Get rates for your pet:

See My Rates »
Retrieve a Saved Quote

Dog Ear Infections

By Stacy Painter and medically reviewed by JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
November 22, 2019 • 3 min. read
vet checking dog's ear

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.

Symptoms of dog ear infections

Dog ear infections may or may not include visible symptoms. Common ear infection symptoms include:

  • Head shaking
  • Scratching at the ear
  • Discharge
  • Odor
  • 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.

The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical diagnosis, condition, or treatment options.

Stacy Painter profile
By Stacy Painter

Stacy has always been an animal lover and has worked in the pet industry and pet insurance specifically for over a decade. As a writer since early childhood, content writing for Healthy Paws pet insurance was a natural career path to combine her two passions. She currently lives in Florida with her boyfriend and Taiwanese rescue dog, Kaya.

Show more
joanna pendergrass
By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM

JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM, is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer in Atlanta, GA. After graduating from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine with her veterinary degree, JoAnna completed a 2-year research fellowship in neuroscience at Emory University. During this fellowship, she learned that she could make a career out of combining her loves of science and writing. As a medical writer, JoAnna is passionate about providing pet parents at Healthy Paws with clear, concise, and engaging information about pet care. Through her writing, she strives not only to educate pet parents, but also empower them to make good health decisions for their pets. JoAnna is a member of the American Medical Writers Association and Dog Writers Association of America.

Show more