Dog Ear Infections: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment Options
Category_Dog Knowledge

Dog Ear Infections: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment Options

by Andrew Ehlert

Many dog owners have witnessed the signs of a dog ear infection. Dogs are more vulnerable to ear infections because of the unique shape of their ear canals. While there are different types and severities, 20% of dogs are affected by ear disease.

You can protect your dog by getting to know common symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

Symptoms of Dog Ear Infections

While symptoms can vary, some standouts can help you recognize when your dog's ears need special attention. It's also wise to get to know your dog's ears. If something seems out of the ordinary, it might be a symptom.

Smelly ears can be an indicator of dog ear infections. Wax buildup can cause stinky ears, but bacterial or yeast infections can also cause odor. You might notice that your canine smells worse after scratching or agitating their ear area.

If cleaning your dog’s ears doesn’t alleviate the smell or it returns, it’s probably time for a veterinary checkup.

Some of the most common symptoms of dog ear infections are:

  • Ear canal discharge: yellow, brown, or bloody
  • Odor
  • Excessive rubbing or itchiness
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Scabbing or crusting (outer or inner ear)

While most of the symptoms are more annoying than painful, some dogs experience more severe symptoms. For example, with repetition and force, your dog can accidentally injure themselves while rubbing or itching. Your dog ears might also be sensitive or painful.

As the condition progresses, a dog ear infection can impact function, such as:

  • Hearing loss
  • Coordination issues
  • Facial paralysis
  • Loss of balance
  • Unusual eye movement

It’s essential to catch any infection early so you can treat it promptly with the proper medication and care before it progresses.

Causes of Ear Infections

There are various potential causes of a dog ear infection. However, allergens share many of the hallmarks of infections. When allergies lead to wax buildup, swelling, or sensitivity, bacteria may take advantage of your canine's sorry state. Whether your dog has skin or food sensitivities, ear disease is more common.

Bacteria is another primary cause, although it can be a secondary infection. Yeast infections are typically secondary infections, such as a result of allergen irritation or bacterial infection.

Other common causes of ear infections for dogs:

  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Bacteria or foreign bodies
  • Ear mites
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Excessive cleaning
  • Injury to the ear canal
  • Moisture
  • Wax buildup

It’s also crucial to pay attention to what your dog has recently consumed, whether it’s food, medicine, or something they found on a walk. Your dog’s immune response might negatively react to a new medication, shampoo, food, or environment.

If you observe a change in your dog, you might need to eliminate an external factor to relieve your dog's ear troubles. For example, your dog might increase itching after lying on a new rug, or maybe their skin is red or swollen after trying a new food brand.

Treating Dog Ear Infections

Confirming that your dog has an ear infection is the first step. Then, a professional can diagnose the condition and recommend a treatment plan. Depending on the type of infection and severity, a veterinarian might prescribe a medicated cleaner, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, or topical treatment.

If caught early enough, a dog ear infection might clear up after a few weeks. Depending on the amount of irritation, you might notice your dog's behavior return to normal earlier. However, continue the recommended regimen to prevent reoccurrence.

When an infection is more severe, treatment might last months. Unfortunately, it can also be challenging to know if a treatment has entirely resolved the infection. Symptoms may come and go quickly or return frequently.

For some breeds, ear infections are a chronic condition. You might notice a pattern, such as seasonal reappearance, or it might be less predictable. Learning to spot the symptoms early can help pet owners lower the chances of a more severe infection returning.

Types of Dog Ear Infections

Professionals categorize types of infections according to the ear area. The three types are:

  • Otitis externa (outer ear)
  • Otitis media (middle ear)
  • Otitis interna or labyrinthitis (inner ear)

External ear infections begin as the easiest to treat with less severe symptoms. However, pet owners should treat the condition before it has the opportunity to spread. The deeper into the ear, the more dangerous the symptoms.

Which Dog Breeds Are Prone to Ear Infections?

An ear infection can occur in any breed, but your furry pal might be more prone than other breeds. Floppy, long ears tend to be the ideal environment for a dog ear infection. Although, smaller breeds have a lower risk than larger breeds.

Poodle and Spaniel breeds typically have worse odds, as both have drooping ears. Other notable breeds with a higher risk of an ear infection include:

  • Basset Hound
  • Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Labradoodle
  • Beagle
  • Golden Retriever
  • Cockapoo

Always take your dog for their regular checkup, as this can help prevent infections.

How To Prevent Dog Ear Infections?

Regularly cleaning your dog’s ears is one of the best ways to prevent a dog ear infection. While you don’t need to add more baths to the schedule, removing wax buildup is especially helpful. Remember, be careful of the canal area and only use gentle pressure and softer materials.

Moisture is another common cause, especially in breeds with hanging ears. It can take longer to dry inside the ear, which can benefit the growth of bacteria. While you should never aggressively dry the inner ear, you can use a cloth or towel to wipe some moisture away.

However, too much cleaning can be problematic. Wax protects your dog’s ears, so a little is okay. Additionally, irritation or damage to the ear canal leaves your dog vulnerable to infection. If you’re not sure how often you should be cleaning or what you should use, seek advice from a vet familiar with your pet.

As a general rule, once a month is enough cleaning for most breeds. However, for long-eared dogs, you might need to clean twice a month. Again, you might use an over-the-counter solution or a prescription from your vet, depending on your dog's needs.

Keep Your Dogs Ears Safe

Keeping your dog healthy and happy is the goal of every dog owner. Unfortunately, a dog ear infection can range from irritating to dangerous. The good news is that treating it is easy when you know the causes and catch it early. Now that you know symptoms to watch for, next time, you'll be able to spot trouble coming.

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