How To Tell If Dog Has Ear Infection?

how to tell if dog has ear infection

Absolutely! Here’s a comprehensive guide about ear infections in dogs, including causes, how to spot them, treatment, and prevention:

Ear Infections in Dogs: A Painful Problem

Ear infections (otitis) are a common, uncomfortable condition for our canine companions. Left untreated, they can cause severe pain and even lead to more serious issues. Recognizing the signs and understanding the causes is crucial for effective treatment and preventing future infections.

How to Tell if Your Dog Has an Ear Infection

  • Excessive scratching or rubbing of the ear
  • Head shaking
  • Redness or swelling inside the ear
  • Foul odor from the ear
  • Discharge (dark brown, yellow, green)
  • Crusting or scabs around the ear
  • Pain when you touch the ear
  • Tilting the head to one side
  • Loss of balance or hearing

What Causes Ear Infections in Dogs

  • Allergies: Food or environmental allergies can trigger inflammation and increased ear wax production.
  • Parasites: Ear mites, particularly Otodectes cynotis, are a leading cause of ear infections.
  • Foreign Bodies: Grass seeds, dirt, or insects can get stuck, leading to irritation and infection.
  • Neoplasms: Growths or tumors inside the ear canal can obstruct airflow and harbor bacteria.
  • Breed Predisposition: Dogs with floppy ears (Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds) or excessive ear hair (Poodles) are more prone to infections.
  • Underlying Diseases: Systemic illnesses, such as hypothyroidism, can weaken the immune system and increase vulnerability to infections.
  • Excess Moisture: Frequent swimming or improper ear cleaning can leave a damp environment, perfect for bacteria and yeast.

Diagnosis & Treatment: Never Play Doctor!

A vet visit is absolutely necessary for an ear infection. They’ll examine your dog, look inside the ear with an otoscope, and may do these tests:

  • Microscopic Exam: Checks for mites, bacteria, or yeast.
  • Cytology: Identifies types of infection-causing organisms.
  • CT or MRI Scans: May be needed for severe inner ear infections.

Treatment typically involves several steps:

  • Pain Relief: Anti-inflammatories and pain medication to ease discomfort.
  • Addressing the Cause: This means treating allergies, parasites, removing foreign bodies, or managing underlying diseases.
  • Cleaning the Ears: Using a vet-recommended solution and following their instructions.
  • Topical Medication: Ear drops containing antibiotics, antifungals, or anti-inflammatories depending on the type of infection.
  • Oral Medication: Antibiotics or antifungals might be prescribed for severe cases.

Preventing Ear Infections

  • Regular Ear Checks: Get into the habit of checking your dog’s ears for any unusualness.
  • Proper Ear Cleaning: Only use safe solutions recommended by your vet and don’t clean too often.
  • Balanced Diet: High-quality food helps keep the immune system strong and may combat food allergies.
  • Parasite Control: Regular preventative treatment for fleas, ticks, and mites.
  • Grooming: Keep the hair around the ears trimmed, especially for breeds with excess ear hair.
  • Vet Visits: Routine checkups can catch potential problems early.

Key Takeaways

  • Ear infections are common, but treatable. Early intervention is crucial.
  • Don’t self-diagnose or treat: A vet can identify the exact cause and prescribe the right treatment.
  • Prevention is Key: Regular ear care, a healthy diet, and parasite control greatly reduce the risk.

If you suspect an ear infection, prioritize a visit to your veterinarian. With prompt attention, your furry friend will be back to their happy, healthy self in no time!

How To Tell If Dog Has Ear Infection?

Often the first symptom of otitis externa that a dog owner notices is itching: the animal persistently scratches the sore ear and shakes its head.

Upon examination, you can detect redness and swelling of the ear, its pain when palpated, and an increase in local and sometimes general temperature.

On the inner surface of the auricle and around the external auditory opening, scratches, crusts, and discharge from the ear canal can be seen.

Based on the appearance and smell of this discharge, one can assume the causes of otitis media:

  • Dark brown, dry crusts usually form as a result of parasitic otitis media caused by ear mites.
  • A waxy, yellowish-brown discharge with a sweetish odor appears with Malassezia otitis media.
  • Discharge from bacterial otitis caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa has a greenish tint and an unpleasant odor.
  • However, in order to prescribe effective treatment, assessing the appearance and smell of the discharge is not enough. The veterinarian must conduct special studies and accurately determine the cause of the disease.
  • With external otitis, the lack of treatment can quickly lead to the spread of inflammation to the deeper parts of the ear.
  • With otitis media, you may notice that the dog constantly holds its head tilted towards the affected ear. Due to the proximity of the tympanic cavity to the temporomandibular joint, the animal may experience pain when chewing, barking, or opening its mouth. There may also be deterioration in hearing, and damage to the facial nerve, manifested by sagging and decreased sensitivity of the lip and eyelid on one side.

