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Dog Ear Infections

Veterinarian Reviewed on March 29, 2014 by Dr. Janice Huntingford

Dog Ear Infections (Canine Ear Inflammation and Infection)

Signs and Symptoms

An ear infection, or otitis, can cause a great deal of pain, discomfort, and stress for your dog. If your dog is suffering from an infection, you will probably notice a number of symptoms.

Most dogs with an ear infection will shake their head frequently. They also tend to scratch and paw at their ears, or rub the sides of their head on the ground or furniture. Infected ears usually have a yeasty, odorous discharge that is either yellow-brown or black in colour. You will probably notice redness and swelling of the ear flap and canal.

When ear infections become more severe, other warning signs will also be present. If an infection moves from the outer ear to the inner ear, it can then affect your dog’s ability to hear. Unfortunately, sometimes Dog Deafness will result. If your dog seems to have difficulty hearing you or noises in the environment, this could be a sign that your pet is suffering from a serious ear infection.

Sometimes the nerves located in the inner ear become infected. When this happens, your pet may become dizzy and disoriented. If the nerves of the inner ear are affected, your dog may also begin to exhibit what is known as nystagmus, or unusual eye movements.

All of the above symptoms and behaviors are telltale signs that your dog could be suffering from an ear infection. However, there are different types of these infections and they range in severity. It is unwise to try and diagnose and treat your pet’s problem on your own. By consulting a qualified veterinarian, you will be helping your dog to quickly overcome the suffering caused by an infection and to prevent any permanent damage.


Veterinarians generally diagnose dog ear infections with the use of an otoscope. A veterinarian will take into account the various symptoms displayed by the canine patient, as well as the actual appearance of the ear itself. An infected ear will generally have a deep red, inflamed appearance. Also, discharge may be visible inside the ear, further suggesting the presence of an infection.

Since many of these signs and symptoms can be caused by an infestation of ear mites, a veterinary doctor will also conduct an examination that will either confirm or rule out the presence of such pesky insects. Different types of ear infections require different courses of treatment. Therefore, you should never try to treat your dog for a suspected ear infection without consulting a veterinarian.


Otitis is basically an inflammation of the ear. This can occur in the outer part of the ear canal (otitis externa) and in the middle section of the ear (otitis media). While otitis media is significantly less common than otitis externa, it is also much more severe.

A dog’s ears, as with the rest of a dog’s body, are normally home to a small number of bacteria and yeast cells. When these cells are present in their regular numbers, they tend not to cause any problems. However, when these cells become too numerous, an infection may result. An infection will also occur if these cells are replaced by disease-causing, pathogenic organisms. Such an infection can become progressively worse if not promptly and properly treated, and can travel to other parts of the ear.


Dog ear infections can be caused by unusually high numbers of bacteria and yeast cells or by the introduction of foreign organisms into the ear. This can happen in a number of ways. For example, dogs that swim are often exposed to foreign objects and pathogens in the water and are prone to developing bacterial infections in their ears.

Yeast infections, on the other hand, are common in dogs with a large buildup of earwax. Humid climates and overzealous ear cleaning can increase your dog’s risk of developing otitis.

Some canines are more likely than others to experience ear infections for a number of different reasons. For example, dogs with allergies tend to suffer from ear infections more frequently.

Allergies can predispose your dog to developing otitis by causing inflammation and heat in and around the ears. Unfortunately, these conditions help to promote abnormal yeast growth and can lead to chronic otitis.

Ear infection in an American Cocker Spaniel

There are also certain characteristics of dog ears and the surrounding areas that make a canine more susceptible to ear infections. One of these characteristics has to do with the particular type of skin or glands located in the ear canal. Dog breeds that most typically suffer from otitis for this reason include Basset Hounds, Beagles, Labradors, and Springer Spaniels.

Other dogs are more likely to develop otitis because of the type and amount of hair present in the ear canal. The more hair present in the ear canal, the poorer the airflow, which leads to increased incidence of infection. Breeds who often deal with these types of infections include Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos, Pekingese, and Poodles.

Ear Infection Treatment

When an underlying condition is causing the development of ear infections in an animal, that condition will also need to be treated in the proper fashion. If foreign bodies or parasites are present in the ear and are the cause of the infection, these may have to be removed while the dog is under sedation.

The type of treatment required to fight a particular dog ear infection will depend upon the type and location of the infection. Treatment is usually given in the form of medicinal drops or ointments.

In addition, there are certain homeopathic remedies available that can help to alleviate your dog’s painful and irritating symptoms. These products can include natural ingredients such as Tea Tree oil, chamomile, marigold, and myrrh. These ingredients have anti-inflammatory properties, as well as antibacterial and antifungal properties that help to control and prevent the spread of infections.

There are a number of different treatment steps and options available to help you and your pet deal with ear infections. However, no course of treatment should be pursued without first consulting a qualified veterinarian.

Read also: Dog Multiple Myeloma
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Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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