Dog Ear Infection

Signs, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

A gray dog with floppy ears and tongue sticking out of mouth.

The majority of this article is written by a certified veterinarian.

Table of Contents

A dog ear infection can put your pup in a lot of pain. Dogs are just as prone to ear infections as humans, but some breeds are more likely to suffer from this problem.

Overall, up to 20% of dogs are known to have had some form of ear infection. Ear problems are especially common in dogs with floppy ears — for example, the Cocker Spaniel.

As dog owners, it is best if we learn how to identify and treat an ear infection in our dogs. This A-to-Z guide will cover how to deal with dog ear infections and how to prevent another one.

Types Of Ear Infections in Dogs

Medically, there are 3 types of ear infections in dogs: They are known as otitis externa, media, and interna.

  1. Outer Ear — Otitis Externa: Otitis Externa is a dog’s outer ear infection, in which the cells lining the outer portion of the ear canal become inflamed.
  2. Middle Ear — Otitis Media (Middle Ear): In otitis media, the middle ears get inflamed.
  3. Inner Ear — Otitis Interna: Inflammation of the inner ear.

The most common ear infection in dogs is otitis externa — due to the exposure of the external ear to the outside environment. Inner and middle ear infections are usually spread from the outer ear.

Dog ear infections can range from chronic to mild and may occur in either one ear or both ears.

Inner ear infection in dogs is very serious and can even cause deafness, paralysis, and other health issues.

A Black Lab dog against a rosy background.
Floppy-eared Labrador

Signs Of A Dog Ear Infection

So how do you know if your dog has an ear infection? You can generally spot this condition at home by keeping an eye out for the most common signs and symptoms of an ear infection in dogs:

• Scratching

If your dog is constantly scratching at their ear out of nowhere, it could be a telltale sign of an ear infection.

Such infections commonly cause discomfort and itchiness and thus, scratching or pawing at the ear. Some dogs also rub the ear against the floor, furniture, or other objects.

• Head-Shaking

A dog might start to shake their head. This indicates that the pup is in pain, which could be due to a canine ear infection, among other things.

• Red or Inflamed Ears

Infection often causes redness and swelling. Check dog’s ears; Are they red or do they seem otherwise irritated?

Redness and inflammation of the ear are two clear signs of an ear infection.

• Discharge

Another common and important sign of an ear infection is discharge leaking from a dog’s ear.

This could take the form of a yellow or yellow-green discharge, or black and crusty stuff coming out of your pet’s ear.

• Odor

A dog ear canal infection can lead to a strong and often unpleasant odor coming from the dog’s head around the ears.

• Neurological Issues

Some chronic ear infections in dogs can cause neurological deficits, such as loss of balance and tilting of the head.

Other severe ear infection complications can include hearing loss, erratic eye movement, and walking in circles.

Causes Of Dog Ear Infections

So, how do dogs get ear infections? There are many ear infection causes:

• Hairy and Waxy Ears

An excess of hairs inside the ear causes bacteria buildup in dog ears, leading to an infection.

Wax buildup inside the ear for a long time can also result in pain, inflammation, and discharge, all of which are indications of an infected dog ear.

• Moisture

Warm, moist, and dark environments are the perfect habitat for bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms.

Ears become damp after bathing or a swim, and the moisture trapped inside can cause an ear infection.

This is especially true for dogs with floppy ears — because with straight up, exposed ears, the air hits the ear directly and dries off any trapped moisture. In floppy ears, the moisture doesn’t dry as well, providing a breeding place for undesirable conditions.

Puppy ear infections are also possible, as puppies tend to lick each other’s ears, trapping that moisture inside the ear.

• Ear Mites

Ear mites are parasites that can invade your pet’s ears. They don’t bite, but they crawl around, making the skin itchy and causing inflammation that leading to ear problems in dogs.

Ear mites can be transferred from one animal to another, or your pup can pick them up while lying outside.

• Bacteria and Yeast

There are natural growths of bacteria and yeast on the surface of your dog’s ears. They are mostly harmless but can cause dog ear irritation if the skin’s natural barrier is disturbed.

In such a case, the overgrowth of bacteria or yeast can lead to an ear infection.

• Allergies

If your pet gets ear infections often, you may want to get them tested for allergies.

Getting multiple infections can be due to an allergic factor, like food or the environment (plants, perfumes, etc).

Similar to humans, dogs can also be a victim of seasonal allergies.

Consult with your vet to confirm allergies by running an allergy test.

• Genetic Predisposition

Some dogs like Spaniels and Miniature Poodles get ear infections more easily than other breeds. This is due to the structure of their ears.

