear infection

Once the vet is done conducting different tests to identify issues in the dog’s ears, they will begin with the treatment for the infection. You can expect the following treatment for the ear infections from the vet:

  • Steroids – help reduce swelling and pain in the ear canal. They also stop ear tissue damage. A vet will give steroids to the dog using injections, ear drops, or pills.
  • Dog ear drops – these ear dogs are different from the normal ones and include antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, or antifungals that would help eliminate the parasites, yeast, or bacteria. The dog ear drops also help in relieving dogs from irritation and itchiness.
  • Oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatories – these medications are used when steroids or dog ear drops are not helping. They help treat systematic or severe ear infections in dogs.
  • Surgery – severe ear infections may require surgery, especially if the ear infection is not resolved with medications. Surgery is helpful in cases where structural problems need to be resolved. For instance, narrowing, polyps, or tumours which interfere with the drainage and ventilation of the ear are taken care of with surgery. In addition, surgery is also needed to remove foreign bodies like foxtails, or grass seeds which damage the ear canal of the dog.

How to Treat Dog Ear Infection Without Vet?

How to Treat Dog Ear Infection Without Vet?

Resolving ear infections with the help of a vet is the best way to help your furry friend. However, at times, the vet might not be available or the infection in the ear might not be serious. In such instances, you can treat your furry friends’ ear infections at home. Let’s have a peek at the methods you could leverage to treat the dog ear infection at home:

#1. Applying a warm or cold compress to the infected area

A warm or cold compress can help in reducing the inflammation and pain-related issues in a dog’s ear canal. Applying a warm compress will elevate blood flow and facilitate healing. Whereas, the cold compress will make nerves of the ear canal numb and reduce swelling.

Also, you can try the alternative compress for better results. Use a towel, heating pad, or a cloth soaked in cold or hot water. Make sure you wrap the compress near your furry friend’s ear and hold it for 10 to 15 minutes. In addition, the compress should not be too hot or cold otherwise dogs’ skin could get damaged.

#2. Use over-the-counter pain relievers

Pain and fever are common signs of ear infections and to help the dog feel better, you can use pain relievers like meloxicam or carprofen. These medications are safe for dogs and they belong to the class of drugs i.e. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal and anti-inflammatory drugs ). NSAIDs are known to block the production of chemicals like prostaglandins which usually trigger the inflammatory response.

They help in minimising the inflammation and pain in dogs’ ears. You can provide these pain relievers once or twice a day. You should not give human painkillers to the dog as they could cause liver damage, ulcers, or kidney failure.

#3. Use Ear drops that have natural ingredients

The natural ingredients in ear drops fight ear infections and also provide dogs relief in the ear canal. The infection is triggered because of yeast, bacteria, or parasites that reside in moist areas of the ear. Garlic, mullein, or tea tree oil have antifungal, anti-inflammatory, or anti-bacterial properties which can kill the microorganisms and also, minimise the irritation in the ear.

#4. Change dogs’ sleeping position

It may seem like a small prospect but, changing dogs’ sleeping position can significantly help in dealing with the infection issue. Fluid buildup in a dog’s ear can rupture the dog’s eardrum or possibly lead to hearing loss. A shift in posture will help avoid pressure on the infected ear and also help drain fluid from the ear.

#5. Keep dogs’ ears clean and dry

One of the simplest methods to avoid ear infections in dogs is to keep their ear clean and dry. You can clean their ears by covering the ear and prevent water from getting into their ears. Make sure that you avoid using cotton swabs, fingers, or other objects to scratch or poke your furry friends’ ears. The damage to the ear canal could get worse.

Perks of leveraging home remedy for dog ear infection

  • A safer, and cheaper option
  • Has antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, or soothing properties to help tackle the infection and relieve the symptoms
  • Less irritating for dogs unlike other chemicals or medications

Drawbacks of home remedy for dog ear infection

  • Not effective like synthetic or artificial products used to deal with ear infection
  • They don’t deal with the underlying cause of the ear infection like foreign bodies, allergies, or endocrine disorders. A visit to the vet will only be able to provide such a diagnosis.
  • Some dogs show side effects such as allergic reactions, resistance, or irritation to the ingredients present in the supplements or medications
  • Not all dogs might benefit from natural remedies for dog ear infection

Helping the Dog Recover from Ear Infection

It is important that dog owners help their dogs with recovery post-treatment or surgery. The support from your side helps your dog heal quickly. Here are prospects you need to consider to help your dog with the recovery:

#1. Follow vets’ instructions

After the treatment or surgery, the vet will provide you with a schedule to speed up the recovery, at home. This schedule will include different instructions like providing medicines to the dog, cleaning the ear, and other such activities. Each of the instructions should be followed.

You must not compromise on the schedule. For instance, cleaning their ear late, changing the medication without vets’ consultation, or, forgetting to give them the medicine. Any of these instances could hinder recovery progress.

#2. Don’t allow dogs to scratch or rub the ear

Your furry friend might try to rub or scratch their ears to soothe the irritation or deal with pain. However, it can damage the ear and possibly make the condition worse. Rubbing or searching of ears neutralises the treatment or surgery executed to deal with the infection issue. So, as a responsible dog owner, you need to ensure that they don’t rub or scratch the ear.

