Food Allergies That Cause Ear Infections in Dogs

Key Points

  • Food allergies can cause ear infections in dogs.

  • Ear infection symptoms include inflammation, scratching, shaking of the head, and discharge. 

  • Changing your dog’s diet resolves the symptoms of ear infections caused by food allergies.

Has your dog started pawing at their ears? While this isn't always a concern, it may be a sign your pet has an ear infection. Did you know that there are food allergies that cause ear infections in dogs?

While this outcome is rarer than other food allergy symptoms, it's still possible. Once you have diagnosed that a food allergy that is causing an ear infection, your next steps are essential for your pet’s health and comfort. 

Understanding the relationship between food allergies and ear infections and the signs and symptoms is vital to resolve your pup's ailment. 

What Is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy is an immune response to certain food triggers. Your dog's genetics tolerate certain foods but not others. For example, some breeds have a genetic predisposition to have corn allergies.

Food allergies are different from sensitives. A sensitivity creates symptoms, but they are milder than an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions create uncomfortable, painful, and sometimes fatal symptoms.

Your dog's immune response to food allergens creates inflammation. This inflammation creates symptoms such as itching, swelling, and ear infections. 

These symptoms appear quickly after your dog eats an allergen, although some symptoms are mild and may stay hidden until others appear. 

Touching dog ears

Ear Infections

Understanding the ins and outs of your dog's ear infections gives you a better idea of how to treat them


Three types of ear infections affect dogs. The first occurs at the otitis externa, which appears on the outer ear. These infections are easier to spot due to the inflammation towards the exterior of your canine's ear. 

Otitis media and internal ear infections occur throughout the middle of the ear and the inner ear canal. These ear infections are difficult to spot without properly examining your dog's ear. 

When these infections occur, it's important to address them right away. The inflammation in the inner portion of your dog's ear is sensitive and creates other symptoms, including balance issues and even deafness. 

The otitis media and internal problems mostly occur from outer ear infections, so addressing any of your dog's symptoms early combats more extensive damage. 


Your dog's ear infections occur from a few different sources. Bacteria buildup is a common cause and is most prevalent in dogs with floppy ears. Larger ears have increased moisture, creating a breeding ground for bacteria. 

Moisture also causes a buildup of mold, yeast, and certain mites. It is essential to make sure your dog's ears are well-maintained.

Certain foods trigger ear infections if your dog has food allergies. 

Protein allergies — such as chicken, pork, or beef — are a usual cause. Other typical sources are oats, potatoes, and corn. 

Dogs experience food allergies differently. If your dog is suffering from an allergy-related ear infection, it's important to identify which foods cause reactions. Removing these foods from the diet is the only way to prevent them from coming back and causing further damage.

How To Diagnose Before Making the Vet Appointment

Diagnosing your dog's ear infection is as simple as examining their ears. Ear inflammation and discharge are two common symptoms. Compare your dog's ears and see if you notice any color or shape differences. Since inner ear infections are more difficult to identify, shine a light into the ear canal. 

Ear infections also have a particularly pungent aroma. If you notice an unusual smell coming from your dog’s ears, this may be another indication of an infection. 

If you aren't sure whether your dog has an ear infection or not, look out for a few key behaviors from your dog. 


Scratching is a normal dog behavior, but when it's excessive, it's time to investigate. Particularly, excessive scratching of the ear is a sign your dog has an ear infection. 

Keep your dog from scratching too much because it may irritate or puncture the ears. 

Dog scratching ears

Shaking of the Head

The first thing your dog does when getting out of the bath is to shake the extra water off their head and body. Shaking the head signifies the attempt to remove something – usually water – from their ears or fur. 

You know your dog better than anyone; if you notice frequent shaking, it's time to examine your dog’s ears. 


A yellow-brown discharge is present in some dogs during an ear infection. Ear discharge is a tell-tale sign of an infection. 

If you notice a discharge, clean the ears as well as possible before immediately taking your dog to the veterinarian.


Swelling and inflammation are the easiest ear infection symptoms to spot. A quick examination will tell you whether certain surfaces have inflammation.

Sometimes, swelling is due to bites or rough-housing with the other pup mates. Keep an eye out for scratches or bite marks, as this may point to the inflammation being from a source other than a food allergy-related infection. 

Testing for Food Allergies

If your dog has frequent ear infections, it's time to get them tested for food allergies. 

Skin Test

A veterinarian administers a skin test by injecting tiny amounts of allergens into your dog's skin.

Any area that has a reaction points to that allergen being the root cause of the symptoms. This is especially helpful if you remove all common food allergens and still experience symptoms.

A skin test also tests for other non-food allergens such as pollen or fleas.  

Blood Test

A blood test checks your dog's blood for antibodies due to an immune response. They examine the different antibodies and match them with common allergies, such as food or environmental factors. 

How To Treat Ear Infections

There are both short-term and long-term solutions for treating your dog's ear infections. 

Vet Prescription

Your vet administers antibiotics to treat your dog's ear infections. These antibiotics kill the harmful bacteria causing your dog's infection. 

