How To Identify a Dog Ear Infection and What To Do

dog sitting in the sand on a beach

We all want the best for our dogs – which is why we buy them the best food, provide regular exercise, keep up on grooming, and even buy them clothes. Even with the best of care, dogs are sure to run into some health and wellness issues, including ear infections. Ear infections are a very common occurrence in many dogs, though some may be prone to developing them more than others.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of an ear infection is the best way to ensure that your dog gets the treatment they need should one arise. In addition, there are many ways to prevent canine ear infections at home. While this condition may be painful and uncomfortable, ear infections can easily be treated and won’t affect your dog’s health once they have been cleared up.

We’ll go over all of the basics, including how to identify a dog ear infection and what to do. We’ll also cover preventative measures, risk factors, and more. In no time, you will have all of the information that you need to keep your dog’s ears clean and healthy so they can avoid developing an ear infection in the future. Your dog is sure to thank you for caring for their ears and preventing unwanted ear infections.

What Is A Canine Ear Infection?

Ear infections are a condition that can take place in both humans and dogs. Ever spent the weekend swimming and ended up with an ear infection from it? Maybe you developed one when you were sick. This achy, clogged feeling in your ear canal is the same experience that dogs have when they develop an ear infection. Due to the shape of their ear canals, dogs can develop ear infections more often than humans. 

There are three different types of ear infections:  otitis externa, media, and interna. For dogs, the most common type of ear infection is otitis externa. This occurs when inflammation affects the layer of cells lining the external part of the ear. Otitis media and interna are usually caused by the spread of an infection from the internal ear into the middle and inner ear canal. When the infection reaches the middle and inner ear canal, they become much more serious and can cause deafness, facial paralysis, and vestibular signs. This is why treating canine ear infections as soon as they arise is essential. In doing so, you may be saving your dog from additional pain and discomfort, which can lead to other serious health concerns.

dog laying on a bed under a blanket

Which Dogs Are More Prone To Ear Infections?

While all dogs can develop ear infections, some are more likely to than others. This can depend on a variety of factors, including breed, ear shape, common activities, and underlying conditions. Dogs with a floppy ear shape, such as a basset hound or cocker spaniel, are common victims of ear infections. This is because of their adorable floppy ears. While this ear shape is cute, it can come with a price.

Floppy ears prevent proper ventilation within the ear canal, which can lead to excessive moisture. This moisture is the perfect breeding ground for unwanted bacteria that can lead to ear infections.

In addition to ear shape, common physical activities can lead to ear infections. Swimming is one of the most common causes of a dog ear infection. When swimming, water will get in your dog’s ear as they splash around and jump in the water. When this happens, the water becomes trapped, causing bacterial growth and eventually, an ear infection. If you have a dog that can’t turn down an opportunity to jump in the water and notice they have recurring ear infections, this may be the cause.

Finally, underlying health conditions, specifically allergies, can be the culprit when it comes to ear infections. Allergies present differently in dogs than they do in humans. While humans may sneeze, cough, or have watery eyes, allergies cause dogs to have skin and ear irritations, including ear infections. Food allergies, skin allergies, and flea allergies are the three types of allergies that most often affect dogs. If you notice that your dog experiences recurring ear infections despite treatment and preventative measures, allergies may be the cause.

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Canine Ear Infection Causes

Along with the different shapes of dog ears compared to humans, here are some common causes of canine ear infections. One of the most typical causes is moisture, as stated earlier. This moisture can be caused by swimming, bathing, or ear shape. In addition, the wax buildup is an extremely common cause of an ear infection.

For puppies, ear mites are a very common cause of ear infections, as dogs grow older, injury to the ear canal or dirt are more common causes. While regular, proper cleaning at an appropriate frequency is the best way to ensure that your dog’s ears stay clean and healthy, excessive ear cleaning can lead to infections.  We’ll go over how to properly clean your dog’s ears in a bit.

dog sitting in front of an orange background

Ear Infection Symptoms

When it comes to ear infections in dogs, it’s important to keep a lookout for common signs and symptoms of this condition. As stated earlier, ear infections that are left untreated can progress from otitis externa to media and interna, which then pose a much more serious health threat.

