Dog Ear Infections
Reviewed for accuracy on December 10, 2019 by JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
Ear infections in dogs are common. There are three main types of canine ear infections: otitis externa (infection of the external ear), otitis media (infection of the middle ear), and otitis interna (infection of the inner ear). Otitis externa is especially common in dogs with large, floppy or hairy ears, such as Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Poodles and Basset Hounds.
What causes ear infections?
Due to the shape of a dog’s ear canal, it tends to hold fluid (rather than drain, like a human’s ear) which makes it more prone to ear infections. Ear infections can be caused by bacteria or yeast. In puppies, ear mites can cause similar symptoms as an ear infection.
Dogs may also be more predisposed to ear infections if they experience trauma to the area (such as from rubbing and scratching), foreign objects inside the ear (seeds, hair, etc.), allergies, or autoimmune disorders.
Dog ear infections may or may not include visible symptoms. Common ear infection symptoms include:
- Head shaking
- Scratching at the ear
- Redness or scabbing inside the ear
- Ear is hot to the touch
- Ear is painful/sensitive
- Excess wax, buildup, or crusting in the ear
Ear infections can be uncomfortable and even painful for your dog. It’s important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible in order to prevent the infection from spreading into the middle and inner ear.
Your vet will perform a physical examination to assess the severity of the infection. If your dog’s ears are extremely painful or sensitive, your vet may need to sedate your dog to safely perform the examination. Further examination may involve taking culture samples or biopsies, and, in more severe cases, X-rays. Your vet will likely ask questions to determine the cause of infection, such as what your dog has been eating, if they have allergies, if they have been swimming, and if they are on any medications.
Treating dog ear infections
Ear infection treatment involves thoroughly cleaning the affected area with a medicated cleaning solution. Your vet may also prescribe an ear cleaning solution and topical medication. In more severe cases, they may also prescribe oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications.
Fortunately, treating your dog’s ears at home is not difficult, but it can be messy. Follow your vet’s instructions on the proper technique for treating your dog’s ears, and how frequently you should do so. Briefly, you will drop the prescribed amount of ear solution into your dog’s ears and gently massage the base of the ear. Let your dog shake his head, then gently swab the inside of the ear with a cotton ball (NOT a Q-tip).
If your dog needs oral antibiotics, be sure to administer the entire course of antibiotic treatment. Even if your dog feels better and his ears look better, you will need to give all of the prescribed antibiotic to ensure that all of the bacteria has been eliminated.
If the situation isn’t severe, the infection should resolve within 1-2 weeks with proper treatment. Severe infections can take months to heal or may even require surgery or an ear cleaning that requires anesthesia.
Some dogs, especially those with long floppy ears, have recurrent ear infections, also known as chronic ear infections. If this is your dog, be prepared for lifelong management of your dog’s ear infections.
There are a few preventive measures you can take to avoid or reduce the number of ear infections your dog gets.
- Keep your dog’s ears clean and dry, especially after bathing or swimming
- For dogs that are more prone to ear infections, regularly use an ear cleaning solution that contains a drying agent to gently clean your dog’s ears. Be sure not to overuse the cleaning solution, because this could dry out your dog’s ears too much. Talk with your veterinarian about how often to clean your dog’s ears
- If your dog is prone to chronic ear infections, work with your vet to determine the underlying cause (such as allergies) to help prevent new infections