Dog ears come in all shapes and sizes, but they are unique in their anatomy when compared to human ears. Dogs have a long ear canal with both vertical and horizontal components. This creates a J or L shape that traps debris more easily, which in turn, can lead to dog ear infections.
Dog ear infections are common, so it’s not surprising that in 2018, Embrace pet insurance listed dog ear infections as third on the list of the top five dog medical conditions.1
Here’s a guide to help you recognize the signs of dog ear infections so you can take your dog for treatment as soon as possible.
Jump to section:
Types of Dog Ear Infections
Signs of Dog Ear Infections
Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs and Puppies
Are Dog Ear Infections Contagious?
Will Dog Ear Infections Go Away on Their Own?
Can You Treat Dog Ear Infections at Home?
How to Treat Dog Ear Infections Properly
Treating Chronic Ear Infections in Dogs
How to Prevent Ear Infections in Dogs and Puppies
After the ear canal sits the eardrum, then the middle and inner ear deep inside the head. Otitis is inflammation of the ear. Otitis is divided into three types based on the location of a dog’s ear infection:
Otitis externa: inflammation of the ear canal
Otitis media: inflammation of the middle ear(Video) How to Identify and Treat an Ear Infection in Your Dog
Otitis interna: inflammation of the inner ear
Otitis externa is the most common of these three infections because this is the part of the ear most exposed to external factors. Ear infections can be acute (with a quick onset) or chronic and recurrent. Dogs can also have an infection in one or both ears.
A healthy dog ear is clean and dry. It is normal for small amounts of microscopic bacteria and yeast to live in the outer ear canal, but when a buildup of debris occurs, or the normal, healthy ear canal is compromised, those bacteria and yeast can overgrow and create an infection.
Common signs of dog ear infections include:
Shaking of the head
Occasionally, dogs can experience hearing loss or balance issues. Rarely, an ear infection may affect a dog’s appetite if the pet is having system-wide effects. This is seen more often with otitis media or interna.
Many things can cause ear infections in dogs and puppies. Often, an underlying problem leads to the inability of the normal protective barrier of a dog’s ear to work properly. Once the ear environment becomes moist or inflamed, it is easy for bacteria or yeast to overgrow and cause infection.
Here are some common causes for a dog’s ear to become infected:
Foreign bodies (grass awn, foxtails) that get into the ear
Excessive moisture from bathing or swimming
Food allergies(Video) 👂 DOG EAR INFECTIONS - Identify, Treat, and Prevent
Endocrine issues such as hypothyroidism
Autoimmune diseases such as pemphigus, lupus, or vasculitis
Polyps (fleshy growths inside the ear canal)
Certain types of cancer
Trauma to the ear
All of these problems can make the ear canal susceptible to bacterial infection and/or yeast infection. When a dog is in pain and scratching and shaking excessively, an aural hematoma can develop as well. This is seen in the pinna or earflap, where ruptured blood vessels leak blood that clots and causes swelling and pain.
It depends on the cause, but the majority of dog ear infections are not contagious. If the cause is ear mites, though, these parasites are extremely contagious.
With ear mites, all pets in the home must be treated simultaneously. Ear mites are relatively common in puppies and kittens and may not be noticed initially when adopting a new pet. But shortly after bringing your new pet home, multiple pets in the house will be scratching and shaking.
Rarely, a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or possible other contagious infection can be cultured from an infected ear.
It is recommended to practice good handwashing when interacting with a pet with an ear infection and to limit other pets licking the infected pet’s ears. Good handwashing is also recommended after cleaning or medicating the ear to limit any topical absorption of medication.
Most often, a dog ear infection will not go away on its own. All types of otitis require a veterinarian to evaluate the infection and the eardrum. If the eardrum is ruptured, certain cleaners and medications can be toxic to the middle ear.
The simple answer is no. Dog ear infections require vet treatment and medication in order to restore a healthy ear canal.