To avoid the progression of ear infections, they need to be treated as soon as possible after they develop. To accomplish this, be sure to keep an eye out for potential ear infection symptoms. Some dogs may show no symptoms of an ear infection besides wax buildup and discharge within the ear canal. Even with minimal symptoms ear infections are still painful and uncomfortable for your dog.

There are many symptoms an ear infection is present in your dog. One of the most common is head shaking, which dogs will do to try and ease the discomfort within the ear canal. They may also scratch at the affected ear or rub it with their paw, to try and ease pain and discomfort. One of the most obvious signs of an ear infection is redness and swelling of the ear canal. If your dog yelps or whines when you touch or rub its ear, it may be because it has become infected.

Odor is another common sign of ear infections. Infected dog ears may become itchy, and there may be scabs or crusting within the ear. A dark discharge is a very serious sign of ear infections. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms in your dog, be sure to get them to the vet as soon as possible. They will be able to guide you on the proper treatment so that your dog can be back to healthy in no time.

Ear Infection Diagnosis

No matter the cause of the ear infection, your dog will need a proper medical diagnosis to obtain treatment. Taking your dog to the vet as soon as you notice symptoms is highly recommended!  In most cases, ear infections can’t be treated at home; therefore, take your dog to the vet for a proper examination.  A medical professional will offer the most accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to follow to ensure a healthy pet!

When you go to the vet to treat an ear infection, they will need to know some background information to properly treat your pup. Some information they might ask can include symptom duration, allergies, underlying medical conditions, regular diet, and whether or not your dog is currently on any medications. They may also ask if you have trimmed or plucked your dog’s ear hairs, how often you clean their ears, what ear cleaning products you use, and how often they swim, are groomed, and are bathed.

Once your vet has a good idea of your dog’s history, they will move on to a physical examination. This can include a visual assessment, in which they will look for common ear infection symptoms such as swelling, redness, and discharge. An otoscope, which is a tool that allows the vet a better look into the ear canal and eardrum may also be used. A culture sample may be collected to send to a lab in order to identify the presence of bacteria. In severe cases, your vet may need to perform a biopsy or take an x-ray of the ear. Once proper diagnostic steps have been taken, your vet will decide on the next step for treatment.

dog laying in front of a gray background

Ear Infection Treatment

Ear problems, such as infections, can be troublesome for both you and your dog. Thankfully, ear infections can typically be identified and treated easily by your vet. An ear infection is treated based on the severity of the case; however, your vet will usually start with cleaning your dog’s ears with a medicated ear cleanser. After that, they may prescribe an ear cleanser and topical medication to be used at home. If the ear infection is severe, your dog may need oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and fight the infection internally.

Once treatment has begun, most dog ears will be free of infection within one to two weeks. Severe ear infections or those that are caused by underlying conditions may take months to resolve. In worst-case scenarios, some dogs may experience chronic ear infections. When chronic ear infections occur and typical treatments aren’t working, your vet may recommend a surgery known as a total ear canal ablation. Total ear canal ablation removes the ear canal, which in the process removes the diseased tissue and the possibility of a recurring infection.

If your vet gives you treatment steps to follow at home, you must follow them closely. Failure to do so and lapses in treatment may result in the recurrence of an infection. Even if your dog’s ears appear better and they aren’t exhibiting any signs or symptoms of an infection, don’t stop medication or treatment until the vet has told you it’s okay to do so.

Preventing A Dog Ear Infection

Ear infections can be stressful for any dog and its owner, especially when they become recurrent. Your dog will be in pain, and you will likely become stressed-out by this condition. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to prevent ear infections in your dog.

Ear Cleaning

One of the best ways to prevent infections is through regular ear cleaning. To clean your dog’s ears, start by filling the ear canal with an ear cleaning solution specifically made for dogs. While the ear is full, massage the vertical ear canal from the outside, allowing the solution to break down any wax and bacteria throughout the ear canal. Don’t worry- this doesn’t hurt your dog and usually feels soothing and good to them. Afterwards, be sure to wipe out your dog’s ear and ear canal with an absorbent gauze. Try to avoid using a paper towel or cotton balls, as they can leave fibers behind that may cause irritation.

