Ear Infections in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnoses and Treatment

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    What Are Ear Infections In Dogs?

    graphic of an ear infection in dogs

    Ear infections are fairly common in dogs. There are three types of ear infections that may affect dogs; otitis externa, media, and interna. Otitis externa is the most common and involves the external portion of the ear canal. Inflammation affects the layer of cells that line the external portion of the ear canal. While otitis media and interna refer to infections affecting the middle and inner portions of the ear canal. Both otitis media and interna typically result from an infection of the external ear spreading. These two types of infections can be very serious and may even result in deafness, facial paralysis, and vestibular signs. Preventing infections and seeking early treatment will decrease the likelihood of this. Read below to learn more about dog ear infection treatment. 

    What Causes Ear Infections in Dogs?

    Ear infections in dogs may be caused by a variety of reasons. In comparison to humans, the canine ear canal is more vertical, forming an L-shape which holds in fluid. The retention of fluid makes dogs more prone to ear infections. Typically, ear infections in dogs are caused by bacteria, yeast, or a combination of both. Wax buildup, foreign bodies, excessive cleaning, and injury to the dog’s ear canal increase the likelihood of an ear infection occurring. 

    Who's At Risk of Developing Ear Infections?

    Ear infections are often observed in dog breeds with floppy ears in contrast to those with pointed ears. These breeds include Basset Hound, Cocker Spaniel, Shar Pei, Beagle, and Golden Retriever. There are also a number of factors that may predispose a dog to ear infections including: 


    • Moisture: which is an ideal environment for bacteria and yeast to grow 
    • Allergies: the cause of ear disease in approximately 50 percent of dogs with allergic skin disease and 80 percent of dogs with food sensitivities 
    • Thyroid diseases and other endocrine disorders 
    • Autoimmune disorders 

    What Are The Symptoms Of Ear Infections in Dogs?

    Most dogs will show symptoms of discomfort when an ear infection is present. Signs that point at an ear infection in dogs include: 

    • Wax build up
    • Head shaking 
    • Scratching and itchiness 
    • Odorous discharge 
    • Redness and swelling of the ear canal 
    • Scabbing in the ears 

    How Can Ear Infections in Dogs Be Prevented?

    hand using a cotton swab to clean a dog's ear

    If your dog is prone to recurring ear infections, prevention is key. Since excess moisture in the ear often leads to ear infections, always thoroughly dry your dog’s ears following swimming or bathing. Identifying and managing any underlying causes of ear infections will help to prevent new infections. Oftentimes, addressing the allergies can be of tremendous help. 

    Appropriately cleaning your dog’s ears at home can also prevent future issues. The ideal method of ear cleaning involves filling the ear canal with the ear cleaning solution and massaging the ear from the outside. Following this, wipe out the ear canal with absorbent gauze. Professionals advise against the use of paper towel or cotton as fibers may be left behind causing further irritation. Cotton swabs can be effective in cleaning a dog’s external ear flaps. However, swabs should be avoided when cleaning the ear canal as debris can be pushed even further into the canal. 

    You can also utiize products that help with cleaning and drying the ears out.

    How Are Ear Infections Diagnosed?

    female vet looking into a corgi's ear

    Seeking a diagnosis and treatment from a veterinarian at the first sign of an ear infection is necessary to prevent the spread of infection to the middle and ear. A physical examination will be necessary to diagnose the infection. This exam may include: 

    • Look for signs of redness, swelling, and discharge 
    • Evaluate the ear canal and eardrum with an otoscope 
    • Assess level of pain 
    • Culture of samples from the ear 
    • In chronic cases, biopsies or x-rays may be performed 

    In addition to the physical examination, your veterinarian will gather the necessary information to help make a diagnosis, including: 

    • Duration of symptoms 
    • Types of symptoms (swelling, discharge, odor, etc.)
    • Medical history including existing allergies and ear infections 
    • Medication the dog is currently receiving 
    • Type of food the dog is fed 
    • Ear cleaning products used on the dog’s ears 
    • Recent activities including baths, grooming, swimming, etc. 

    What Is The Treatment For Ear Infections in Dogs?

    If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, seek veterinary treatment early in order to prevent serious issues. Your veterinarian will likely prescribe an ear medicine for dogs including an ear cleanser and topical medication to be used at home. In more severe cases, oral antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed. Even once improvement is shown, be sure to follow the full course of treatment to ensure the infection is fully cleared. Typical ear infections resolve 1-2 weeks following the proper treatment. 

    Severe infections or those caused by underlying conditions can often take months to resolve. Your primary veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist if chronic ear problems occur in your dog. A surgery called a Total Ear Canal Ablation or TECA may even be recommended. This procedure removes the ear canal, which in turn removes the diseased tissue and prevents recurring infection.

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