However, antibiotics also kill helpful bacteria, which you want to increase because it keeps the immune system robust and the digestive tract working properly.

Antibiotics help in certain instances but may not be effective for some ear infections. After finishing the antibiotic treatment, feeding your dog foods that help support a healthy gut biome is essential.

Ear Drops

Ear drops are effective for healing ear infections. Administering ear drops a few times each day allows for quick healing. 

Ear drops contain antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory ingredients that combat almost all ear infections' root causes. 

Applying ear drops to dog ears

Topical Medicine

For inflammation, applying dog-safe corticosteroid creams reduces swelling. These creams contain steroids that block the immune response and initiate healing. 


Your dog's allergies aren't set in stone.

Immunotherapy is a process that gradually introduces allergens into your dog's body. Though some allergies never truly go away, immunotherapy prevents your dog from having a strong immune response.

Since your dog receives these allergens at a slow rate, their immune system doesn't respond in full force. 

Over time, their immune system no longer views these allergens as a threat. Immunotherapy shots are available from a veterinarian. This method is a challenging fix and often takes a year for results to show.

Elimination Diet

Identifying your dog's ear allergies is easy in certain circumstances. Maybe an ear infection appeared shortly after starting a new kibble brand. 

In this case, compare the ingredients to your dog's previous food and see what new ingredients they are consuming.

Dog with ear discomfort

Some dog food allergies are more difficult to identify, and your veterinarian may recommend putting your dog on an elimination diet. 

An elimination diet removes the most common allergens for a few days from your dog's diet. When the ear infection and other symptoms disappear, slowly reintroduce the ingredients you removed. 

Introduce one ingredient at a time; you want to ensure you know which component is causing the reaction. You can't pinpoint the trigger if you introduce too many at once. 

Each time you introduce a new food group, give it a few days to see if your dog experiences a reaction. Eventually, you can determine which foods your dog is allergic to and remove them from their diet altogether. 

Cooking for Your Canine

Many dog food formulas contain common allergens, which can make it challenging to find an option that doesn't set off your dog's triggers.

Sure, opting for a hypoallergenic dog food brand is easy, but these store-bought options are more expensive than a conventional option. 

Ryan Bethencourt founded Wild Earth – a plant-based, allergy-friendly dog food. He discusses his experience removing common protein allergens from his dog food formulas:

"We've seen many improvements in animals, whether it's reductions in allergies and skin issues or reductions in digestive issues. Plant-based foods are high in anti-inflammatory compounds, and we think that's what's helping dogs. If you remove the bad meat with potentially toxic ingredients and add anti-inflammatory compounds from plants and yeast, then it should reduce systemic inflammation."

Steer clear of store-bought food if you're looking for an effective and affordable way to feed your pup without setting off an ear infection. Instead, try cooking your dog's meals at home. 

Home-cooked meals remove the need to examine every ingredient. Instead, you have peace of mind knowing what your canine eats throughout the day. 

Meal prepping for your dog is more affordable than buying food, especially if you buy in bulk. 

Rice, sweet potatoes, and salmon are excellent choices for home-cooked meals, but there are a variety of dog-safe ingredients available.

Store meals in the refrigerator throughout the week. If you have a lot of ingredients, freezing meals ahead of time saves you plenty of time and effort. 

If you decide to cook your dog's meals, delivering a balanced diet is important. Ensure your pet is meeting their daily nutritional needs. 

How Long Does It Take for Ear Infections To Improve?

The length of time it takes for your dog's ear infection to improve depends on a few factors. 

The time span of allergen consumption plays a role in the severity of the symptoms.

Examining dog ear for infection

Your dog's ear infection will persist until the allergen is no longer in their system and the body has had enough time to heal. 

Medications, ointment, and a diet change shorten the healing time once the allergen is eliminated. 

How To Prevent Ear Infections

The best method for combatting your dog's ear infections is prevention. 

If allergies cause your dog's ear infections, identifying the trigger and changing dietary practices is the first step. 

Prevent water from entering your dog's ears. If your dog plays in the rain or splashes in puddles, dry out the ears with a warm towel once they're inside. 

Regular bathing prevents bacteria and yeast buildup, which are known to contribute to ear infections. Increasing your dog's bath schedule is an excellent way to help prevent infections. 

Time for the Vet

Ear infections are a severe condition; even if your dog isn't exhibiting signs of pain, the infection must heal quickly to prevent further issues. 

Your dog's hearing is one of their greatest assets, making it essential to care for the ears as soon as an issue arises.

Looking out for infection symptoms allows you to decide whether or not a trip to the veterinarian is the best option. 

If you're unsure, opt for the safe bet and take your pup in to see the vet. 

Nurturing Your Dog's Ears

Have you checked your dog's ears lately? Initial infection symptoms may be mild and go unnoticed but can quickly become quite painful. 

Dog showing symptom of ear infection

Food isn't the only cause of ear infections in dogs, but it's a very common cause. Take a look at your pup's food and examine the ingredients.

Remember, prevention is critical. Combatting your dog's ear infections is easy with the proper precautions, and taking care of ear health is the best way to keep ear pain at bay.

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