After the veterinarian has evaluated your pet, they will determine if any further home treatment is appropriate. This can be done if a small amount of debris is present and the eardrum is intact.
Dr. Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP, notes that if a large amount of debris present, a veterinarian must perform a thorough deep clean while the pet is under sedation.2
Your veterinarian will likely need to test the ear debris or perform scans of your dog’s ear to choose the appropriate treatment. These are some tests that your vet might conduct:
Cytology uses special stains on the swab of debris to color the microscopic bacterial cells or fungus. Viewing these under the microscope can identify the specific cause.
Culture/sensitivity testing uses special medium/broth to grow and identify the specific bacteria that are causing the infection. It also tests which antibiotics will be effective in eliminating the infection.(Video) Stop Recurring Dog Ear Infections
Blood testing may be needed to check for endocrine disease as an underlying condition.
Skull x-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI may be needed to assess the extent of severe or inner ear disease.
Once the details of your dog’s ear infection are known, therapy will likely consist of multiple elements that may include topical, oral, or surgical therapies.
Often, a cleanser in combination with an ointment or eardrop can be used. This medication typically needs to get deep into the ear canal. Sometimes an oti-pack is used. This medication is in a lanolin base that is slowly released and does not require daily cleaning or application of drops.
Depending on the severity of the infection, an oral antibiotic, antifungal, or a steroid medication may be used to help heal the ear from the “inside out.”
Ears that have had severe chronic disease may no longer respond to medical treatments.The goal of surgery for these ears is to open the canal or sometimes to completely remove all diseased tissue.
Chronic ear infections can be time-consuming and frustrating for the pet, the owner, and even the veterinarian.
Certain breeds of dogs are known to more commonly experience recurring ear infection issues, according to the Veterinary Information Network.3 This can be partly due to genetics, ear shape, or ear confirmation. Over time, proliferative ear tissue can form, making treatment more difficult.
Cocker Spaniels and Springer Spaniels commonly get chronic infections due to long, floppy ears and a high numbers of ceruminous glands (ear sweat glands that produce earwax).
Shar-Peis have small ear canals that can trap and hide debris.
Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are prone to allergies and underlying sensitivities leading to chronic or recurrent ear infection.
Schnauzers and Poodles often have excess hair deep in the ear canal.
Chronic dog ear infections require closely working with your veterinarian to treat. It is important that your vet does testing to choose the appropriate medication. Chronic infections can require medication consistently for 6 to 8 weeks.
After treatment, testing is needed again to ensure that all the infection has cleared. If we stop medicating too soon or do not treat underlying problems, it is easy for the infection to return, sometimes even becoming resistant to manymedications.
Regular grooming, ear cleaning, and ear maintenance are important parts of pet care. Routine ear cleansing is especially important if your dog swims often.
Cleaning is best accomplished with a professional dog ear cleaning product. These typically have been specifically formulated for effective pH ranges for dogs and contain drying agents.
Key Points for Dog Ear Cleaning
Do not use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, as they can kill healthy ear cells.
Do not stick cotton swabs down into your dog’s ear, as this can risk rupturing the eardrum.(Video) Dog Yeast Ear Infections: Great OTC Home Remedy
It is okay to use cotton balls or ear wipes to clean crevices and the earflap.
Dog Ear Cleaning Technique
Apply liquid cleanser to the ear as directed.
Close the earflap and massage the base of the ears.
Gently wipe clean with a cloth or cotton balls.
Apply any medication prescribed.
Brooks, W. DVM, DABVP: 9/30/2020 (revised) 1/1/2001 (published). Veterinary Partner, Ear Infections (Otitis) in Dogs.
Rothrock K. DVM: 5/19/2019 (revised), Morgan, RV. DVM, DACVIM, DACVO: 7/19/2003 (initial author). Veterinary
Information Network, VINcyclopedia of Diseases: Otitis Externa, General Information.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Natali_Mis
Amanda Simonson, DVM
I am a veterinarian passionate about helping animals. I practiced for 15 years in the hospital setting doing medicine, surgery, preventive...
