Ear Infections In Dogs

If you have ever had an ear infection, you know just how miserable they can be.

These painful infections can not only impact our dogs as well, but they are actually quite common among the canine population.

The shape of a dog’s ear canal makes them more prone to the development of ear infections, making this a common factor behind many vet visits.

In this article we will go into the details of ear infections in our canine companions, and help you better understand what this diagnosis means for your pup.

What Is An Ear Infection In Dogs?

Ear Infections In Dogs

Ear infections in dogs, or otitis externa, is a painful condition that can often go unseen.

Most ear infections affect the external portions of the dog’s ear canal, causing an array of painful symptoms to follow.

While an ear infection may seem like a minor ailment to some, these infections can have a serious impact on a dog’s health when left untreated.

If otitis externa is not addressed, the infection can begin to invade the middle and inner ear canal.

Not only is this incredibly painful for the dog affected, but it can cause significant damage to the inner ear.

Dogs with ear infections of the middle and inner ear can develop deafness, vestibular disease, and even facial paralysis.

Are Ear Infections Common In Dogs?

Unfortunately, ear infections are extremely common in our canine companions.

As many as 20% of dogs will develop an ear infection at some point, as the shape of their ear canal makes them much more prone to ear disease.

Not only does the shape of their ear canal make them more at risk of developing infection, but other factors play a role as well.

A dog’s ear canal is the perfect environment for bacteria to grow.

Floppy ears can lead to moisture accumulation in the ears, as well as the presence of excess fur around the pinna.

When combining these factors with the anatomy of the canine ear canal, it’s no wonder so many furry friends suffer.

Why Do Dogs Get Ear Infections?

As we mentioned above, a dog’s ear canal is the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive.

Not only can ear canal structure and floppy ears lead to infections in so many furry friends, but there are other factors to consider as well.

Some of the most common causes of ear infections in dogs include:

If your pup falls into any of the categories mentioned above, we suggest keeping a close eye on their ears going forward.

Not all pups in these situations will suffer from ear infections, but we always suggest monitoring them closely just in case.

What Are The Signs Of An Ear Infections In Dogs?

The inflammation that ear infections cause can lead to significant pain for the pup affected.

Due to this, you can typically expect to see signs of discomfort in a dog suffering from otitis externa.

Some of the most common symptoms of ear infections in dogs include:

  • Head shaking
  • Pawing at the ears
  • Rubbing their ears and face on the ground
  • Redness of the ears
  • Inflammation of the entrance to the ear
  • Crusting or scabbing on the inside of the pinna
  • Odor from the ear
  • Sensitivity of the ears
  • Crying out when the ears are touched
  • Discharge from the ears

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your canine friend, we suggest reaching out to your veterinarian for guidance.

Not only are ear infections extremely uncomfortable for a dog, but they can quickly worsen without medical intervention.

Not only should your dog’s pain be a driving force for a trip to the vet, but these symptoms can point to other ear conditions aside from infections.

These symptoms can be seen in cases of ear foreign bodies or even tumors of the ear canal, so we always suggest taking these signs seriously.

What Happens If I Don’t Treat My Dog’s Ear Infection?

Many cases of ear infections in dogs go untreated.

Aside from pawing at the ears and shaking of the head, the signs of infection are not always obvious.

Because of this, some pet owners will be unaware that their pups are enduring a painful ear condition.

Aside from this, ear infections are often brushed off to be a minor ailment, as many are unaware of the complications that can arise from an untreated ear infection.

To help you better understand why you should have your dog’s ear infection treated as soon as possible, let’s list a few of the most common secondary complications.

Ear hematomas

Ear hematomas are a pocket of blood that can develop in a dog’s pinna.

Many ear hematomas develop as a result of head shaking, which is a common symptom of the canine ear infection.

If a dog continues to shake their head or paw at their ears, a painful ear hematoma can soon develop.

If you do not resolve an ear hematoma quickly with surgical intervention, the hematoma can lead to painful hardening of the tissue.

Vestibular Disease

Vestibular disease in dogs refers to a sudden disturbance of balance as a result of impact to the vestibular system.

These dogs typically have a rapid onset of ataxia and discoordination, often ranging in severity from pup to pup.

Severe ear infections are one of the leading causes of vestibular disease in dogs, along with any form of trauma to the brain.


