The Ins and Outs of Ear Infections in Dogs

Why do dogs get ear infections and what can you do about it?

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Ear Infections in Dogs

If you’re hearing the constant flapping of ears or the continuous jingling of their collar, your dog may be experiencing an ear infection. Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Infections of the outer ear, otitis externa, happen to be one of the most common types of infections in our canine companions. They are often easily treated, but reoccurrence can be common, so it’s important to understand what causes ear infections in dogs and how you can best treat and prevent them.

Types of Ear Infections in Dogs

Believe it or not, there are actually three different types of ear infections in dogs. Otitis externa is the most common and involves inflammation in the external ear canal. Otitis media and otitis interna are infection of the middle and inner ear, respectively. Otitis media and interna can occur due to spread from an outer ear infection and are typically more serious. Inner and middle ear infections can lead to deafness, and facial paralysis.

What Causes Ear Infections in Dogs?

Ear infections are due to an overpopulation of either bacteria or yeast in the ear canal. Along with that, these little buggers need an environment that is moist and warm. Causes of ear infections include:

  • Moisture in the ear: Pups that get frequent baths or that swim are more prone to ear infections because of the moisture accumulation in the ears. This can also be a problem for dogs that go outside in the rain or snow.
  • Hairy ears: Dogs with heavy, droopy, or hairy ears may see more than their share of ear infections simply because of their anatomy. Hair or the flaps of the ears help to trap moisture in the ear canal and provide that damp, dark environment that lets bacteria or yeast thrive.
  • Allergies: Allergens in food or in the environment can cause inflammation in the ears. Allergies should be suspected in dogs that get recurrent ear infections without any other predisposing factors.
  • Foreign bodies in ear: Foreign objects, such as grass seeds, can become lodged in the ear canal, leading to inflammation and infection.
  • Hormonal disorders: When the body is out of balance, more infections can occur. Cases of hormonal disorders may show up as chronic or recurrent ear infections. Those hormonal disorders include hypothyroidism and Cushing’s.
  • Other abnormalities: Anatomical abnormalities of the ear itself or the presence of masses or tumors may also cause ear infections. Ear mites are another uncommon cause of ear infections in dogs and can be diagnosed by microscopic examination.

How to Tell if Your Dog Has an Ear Infection

Most of the time when your dog has an ear infection, you’ll know. This is because the symptoms of ear infections are usually not very subtle. Here’s what you may see:

  • Head shaking or ear scratching
  • Whining or crying when you touch their ears
  • Red, warm, or smelly ears
  • Black, grey, or yellowish discharge from ears, especially when shaking
  • Scratches or scabs at the base of the ear

Inner or middle ear infections can look a little different. Along with any of the above symptoms you may also notice:

  • Head tilt
  • Walking in circles
  • Incoordination or wobbliness
  • Twitching eyes

Again, inner and middle ear infections can lead to more serious complications and should be seen by a veterinarian.

Dog Ear Infection Pictures

Pictures of possible ear infections in dogs.

How to Treat Ear Infections in Dogs

In order to properly treat ear infections, it’s important to know the cause behind them. This is especially important for causes such as allergies or hormonal disorders as the infection will tend to reoccur. It’s also important to know whether the infection is bacterial or fungal in origin. All of this can be determined by a veterinarian, so the first step in ear infection treatment is a vet appointment.

After that, cleaning becomes step number one. You need to remove as much of the infection as possible so that medications have a better chance at working. This is often done with an acidic solution that has a drying effect on the ear canal. It’s best to clean ears twice daily but your veterinarian will line out the proper plan for your dog.

Depending on the cause, there are many medications available to treat ear infections. These medications may be placed directly into the ear or given orally, especially in the case of inner and middle ear infections. These medications can consist of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.

Cleaning and medications often need to be given for a couple days after the symptoms subside, usually around 7-10 days. Some medications require just one application that lasts long enough to clear the infection.

Can Ear Infections in Dogs be Prevented?

Unfortunately, some causes of ear infections can’t be prevented. Hormonal disorders, anatomical abnormalities or tumors may cause ear infections no matter what you do. Fortunately, these causes are also not as common as things like allergies or moisture in the ear.

In order to give your pup the best chance at a ear infection-free life, be sure to clean and dry their ears after ever bath, swim, or trip outside in the rain. Regular grooming will help decrease the hair in and around their ears, and if you’re game, pinning the ear flaps to the top of their head every once in awhile will give those ears some much needed airing out.

If your dog is prone to allergies and has had issues with their skin or digestive system, getting those allergies under control, either with elimination of the allergen, antihistamines, or anti-inflammatories, can help keep ear infections at bay.

If your dog tends to get “nosy”, especially when outside, put cotton balls in their ears to keep foreign objects out.

Final Thoughts

Ear infections are a part of many dog’s lives. Getting to know your dog’s ears will help you best prevent and catch ear infections before they become a big mess.