Inflammation of the inner ear is accompanied by significant disturbances in balance and coordination of movements and deafness. If otitis media or internal otitis is suspected, the dog should be taken to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible.

What Causes Canine Ear Infections?

The inflammatory process in the ear canal, called otitis, is quite difficult to diagnose in the early stages of development.

The pet is not able to talk about the symptoms that bother him. Feeling discomfort in the ear, the dog becomes restless and may show aggression.

Only a qualified veterinarian can understand what caused the development of otitis and develop adequate treatment tactics based on diagnostics and clinical data.


One of the factors that provokes otitis in a dog is an allergic reaction. The inflammatory process in the ear canal against the background of allergies is associated with an increased secretion of a specific secretion – sulfur and a sharp decrease in the body’s defenses. Depending on the causes of the allergy, further treatment will be prescribed by a veterinarian.

It is important to determine which factor caused the allergic reaction. The ear canal of pets is lined with a thin layer of skin, on which there are many glands that produce a protective substance – sulfur.

With increased sulfur release, the amount of pathogenic microflora increases significantly. Against the background of decreased resistance and poor immune function, bacteria and fungi actively multiply, damaging ear structures and causing inflammation.


Microscopic otomycosis mite lives in the structures of the upper layers of the skin of the ear canal. Feeding mainly on particles of dead epithelium, blood, and lymph, the tick causes damage to tissues. In response to damage, inflammation develops.

The danger of ear mites lies primarily in the fact that secondary microflora often develops against its background. Untimely treated otomycosis soon progresses to the stage of acute purulent otitis.

Complications of the purulent form of otitis include damage to the middle and internal structures of the ear with involvement of the meninges. Otodectosis in the absence of timely treatment, although not directly, can cause the death of a dog.


Most often, benign neoplasms are diagnosed in the ear canal of dogs, but they cause no less harm. Growths and neoplasms can often fester, bleed, and disrupt the normal process of air microcirculation in the ear canal. All this leads to an increase in the number of pathogenic microflora. A common pathology among dogs is sebaceous gland adenoma.

Mechanical Irritation of the Auricle:

It is not uncommon in veterinary medicine to have otitis in a dog due to mechanical irritation of the tissues of the auricle.

Factors that provoke irritation of the auricle can be foreign objects – lumps of earth, wood chips, and insects that get into the pet’s ear during walks or active games with relatives.

A foreign object that gets stuck in the ear provokes a violation of microcirculation in the ear canal. In parallel, irritation of the nerve endings occurs with increased secretion of sulfur secretion, which is a favorable environment for the growth and development of pathogenic microflora.

Most often, otitis media due to mechanical irritation of the auricle is diagnosed in puppies and young active dogs. Especially those who like to run in thick grass and dig in the ground.

Plain water can also be a mechanical irritant. When bathing a pet or in the event of active recreation near a pond, the ingress of water causes stagnation of fluid with parallel increased reproduction of pathogens.

Breed Predisposition:

Inflammation in the ear canal is a common situation for owners of breeds such as Spaniels or shepherd dogs. One breed has floppy ears, which in itself provokes a violation of air microcirculation, while another has too open ears.

Some dog breeds are predisposed to hypersensitivity to various allergens. Such breeds are prone not only to allergies, accompanied by itching and scratching on the skin, but also to otitis media, which occurs against the background of a general decrease in the body’s resistance.

Systemic Diseases:

Untimely treatment of various diseases can lead to their transition to a chronic course. Systemic pathologies slowly but constantly undermine the functioning of the entire body. The immune system is primarily affected. Against this background, the protective functions of the skin are weakened.

Active growth and reproduction of pathogenic fungi or bacteria negatively affect the condition of the ears, so otitis media in systemic diseases in dogs is a common reason for owners to consult a veterinarian.

Eating Disorder:

A properly balanced diet is important not only for adequate and coordinated functioning of the digestive tract. A diet high in sugar provokes the active production of wax in the dog’s ear canal. This, in turn, leads to increased growth of opportunistic microflora located on the surface of the skin and the inside of the ear canal on an ongoing basis.

Violation of the diet and the presence of dishes from the human table or semi-finished products on the dog’s menu leads to the development of food allergies. Often, the cause of ear problems is a dysfunction of the pancreas.