The single most effective way to prevent ear infections in dogs is to clean their ears regularly and to clean them well. Fill both ear canals with solution and vigorously massage into the base of the ear (on the head itself below the ear flap.What is the most common treatment for dog ear infection? ›
How are Dog Ear Infections Treated? Your veterinarian will thoroughly clean your dog's ears using a medicated ear cleanser. Your vet may also prescribe an ear cleanser and a topical medication for you to use at home. In severe cases, your vet may prescribe oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications.Can I treat my dog's ear infection myself? ›
Never put anything in your dog's ear without veterinary instruction. Your veterinary team can help you find the ideal treatment to treat the infection and give your dog much-needed relief. Itchy, uncomfortable ears can be caused by everything from ear infections to allergies and ear mites.How do I know if my dog's ear is bacterial or yeast infection? ›
Signs That Your Dog May Have A Yeast Ear Infection
If your dog has a yeast ear infection you may notice one or more of the following symptoms: Red or brown waxy discharge in the ear. Itching, scratching & pawing at the ear. A cheesy or musty smell coming from the ear.
Treating ear infections in dogs usually consists of your vet cleaning your dog's ear with a medicated cleanser and prescribing any antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications required. Your veterinarian may also prescribe a topical medication and instruct you on how and when to apply it to your dog's ear at home.Can you buy dog ear infection medicine over the counter? ›
Our choice for the #1 Best Overall ear drops for dogs is Zymox Ear Solution for Dogs & Cats. Most over the counter dog ear drops are designed to clean your dog's ears to help prevent infections. There are some choices that are medicated and cheaper than prescription drops.Is hydrogen peroxide good for dogs ear infections? ›
We do not recommend the use of alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to clean your dog's ears. These products can cause inflammation of the ear canal and further exacerbate infections.What do vets give for ear infections? ›
Antibiotics (e.g., amoxicillin-clavulanate, enrofloxacin, clindamycin, or cefpodoxime) will be used for a bacterial infection for a minimum of six to eight weeks. If the infection is fungal, an anti-fungal medication (most often itraconazole) will be prescribed.Can you put hydrogen peroxide in a dog's ear for infection? ›
No. Don't use hydrogen peroxide on your pup. This common household product can actually cause irritation to healthy skin cells. Ears contain very sensitive tissue, and extended use of hydrogen peroxide could eventually lead to damage of the ear itself.What ingredient in dog food causes ear infections? ›
Sugar feeds the yeast that is naturally present in the dog's body, so when a dog consumes too much sugar, yeast overgrowth occurs in the body and around the ear folds or in the canal, causing infection.
Dog ear yeast infections are quite common, and the ears often smell sweet or musty. Usually, you will see redness, which may extend onto the flap of the ear, and the discharge is generally brown. The ear may appear to be greasy, and the hair may be matted.What foods cause yeast in dogs ears? ›
When some dogs eat ingredients such as chicken, wheat, corn or other individual items, ingestion will trigger an allergic reaction that can alter the natural flora and allow an unnatural growth of yeast. If your pet suffers from yeasty ears, attempt altering their diet to eliminate common triggers.What is the first line treatment for ear infection in dogs? ›
Neomycin should be a first-line treatment. Aminoglycosides and fluoroquinolone antibiotics should not be used unless absolutely required for successful treatment, but they are the most common ingredients in topical otic medications.What antibiotics can I give my dog for ear infection without vet? ›
Zymox: Great At-Home Treatment for Ear Infections in Dogs. Zymox is made for acute and chronic inflammation of the external ear caused by bacterial, viral, and yeast infections. It contains antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiviral agents.Can you put Neosporin on a dog's ear infection? ›
If your dog allows it, you can use a moistened cotton ball to gently wipe debris out of the ears. If the backs of your dog's ears are irritated and missing hair, you can gently apply some over the counter triple antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin®.What is the best over the counter medicine for dogs with ear infections? ›
- Most Popular: Zymox Pet King Brand Otic Enzymatic Cleaner. View on Chewy. ...