Floppy ears are closed-off, allowing them to retain moisture, build-up wax, and trap heat — thus, making this ear shape the perfect environment for microorganisms to breed.

A brown Miniature Poodle dog with curly fur.
Miniature Poodle

Some dogs like Spaniels and Miniature Poodles get ear infections more easily than other breeds. This is due to the structure of their ears.

Floppy ears are closed-off, allowing them to retain moisture, build-up wax, and trap heat — thus, making this ear shape the perfect environment for microorganisms to breed.

A brown Miniature Poodle dog with curly fur.
Miniature Poodle

• Physical Injury

Your dog can injure themself while playing with other pets or on their own.

If the ear becomes scratched or injured in another way, bacteria can infect the wound and cause an ear infection.

• Tumors

Tumors or polyps in a dog’s ears can make the pup especially vulnerable to developing ear infections and other types of blockages.

What To Do For A Dog Ear Infection

This medical concern demands treatment. You and your vet should consider the following steps for the best dog ear infection treatment for your dog.

• Professional Ear Cleaning

Infected ears should only be cleaned by a vet. The vet will carefully clean your dog’s ears with a medicated cleanser and advise you on the correct procedure of cleaning dog ears at home to prevent further infections.

This cleansing will also remove wax and debris buildup.

• Antibiotics And Other Medications

In most cases, your dog will be given some prescription medicine in combination with another treatment.

The medicine can be an antibiotic or something else, depending on whether the infection was caused by bacteria, yeast, fungus, or mites.

Medicated ear drops specifically for dog ear infections might also be given.

With medication, the infection should fade away in one to two weeks. If it doesn’t, this could be a case of chronic infection. Consider testing your dog for allergies or ask your vet about the possible reasons for chronic infections.

• Flushing Out The Ear

Flushing of the ear is usually done while cleansing.

If a foreign body is found to be responsible for the infection, the doctor will carry out a procedure to remove it and prescribe a specific treatment for your pup.

• Treatment for Chronic Infections

If your dog has had multiple infections and the oral prescription isn’t working, it could be a case of chronic ear infection that demands a tailored solution.

In some cases, the vet may have to carry out a surgery like Total Ear Canal Ablation (TECA) to remove the disease-causing tissue, preventing any further ear issues.

Untreated Ear Infections

If the infection is left untreated, your dog’s ear health could deteriorate rapidly. Some complications if you don’t treat a dog ear infection are:

• Severe Ear Infection

If treatment is not given in some chronic cases, the infection can spread to the part of the brain that controls breathing and heart rate.

This is very rare and usually doesn’t happen, but it is recommended to avoid the chances.

• Proliferation of Ear Canal Lining

When left untreated, an ear infection can cause the ear canal lining to rupture and the ear canal to shrink in size.

This narrowing of the ear canal will affect your dog’s overall health, and there is no treatment for this other than surgery.

• Otitis Media and Interna

If the ear infection on the outer ear is not treated, it could spread to the middle and inner parts of the ear.

This could lead to deafness, paralysis of the facial nerves, dry eye, and other eye-related syndromes.

A vestibular disease where your dog loses balance and their eye movement becomes uncoordinated and uncontrollable is also possible.

A cream-colored adult dog smiling with their tongue out.

How To Prevent Ear Infections In Dogs

It is best to take these steps to prevent infections.

• Dry Out Moisture

Make sure to dry your dog completely after a bath or swim, especially the ears. This alone could cut down the number of infections your pet goes through.

Thorough drying is even more important if you have a dog with floppy ears.

• Clean Thoroughly

Use a safe commercial cleaning solution to clean your dog’s ear on a schedule.

If necessary, ask your vet to recommend a medicated cleaning solution. You can use these at home to properly clean your dog’s ears, helping to avoid ear infections.

• Trim Ear Hair

If your dog has a lot of hair on or inside the ears, take the time to trim them regularly.

Long hair can trap moisture in the same as floppy ears. Additionally, long ear hairs may irritate your dog.

• Underlying Conditions

Go for regularly scheduled check-ups at and consult your vet to check for any underlying conditions.

Of course, if other conditions are present, they will need to be treated to cure the ears completely.

Frequently Asked Questions

• Can Dogs Get Ear Infections?

Yes. A dog ear infection is a common health issue, affecting up to 20% of all dogs.


Ear infections in dogs are often avoidable by cleaning a and drying a dog’s ears properly, but they can also occur in some unavoidable cases like one dog getting licked by another, getting scratched while playing, or catching ear mites from rolling around in grass.

Carefully follow your vet’s instructions to treat this painful condition and keep your pup healthy and happy.

A fluffy toy breed, the Shih Tzu dog, with a white bow in its hair.