Dog EarHealth & Diet

Dog Ear Infections: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Ear infections are common across all breeds and age groups of dogs. They occur due to allergies but also to an underlying medical condition or genetic predisposition. 

Dogs are particularly prone to ear infections due to their unique anatomy and ear canals. It makes them more accessible for dirt and moisture buildup. 

Untreated ear infections can cause inflammation and infection of the middle or inner ear. It can lead to serious issues such as hearing loss and disorientation. Dogs of any breed or age group can get them. 

Some breeds, such as Cocker Spaniels and Springer Spaniels, are especially prone to ear infections due to their pinnae (outer ears) shape. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Shar-Peis, Poodles, Schnauzers, and other dogs may also develop chronic or recurring issues with their ears. 

Symptoms of Dog Ear Infections 

The most obvious symptoms of an ear infection in your pup include scratching at the ear, whining, or excessive head shaking. However, some dogs show no symptoms. Therefore. it’s essential to take your pup in for evaluation right away. Some signs of ear infections includes: 

  • Crusting or scabbing in the ears 
  • Dark fluid discharge 
  • Head shaking 
  • Itch 
  • Foul odor 
  • Pain 
  • Redness and inflammation of the ear canal 
  • Scratching at the particular ear 

What Causes Ear Infections in Dogs? 

Ear infections in dogs can be due to yeast or bacteria trapped inside the ear canal, ear mites, allergies and more. Without treating the underlying causes, however, the infection may not resolve on its own. 

In most cases, your vet will perform a series of tests to pinpoint the source of your dog’s ear infection. This usually includes an otoscopic examination and microscopic testing. 


  • Bacteria 

Bacteria are one of the leading causes of ear infections in dogs. They are single-celled microorganisms that live both inside and outside animals, as well as in substances like water and food. Bacteria are extremely common throughout our environment – whether we know about them or not! 

According to the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), bacteria can lead to infections and disease in humans. While some bacteria are harmless, others can lead to various illnesses. 

  • Yeast 

If your dog is suffering from ear infections, there’s likely that they are caused by yeast. This is an easily identifiable microorganism and essential to your pup’s digestion system. 

Yeast thrives on carbon sources like sugar, so cutting out foods with refined carbohydrates like potatoes, corn and wheat is essential for stopping ear yeast infections in their tracks. 

Vets diagnose yeast infections in dogs through a physical examination, your report of what you observe and some simple skin tests called cytology (taking a swab of discharge and staining it to examine under the microscope). 

  • Mites 

Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are parasitic insects that live in the ears of dogs, cats, rabbits and ferrets. They’re related to arachnids and feed off wax and oils within your dog’s ears. 

They are highly contagious and can spread rapidly from dog to dog. This may lead to secondary bacterial infections in the ear canal, known as otitis externa. 

  • Environmental Factors 

Environmental factors can lead to an ear infection in dogs. These include excessive moisture, earwax buildup, or foreign objects. 


Certain breeds are more prone to chronic ear infections than others due to their narrow ear canals and excessive hair growth inside their ears, which can trap and harbor any inflammatory debris. 

How Are Dog Ear Infections Treated? 

Dog owners know how uncomfortable ear infections can be for your pups. That is why it is so important to take your pup to the veterinarian if they experience these symptoms. 

Your vet can treat an ear infection with medications to reduce inflammation and eliminate the infection. These may include antibiotics, antifungals or a combination of both. 

Your veterinarian can test your dog’s ears to identify the source of infection and prescribe medication that eliminates bacteria or fungus. They’ll also look for signs that there’s a bacterial or fungal infestation in the ears, such as scabs or crusts on the inside of the ears. 

If your dog’s ear infection is due to bacteria, they will receive an oral antibiotic such as gentamycin to reduce inflammation and itching associated with bacterial ear infections. 

Additionally, they’ll be given an ear drop containing antibiotics and antifungals which will effectively destroy both bacteria in the ear as well as any fungi present. 

Some dogs can benefit from topical treatments to relieve itching and soothe their ears. These remedies are applied directly onto the ear with a cotton ball, and may contain either neomycin or chlorhexidine. 

A veterinarian may suggest an ear drop or spray that helps clear away debris from the ears. Usually, these products will be prescribed for several weeks and should be used as instructed. 

In some cases, your veterinarian may also suggest a thorough cleaning of the ears and/or shaving of hair from the canal. Doing this can improve both sanitation and medication efficacy. 


How to Prevent Ear Infections in Dogs 

Ear infections should never be taken lightly. They can be painful, debilitating and frustrating for dogs and their owners alike. But fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to help prevent ear infections in your pup and keep them at bay. 

  1. Regular Grooming and Bathing 

As the owner of an active pup, you might think that keeping your dog’s ears clean and dry will prevent infections from occurring. Unfortunately, ear infections in dogs are quite common and can be due to a variety of factors. 

  1. Consider Allergies to Food and Environmental Yeast Infections 

According to veterinarian Kimberly Grant, the most frequent cause of recurrent ear infections in dogs is allergies. Allergies to proteins found in foods or seasonal allergens like dust mites can cause inflammation and itching on your dog’s skin. It exposes their ears to germs, yeast, and other microscopic invaders. 

  1. Discuss Allergy Testing With Your Vet 

Whether your pup has allergies to specific ingredients in foods or things like pollen, dust mites and seasonal allergens, it is essential to identify and address their underlying causes. Doing this will prevent recurrent ear infections from happening again and make your dog happier and healthier overall in the long run. 

  1. Use an Ear Cleaning Product Specifically Formulated for Dogs 

Most ear-cleaning products intend to remove visible debris from your pup’s outer ear canal and keep ear wax, dirt and infection-causing discharge away from accumulating in their flaps. Essentially, they remove visible particles while keeping wax, dirt and discharge out of their ears. 

Finally, if you’re worried about your dog’s ear health or the cost of treating recurrent ear infections. Look into getting a pet insurance plan that covers routine veterinary visits. Your vet can diagnose what’s causing their issues with ears and suggest a treatment plan to address them effectively. 


No matter how well you keep your dog’s ears clean, there is still a chance they could develop an ear infection. But the good news is, there are steps you can take to help avoid this from occurring in the first place.