Cotton swabs can be useful for cleaning the external ear flap on your dog, which will remove debris and buildup. Never use cotton swabs in the ear canal, as this can accidentally push debris and other ear infection causing factors deeper into the canal, posing a higher risk for infection.

dog sitting on a hill

Professional Grooming

While many dog owners will keep up on bathing and grooming at home, there are some perks of professional grooming. One of these is ear infection prevention. During professional grooming sessions, your groomer will thoroughly clean your dog’s ears. They will also trim and pluck ear hair as needed. Ear hair trimming and maintenance can help avoid debris and wax becoming trapped in the hair, which may lead to ear infections.

Never try to trim or pluck your dog’s ear hair at home as this can be hazardous. In between professional grooming sessions, simply keep up on regular ear cleaning at home. The groomer will do a thorough check of your dog’s ears and let you know if they see any indications of an infection that needs to be treated. Professional groomers not only keep your dog looking nice, but they keep them feeling nice and healthy as well.

Swimming and Bathing

Swimming and bathing often cause ear infections. When your dog gets out of the bath or pool, allow them to thoroughly shake off. Doing so can help remove any excess water that has made its way into their ear canal. Once they have shaken off, completely dry their ears with an absorbent towel. Taking these steps can help ensure that water isn’t the cause of your dog’s ear infections.

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    $13.99
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    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    02/08/2023 07:01 am GMT
  3. BEXLEY LABS Curaseb Cat & Dog Ear Infection Treatment - Stops Infections, Inflammation & Itchiness, Veterinary Strength (12oz (Pack of 1))
  4. BEXLEY LABS Curaseb Cat & Dog Ear Infection Treatment - Stops Infections, Inflammation & Itchiness, Veterinary Strength (12oz (Pack of 1))
    $19.99 ($1.67 / Fl Oz)
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    02/08/2023 08:42 am GMT

Underlying Conditions

If you are taking preventative measures and your dog is still developing ear infections, this may be due to an underlying condition.

One of the most common underlying conditions is allergies. Dogs that experience ear infections with itchy, irritated skin, may have allergies. Many factors cause allergies in dogs such as fleas, pollen, dust, grass, and new foods. Allergies must be diagnosed by your vet through allergy testing. Once they have narrowed down what your dog is allergic to, your vet will be start proper treatment. After allergies have been resolved, you will likely see a big reduction in the number of ear infections that your dog experiences each year.

Other health conditions, such as thyroid disease, can contribute to ear problems such as infections. If you’re worried your dog has recurring ear infections due to a medical condition, be sure to discuss them with your vet. They will be able to take the proper diagnostic steps to find the cause of these ear infections and successfully treat them. With you and your vet’s help, your dog’s ears can be healthy and happy in no time.

dog in front of a bright blue background

Wrapping Up

Noticing that your dog’s ears seem swollen and irritated can be stressful for any dog owner. Ear infections can be painful and difficult to pinpoint. Swimming, excess moisture, debris, ear shape, underlying conditions, and more can all be common culprits of creating an infection. If you notice that your dog is exhibiting any signs of an ear infection, be sure to get them into the vet as soon as possible. Your vet will be able to examine the ear, diagnosis the issues, and form a treatment plan.

Some common signs that warrant a trip to the vet include head shaking, scratching the ears, redness, ear pain, odor, crust, and rubbing of the ears. Once diagnosed, your vet will advise you of the next steps. Most dogs make a full recovery from an infection one to two weeks after beginning treatment. After the infection has been treated, there are some steps that you can take to prevent another one from occurring, such as regular ear cleaning, professional grooming, proper drying after swimming or a bath, and possible testing for underlying conditions. While ear infections can be scary and stressful for you and your dog, don’t panic. With proper care and prevention, your dog is sure to live a healthy and happy life with minimal ear infections and lots of love from their family members.

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