An important task for a dog owner is to provide the pet with proper nutrition and care. This includes not only the selection of food and ear-cleaning products but also regular examinations by a veterinarian. Inflammation detected in the early stages is much easier and faster to treat than advanced forms of otitis media.

Diagnosis Needed for an Ear Infections in Dogs:

So that the veterinarian can fully assess the picture of the disease, the dog’s ears should not be cleaned on the day of visiting the veterinary clinic for otitis media.

During the appointment, the veterinarian will interview the owner and examine the animal, paying attention to its general condition, the condition of the skin of the ear and other parts of the body, as well as the presence and nature of discharge from the ear canal.

Using an otoscope, an examination of the external auditory canal is carried out: the doctor checks it for the presence of foreign bodies, skin damage, discharge, and neoplasms, and assesses the condition of the eardrum.

Microscopic examination of earwax and discharge from the ear canal is carried out if parasitic otitis media is suspected in order to detect mites.

Cytological examination of discharge is carried out to detect bacterial and fungal infections.

If otitis media and internal otitis are suspected, the animal may be prescribed a computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging scan.

How To Treat Ear Infections in Dogs?

Treatment of otitis media includes several stages.

Relieving Pain:

Pain during otitis media can be either minor or severe. If necessary, your veterinarian will prescribe appropriate pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications for your dog.

Elimination of the Causes of the Disease:

removal of a foreign body in traumatic otitis, removal of tumors, treatment of the underlying disease, combating the pathogen in bacterial, fungal, and parasitic otitis, and avoiding contact with the allergen in allergic otitis. To reduce the risk of food allergies, your veterinarian may recommend switching your pet to a food for dogs with sensitive digestion.

Ear Hygiene:

regular removal of crusts, excess wax, and inflammatory secretions from the inner surface of the auricle and from the external auditory canal using saline and special lotions recommended by the doctor.

The first ear cleaning is best done in a veterinary clinic, under the supervision of a specialist. The hygiene product in the required amount is introduced into the ear and a light massage is carried out at the base of the ear cartilage.

Afterwards, the dog should be given the opportunity to shake its head, and then remove the discharge from the auricle and external auditory opening with a gauze swab, without trying to penetrate inside the ear canal.

Local Treatment:

Ear drops recommended by your veterinarian are administered into the ear after it has been thoroughly cleaned. Systemic treatment. If necessary, the animal is prescribed medications in the form of injections or tablets.

The recovery time for a dog depends on the reasons that caused the disease. The course of treatment can be quite long.

How To Prevent Ear Infections in Dogs?

To reduce the likelihood of your dog getting otitis media, you must follow these rules:

  • Check your pet’s ears regularly for dirt and unusual discharge. Dogs with long floppy ears and abundant hair near the external auditory opening require special attention. If tumors are detected in the ear canal, contact a veterinary clinic.
  • Clean your pet’s ears as they get dirty, but don’t do it too often or unnecessarily. By removing the natural protective layer from the skin, you can damage it and provoke increased sulfur production. Without the appointment of a specialist, you do not need to use medicated lotions to clean your ears. In this article, you will learn more about how to clean your dog’s ears.
  • Provide your dog with complete and high-quality nutrition. Complete food for adult dogs contains all the necessary nutrients that are well absorbed by the pet and help strengthen the immune system.
  • Limit your dog’s contact with stray animals. They can be carriers of pathogens of various diseases, including ear mites.
  • When bathing, do not allow water to get into your dog’s ears. Make sure your dog doesn’t get too cold. This is especially important for elderly and weakened individuals.
  • If you notice signs of otitis in your pet, do not try to treat it yourself. Only a veterinarian in a clinic can accurately determine the causes of the disease and prescribe appropriate therapy. Errors in treatment can lead to the disease becoming chronic and complications developing.
  • An attentive attitude on the part of the owner and seeking professional veterinary help at the first signs of illness will help maintain the health of the dog and prevent the development of dangerous diseases.


Diseases that occur in the ear area in dogs can be successfully treated and eliminated. Complications can only be avoided if you consult a specialist in a timely manner. It is important to promptly clean your pet’s ears.

For these purposes, you need to purchase special products at a pet store. Dogs with long hair need to regularly pluck the hairs in the ear canal. If you notice redness when examining your pet’s ears, you should not self-medicate. It is advisable to contact a veterinarian for help.

Aapt Dubey
Aapt Dubey

Aapt Dubey, a devoted canine enthusiast and experienced dog Owner, brings boundless passion to our team. With a heart full of love for our four-legged friends, Aapt is dedicated to sharing insights on dog care, behavior, and training to make every pup's life happier and healthier at

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