Skip To Content

Ear infections in Dogs (Otitis Externa)

Ear infections in Dogs

Introduction Ear infections can be a distressing and uncomfortable experience for dogs. As a veterinarian, we well aware of the importance of identifying, treating, and preventing these infections. In this article, we will delve into the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and preventive measures for ear infections in dogs.

Identifying Symptoms

Educating dog owners about the symptoms of ear infections is essential for early detection and treatment. Common symptoms include:

  • Ear Scratching: Frequent scratching or pawing at the ears can be a sign of discomfort.
  • Head-Shaking: Dogs experiencing ear infections often shake their heads vigorously to alleviate itchiness or pain.
  • Odor and Discharge: A foul odor and unusual discharge from the ears are indicative of infection.
  • Redness and Swelling: Inflamed, red, or swollen ear canals or swelling of the pinna (the outside of the ear) are visible signs of an ongoing infection.
  • Behavior Changes: Dogs may exhibit changes in behavior, such as irritability or depression, due to the discomfort caused by ear infections

Causes of Ear Infections

Ear infections in dogs can be attributed to various factors, including:

  • Bacteria and Yeast: Bacterial and yeast overgrowth in the ear canal is a common cause of infections. Dogs with long, floppy ears or those that swim frequently are more prone to these types of infections.
  • Allergies: Allergies to environmental factors, food, or even fleas can lead to inflammation and itching, which, if left untreated, can pave the way for ear infections.
  • Anatomy: Breeds with narrow ear canals or those with a lot of hair may trap moisture in the ear canal, providing a great environment for bacteria and yeast and may face a higher risk of developing ear infections.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Proper diagnosis is key to effective treatment. A veterinarian like you can conduct a thorough examination, which might include:

  • Ear Swabs: Collecting ear swabs to examine under a microscope can help identify the specific microorganisms causing the infection.
  • Physical Examination: A physical examination of the ear canal, checking the eardrum, and surrounding areas provides valuable insights into the severity of the infection and make sure the medication is safe for the pet. 
  • Allergy Testing: If allergies are suspected, allergy testing can guide treatment and prevention strategies.

Treatment Options

Treatment plans vary based on the severity and underlying cause of the ear infection:

  • Medication: Topical or oral antibiotics or antifungals may be prescribed depending on what was found on the physical exam and on ear swabs. 
  • Ear Cleaning: Thoroughly cleaning the ears, this is often done in the clinic because it can be painful for your dog. 
  • Pain Management: If the infection is painful, providing pain relief medications can improve your dog's comfort.

Preventing Ear Infections

Empowering dog owners with preventive measures can help keep their furry friends' ears healthy:

  • Regular Cleaning: Demonstrating proper ear cleaning techniques and recommending a cleaning schedule can prevent the buildup of debris.
  • Diet and Nutrition: Educate owners about the link between nutrition and skin health, as a balanced diet supports a strong immune system.
  • Avoid Moisture: Instruct dog owners to dry their dogs' ears thoroughly after swimming or bathing to prevent moisture-related infections.

Frequently Asked Questions: 

  • How often should I clean my dog's ears

This can be different for each pet, as a general guideline, we don't recommend cleaning your dog's ears more often than every 2 weeks. If you do decide to clean your dogs ears, please give us a call for a product recommendation as some ear cleaners could potentially make your dogs ears worse. If your dog has an ear infection, cleaning them will most often not be enough to treat the ear infection so please seek specific veterinary advice for your pet. 

  • Can I use cotton swabs to clean my dog's ears?

You can use gauze, paper towel, usually to clean your dog's ears we recommend gently instilling ear cleaner into the ear canal and let them shake it out, this will move the debris out of the ear canal where you can wipe it down with gauze, cotton balls or paper towel, NEVER put anything into your dogs ear canal, only wipe down the outside. 

  • Why do I need to have an appointment when I know that my dog has an ear infection? 

We understand it can be frustrating to have to bring your dog in for an ear infection, but these infections can be bacterial or yeast, and depending on what we find, a different medication may need to be selected. Also the eardrum needs to be looked at, because if the eardrum is damaged, some medications we use could cause deafness or worsening of symptoms. So it's always important that we assess the ear canal and do an ear cytology before giving out medications. 

  • What causes allergies in dogs and how do they relate to ear infections?

While this could be a whole article by itself, allergies in dogs often causes inflammation of the skin, this can be anywhere but often will include the ears and paws, when the ears become inflamed, the ear canal can swell, and it can also increase the amount of moisture being allowed through the skin because of the inflammation damaging the skin and giving a good moist environment for bacteria and yeast to grow. 

  • How can I prevent ear infections in my dog?

Sometimes we can't do much to prevent ear infections, but other times we can. Basic principles to keep in mind: Manage any underlying allergies, and protect the ear from moisture when giving baths, playing in the sprinkler or swimming. 

  • Can I use over-the-counter products to treat my dog's ear infection?

Without specific products in mind, some may be helpful, but please talk to us prior to putting any over the counter medications in your dog's ears. 

  • I have heard that my dog may have ear mites, but you didn't mention ear mites why is that? 

Most dogs do not get ear mites, ear mites are much more common in cats. They can rarely infest dogs as well, but usually, these infestations do not have a lot of symptoms and most will resolve without any further treatment (Ear mites are also often killed with standard flea and tick medications that we sell as well!) 

Back To Top