To make sure your dog doesn’t scratch or rub the ear, you will have to monitor them continuously. But, it is impossible to remain close to your dog all the time. It only takes a few seconds for them to rub or scratch the ear.

#3. Reward the dog with toys, or treats

The condition of the dog is not good when recovering. They are suffering from pain, and lack energy. They feel dull and restless. So, it’s important for you to praise them. Provide them with food treats, or toys to encourage them and uplift their mood. This gesture will make the dog feel good and it will help with the recovery.

#4. Monitor the dog

You have to continuously monitor dogs’ behaviour to make sure they are not in distress. Any indication of discomfort should not be ignored and needs to be addressed instantly. If there is visible physical distress then you need to immediately take your dog to the vet.

Things dog owners must avoid when treating ear infections in dogs

While treating the ear infection in dogs, there are certain prospects that dog owners need to avoid. It helps with the recovery and ensures dogs’ safety. Below are some of the things you should avoid while treating ear infections in dogs:

  1. Avoid using cotton swabs – some cotton swabs can damage the ears of the dogs and push dirt deeper into dogs’ ears. This happens because the cotton swabs are too big and strong for the curved and narrow-shaped
  2. Don’t use drying agents – hydrogen peroxide or alcohol can worsen the infection and irritate the skin. They can also lead to stinging, burning, or itching sensations in the ear. These sensations make dogs uncomfortable and susceptible to rubbing or scratching of the ear.
  3. Ignore the use of vinegar – this substance can leave the ear moist and facilitate the growth of yeast and bacteria. The acidic nature of vinegar and the low pH of the
  4. Avoid using human painkillers – human painkillers are not suitable for dogs and using them to treat ear infections could have some severe repercussions. These painkillers have different metabolisms and sensitivity to the drugs. A dog might suffer from severe symptoms like bleeding disorders, kidney failure, liver damage, or even death.
  5. Avoid cleaning the ear frequently – constant cleaning can strip the ear of its natural protective coating and elevate the risk of infection. Cleaning the ear frequently could lead to issues like dryness, inflammation, or cracking in the ears. So, make sure that you only clean the ears when necessary.
  6. Avoid ignoring the signs of chronic or severe infection – if the condition is deteriorating or the dog seems like suffering from intense pain, head tilt, pain, or has balancing problems, you should avoid ignoring the symptoms. Any of these symptoms could lead to facial paralysis, vestibular signs, or deafness.


Why dog ear infection is so common?

If you have this question then your dog must really be facing this issue more than often or, you are frustrated seeing your dog suffer from this. The general prospects suggesting dog ear infection is their ear shape is different from humans i.e. L-shaped ear canal. It makes it easy for bacteria, and yeast to grow as there is lots of moisture trapped inside the ear. Also, the ear type of dogs also makes them prone to ear infections. In addition, if the dog has certain pre-existing conditions, allergies, skin inflammation, or, a weak immune system and excessive wax production.

Does dog ear infection go away itself?

Not really! Dog ear infection doesn’t go away itself. Yes, the mild ones might heal faster but, if there is some serious manifestation of the bacteria or yeast then, you’ll need to treat it. Based on the severity of the symptoms and physical condition of the ear, you can treat it. If you are uncertain about the symptoms or don’t have the right medication or means to treat the infection then, take the dog to the vet.

What should I give my dog for an ear infection?

You can try using medications you have to treat an ear infection in dogs. If not, try natural remedies such as apple cider vinegar, and witch hazel, or minimise the symptoms. However, these are not substitutes for actual treatment. If you feel clueless or symptoms are getting worse then you need to make sure that you take your dog to the vet.

Are there specific dog breeds that are susceptible to ear infections?

Yes! Dogs with floppy or hairy ears are more susceptible to ear infections. Dog breeds such as Bassett Hounds, Cocker Spaniel, Labradoodle, Beagle, poodles, Rottweiler, Golden Retriever, and Shih Tzu are the dogs who are vulnerable to ear infections. But, this doesn’t imply that other dogs will not have ear infection issues. Exposure to bacteria, hormonal disorders, allergies, or autoimmune diseases could make any dog vulnerable to ear infections.

Final Remarks on Dog Ear Infection

An ear infection is a common issue in dogs but, not a pleasant one. The infection issue needs to be addressed and resolved quickly. Otherwise, the pain, discomfort, and hearing loss in dogs can cause some severe complications like vestibular signs, or facial paralysis. As a responsible dog owner, you’ll need to identify the symptoms.

The reason is simple, there are different types of ear infections and if it’s a minor one, you can at least leverage some of the natural remedies to help your furry friend with the infection issue. The severe ear infection will require vet intervention. Your furry friend might need surgery as well. So, make sure you recognise the symptoms.

I hope the article was able to provide you with useful insights into dog ear infections. Remember, treating ear infections at home is doable but, not a long-term solution for your furry friends’ misery. If anything, you could make it worse.

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Jacob Kay
Jacob Kay is a Veterinary Advisor and Editor at WWD. He’s also a dog lover and has two pet dogs of his own. He has extensive knowledge in the field of veterinary medicine and is always happy to share his insights with others.

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