Dog Ear Infections: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
If you have a dog with floppy ears or a pup that loves to play outdoors, you’ll probably have to deal with an ear infection at least once during their life. In fact, ear infections are the second most common reason dog owners visit their veterinarian.
Otitis externa is a scientific term you might hear, which means inflammation of the ear; however, “otitis externa” and “ear infection” are often used interchangeably. Always take your dog to the vet if you think they have an injury or other concerning condition, including ear infections, as they are painful and uncomfortable for your dog.
Here are a few things you should know if you think your dog has an ear infection.
Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs
While you may think skin in the ear is different than the skin on the rest of your dog’s body, it’s essentially the same— just with less hair and a few more glands. This means the same irritants that disrupt their normal skin, like allergies, parasites and underlying medical conditions, can also disrupt their ears. These disruptions open the door for bacteria and yeast to flourish in the ear, causing infection and discomfort for your dog.
Here are a few ways a dog can get an ear infection:
- Allergies (including food allergies)
- Ear mites
- Water in their ear(s) from swimming or bathing
- Getting something stuck in the ear
- Another disease that has an impact on the ear environment, such as thyroid disease
Dog Breeds More Likely to Experience Ear Infections
Some dogs are more susceptible to ear infections because of their breed. For example, dogs with floppy ears are more likely to get an ear infection because their ears trap moisture that alters the normal environment in the ear canal. These breeds include:
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Cocker Spaniels
- West Highland Terriers (Westies)
- Hound breeds
Symptoms of Ear Infections in Dogs
If you see your dog exhibiting any of the following symptoms, you should make an appointment with your vet:
- Shaking their head
- Scratching their ears
- Ears that are sensitive to the touch
- Redness or a rash on the outside of the ear
- Odor in the ear
- Discharge from the ear
- Swelling of the ear
- Skin that looks folded or wrinkled instead of smooth around the ear
- Holding one ear down
How to Treat a Dog Ear Infection
Your vet will likely prescribe a topical ear medication after running a few tests and thoroughly cleaning the ears. Some medications are administered at the clinic and last 30 days, while others must be given daily at home for a week or so.
How to Help Prevent Ear Infections in Dogs
Once your dog has had an ear infection, your vet will ask questions to help determine the reason why your dog developed an ear infection in the first place. Identifying the underlying cause of the ear infection is the key to limiting future ear infections. One common culprit? Allergies.
Your vet can provide guidance on how often you should clean your dog’s ears — and how to do so. It’s a good idea to clean out your dog’s ears with a cotton ball (never use a pointed cotton swab) and an ear cleaner from a company that specializes in animal health.
Unfortunately, some dogs tend to get ear infections over and over, regardless of preventative steps. In these situations, regularly cleaning their ears can be an important step in proactively managing ear infection signs and symptoms.
Ear infections can be a pain to deal with, but knowing what to look for and when to take action can limit the discomfort your dog experiences.