If an ear infection is allowed to spread to the inner ear, dogs can experience deafness as a result.

A severe infection can cause significant damage to the ear canal, as well as causing inflammation to the point of reducing hearing capabilities.

Horner’s Syndrome

Inflammation of the middle and inner ear can lead to Horner’s syndrome in some dogs.

Many nerves pass through a dog’s middle ear, and an infection in the area can impact these nerves if left untreated.

Once these nerves are damaged, dogs can develop facial paralysis.

As you can see, ear infections are not as simple of a condition as some pet owners have believed.

Because of the potential complications on the table, it is essential to act at the first sign of a developing ear infection in your furry friend.

How To Diagnose Ear Infections In Dogs

Most cases of ear infections in dogs are diagnosed with a simple physical exam and an ear cytology.

Your vet will first start by asking you which behaviors your dog has been displaying at home, as this will help them determine which regions they need to examine closely.

They will then look deeply into your dog’s ear with an otoscope, as this will allow them to examine the structures of the ear canal.

Once they have examined your dog’s ear closely, they can use a cotton swab to collect samples of the wax and debris in the ears.

This sample will be spread onto an individual microscope slide for each ear, allowing the examiner to search for evidence of bacteria or yeast.

Based on the structures found on the slide, your vet can determine whether or not your pup has an ear infection.

Not only can an ear cytology alert your veterinarian of an infection, but it can show them which types of bacteria are present in the ear.

Many different types of bacteria can reside within an infected ear, all of which can require a different treatment method.

Treating Ear Infections In Dogs

Your veterinarian will typically prescribe antibiotics based on the type of bacteria that is found on your dog’s ear cytology.

An ideal treatment plan will involve a thorough cleaning of the ear at your vet’s office, along with antibiotics to be offered over a 7-14 day period.

Severe infections may also require their ears to be “packed”, which involves squeezing a thick ointment into the dog’s ear canal.

This ointment contains antibiotic and antifungal properties, allowing the medicine to get to the source directly.

However, these ointments are only effective once the ear has been cleaned, and if the ear canal is not too swollen to allow entry.

Once your vet has prescribed a treatment, they will typically ask you to bring your dog in for a recheck once they have completed their antibiotic course.

This can ensure that your dog’s treatment has been effective, as well as allow your vet to alter their treatment plan if needed.

Though these options will not aid in treating the infection itself, many vets will also prescribe medication for inflammation and pain.

Ear infections can be incredibly painful, so these options can offer your pup relief as they recover.

Ear Infection Prognosis In Dogs

Most ear infections in dogs will resolve within 1 to 2 weeks of treatment.

A prompt diagnosis typically leads to a complication-free treatment, though there are some situations in which the recovery is guarded.

For example, if a dog has a severe ear infection to the point of developing vestibular disease, these pups may need to be on medication for a longer period.

Not only will they often require an extended course of antibiotics, but they may also suffer from permanent hearing and balance difficulties.

It is rare for an ear infection to be fatal in dogs, but there are certainly some complications on the table the longer the condition is left untreated.

Acting at the first sign of a developing ear infection is the best way to offer your pup a full recovery.

Will My Dog Get An Ear Infection Again?

Once a dog has developed their first ear infection, they are more at risk of developing infections in the future.

Ear infections can be a chronic issue for many furry friends, especially if any underlying conditions are to blame.

Conditions like canine allergies and endocrine disease are known to lead to ear infections in many dogs, so these pups may be prone to ear complications going forward.

As long as you are aware of the signs of a developing ear infection, you can offer your pup the support they need as soon as possible.

Can You Prevent Ear Infections In Dogs?

If your dog falls into any of the at risk categories for canine ear infections, there are a few ways to potentially prevent future complications.

Some of the most effective ways to keep your dog’s ears infection free include:

  • Drying out their ears after activities involving water
  • Keeping the fur around their ear canal trimmed 
  • Cleaning your dog’s ears regularly with a cleanser approved by your veterinarian
  • Keeping any skin allergies under control with the help of your veterinarian
  • Avoid using Q Tips when cleaning out your dog’s ears, as this pushes debris further into their ear

Final Thoughts

Ear infections are a common health condition that develop in our furry friends.

As long as you are aware of the symptoms of a brewing ear infection in dogs, you can prevent any secondary ear complications in the future.

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