- Best Value: Veterinary Formula Clinical Care Ear Therapy. View on Amazon. ...
- Best Medicated Ingredients: Vetnique Labs Oticbliss Medicated Ear Flush. View on Amazon.
Chronic ear infections in dogs can be caused by a variety of reasons, the most common being allergies. However, they can also be caused by foreign material such as grass or dirt, parasitic causes such as ear mites, and ear canal masses and polyps.How do you clean a dog's ear infection? ›
Massage the ear canal between your finger and thumb. Then allow your pet to shake his head to help loosen debris that lies deeper in the canal. Do not use cotton swabs - they may puncture your pet's eardrum. To clean, use small pieces of cotton or tissue to wipe out the ear.Do dogs always need antibiotics for ear infections? ›
Oral antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed for severe cases. While most uncomplicated infections will clear up within 1 to 2 weeks, severe symptoms or underlying conditions may lead to chronic ear infection or take longer to be resolved.Can I give my dog human amoxicillin for ear infection? ›
Do not give human amoxicillin to your dog unless it has been prescribed by your vet. Your dog will need specific doses based on their weight and may need a special type of amoxicillin. Only your veterinarian should determine the best antibiotic and dose for your dog.
Causes of Dog Ear Infections
Bacteria is the leading cause of ear infections in dogs, however, yeast, fungus and ear mites can all cause your pup's ears to become infected and painful. Other causes of dog ear infections include foreign objects lodged in the ear, trauma, and tumors or polyps.
If you suspect an ear infection, call your veterinarian immediately. Don't wait until your dog is in pain or struggling with ears that won't stop itching. Don't mess around in the pet store, let your vet treat her correctly the first time.What does a dog ear infection look like? ›
The ears often become red and inflamed and develop an offensive odor. A black or yellowish discharge commonly occurs. In chronic cases, the ears may appear crusty or thickened, and the ear canals often become narrowed (stenotic) due to chronic inflammation.How much does it cost to treat a dog ear infection? ›
The cost of ear infection treatment varies depending on your location and veterinary practice — but otitis externa treatments, which usually include the exam, ear cleaning and medicine, typically cost between $100 and $175.What is the strongest natural antibiotic for dogs? ›
Manuka honey is considered one of the strongest natural antibiotics for dogs. It is used to treat wounds and lesions. Manuka honey also helps reduce inflammation. Some experts believe turmeric is among the best natural antibiotics for pets and people.How long does it take for a dog ear infection to clear up? ›
With treatment in the early stages, an uncomplicated ear infection will typically clear up within just a week or two. If your dog's ear infection is more severe or is caused by an underlying health condition, treatment may be more challenging and may take months to resolve.How do you get rid of a bacterial ear infection in a dog? ›
They may use a medicated ear cleaner or apply a topical medication. In more severe cases, the vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications or oral antibiotics for your pet. Your vet will likely prescribe a topical medication to your dog.How do I know if my dog has an ear infection or allergies? ›
If you notice your dog scratching their ears or shaking their head more often than usual, dragging the side of their face along the carpet or furniture, smell a bad odor from the ear, or see redness on their inner ear flap or in their ear canal, they could have an ear infection.How often should you clean dogs ears? ›
Wondering how often your dog's ears need to be cleaned? In general, once per month is a good rule of thumb. Breeds with long, floppy ears or dogs who swim frequently may need to have their ears cleaned every other week, or even weekly. After bathing or swimming, be sure to properly dry your pup's ears.Can I use hydrogen peroxide for my dog's ear infection? ›
We do not recommend the use of alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to clean your dog's ears. These products can cause inflammation of the ear canal and further exacerbate infections.