Dogs are very prone to getting ear infections.  This is mostly because their ear canal is shaped differently than a human’s which causes them to hold onto moisture more easily.  Their ear canal is more vertical, so this L-shape allows fluid to build up in the ear more easily.  Ear infections in dogs are treatable.  Quick treatment is the best so you don’t get complications from the ear infection.  Finding out what causes the ear infection can be the tricky part. 

There are three main types of ear infections in dogs.  First is otitis externa which is the most common.  Inflammation affects the layer of cells lining the external portion of the ear canal.  Then there are otitis media, and otitis interna which are not as common.  The otitis media affects the middle ear.  Otitis interna affects the inner ear.  These both usually occur after an infection from the external ear has spread into the other parts of the ear.  Otitis media and otitis interna can become extremely serious if left untreated.  They can both lead to deafness, facial paralysis, and vestibular signs. 


You may actually notice that your dog has an ear infection.  There are lots of signs indicating an ear infection.  The most common one being your dog shaking its head frequently.  This may even be noticeable when your dog is trying to rest or sleep and they are constantly shaking their head.  The head shaking can be so bad that it may affect your own sleep.  Other signs are scratching the head, neck, or ears with back paws more than normal.  Rubbing ears on furniture.  Your dog may have a bad smell coming from their ears.  Drainage or discharge from the ears that can be black, brown, white, green, or yellow.  Redness or swelling of the ear.  Crying or yelping when ears are touched.  Bleeding from ears.  In severe cases your dog may lose their balance, have hearing loss, walk in circles, or have unusual eye movements. 


The main causes of ear infections are bacteria or yeast infections.  There can be a combination of both.  Ear mites are very rare and aren’t as common as some people may think.  Allergies can cause ear infections in dogs.  Dogs can have allergies to pollen, dander, grass, dust mites, other animals, foods, or human skin cells.  Food allergies affect about 80% of all dogs.  Environmental allergies affect about 50% of all dogs.  If your dog suffers from an environmental allergy meaning something like pollen then you may notice flare ups in the spring or summer.  If your dog has a food allergy that hasn’t been diagnosed, ear infections can become recurrent.  Moisture buildup can be a cause especially if your dog likes to swim, gets bathed often, or has floppy ears.  Endocrine or autoimmune disorders can cause ear infections.  Wax buildup, foreign bodies, and excessive cleaning are all causes as well.  Injury to the ear canal can cause an infection.  


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If you have seen any of the signs that your dog has an ear infection, then you need to call your veterinarian before you do anything.  Do not treat at home until your vet has diagnosed your dog.  Early treatment is important, so you will want to make an appointment quickly when you start to see those first signs.  The doctor will want to ask you some questions and take a history of your dog.  Questions may include how long symptoms have lasted, what are the symptoms your dog is experiencing.  Does your dog have any known allergies or underlying medical conditions?  Is your dog on any medications, and what is their diet?  How often are their ears cleaned? When was the last time they had a bath, grooming, or any shampooing?  Do they have a history of ear infections? 

Once they have taken down a history they will do a physical exam of your dog’s ears.  They will do gentle palpitations, view the ear canal with an otoscope.  The doctor may also take an ear swab so they can study it under a microscope.  By studying the swab they may be able to figure out the cause of the ear infection which will help with what treatment plan is best.  In severe cases your doctor may need to take x-rays or biopsies.  


Treatment depends on the cause.  Diagnosing the cause can sometimes be tricky to nail down.  Sometimes treating the underlying condition is what will best resolve the ear infections so finding that out may take time.  While in the vet’s office, if your dog has an infection the vet may take the time to clean your dog’s ears with a medicated cleanser.  After that they may prescribe an antibiotic or anti-inflammatory medications.  Topical medications may also be given to use at home.  Ear drops can also be a treatment plan.  Any of these at home treatments, the doctor will make sure you know how to administer to your dog effectively at home. 

With early treatment ear infections can clear up within 1-2 weeks.  If ear infections are chronic or more severe it could take months for them to resolve.  If your dog’s ear infections are chronic and not responding to other treatments your vet may suggest a Total Ear Canal Ablation, which is a surgery where they remove the entire ear canal. 


Prevention is better than treatment.  Keeping your dog’s ears dry after they swim or have a bath is important.  Cleaning your dog’s ears regularly but not too much can also help prevent ear infections.  Treating underlying conditions your dog may suffer from and managing their allergies can also help prevent ear infections. 

There are some breeds that are just more prone to ear infections such as Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, Bulldogs, Bloodhounds, Shih Tzus, Poodles, Bichon frises, Labrador retrievers, and golden retrievers.