No one likes to see their family pet in discomfort or pain. Our dogs are our family members, but they can’t tell us when they aren’t feeling their best. This is especially true when our dogs get ear infections. 

Ear infections are common in dogs, especially those with ears that hang down, like a bloodhound, instead of standing upright, like a shepherd. In fact, as many as 20% of dogs have some form of ear disease at any given time. The shape of their ear canals makes them more prone to ear infections than humans. Your dog’s ear infection might be easy to miss, but knowing the symptoms can help you identify the problem early on.

For information on how to identify other illnesses in your dog, check out this article.

adult French bulldog on ground

Types Of Ear Infections In Dogs

There are 3 types of ear infections that plague our canine companions. These are called:

  • Otitis externa: characterized by inflammation of the external part of the ear canal. 
  • Otisis media: concerns issues with the middle part of the ear canal.
  • Otisis interna: involves an infection of the inner ear canal.

Otitis externa is the most common type of ear infection. Infections in the middle or inner ear canal often result from the spread of bacteria from an untreated infection of the outer ear. Otitis media and otitis interna can be very serious, potentially leading to facial paralysis or even loss of hearing. 

dog laying on area rug

Symptoms

Ear infections aren’t as easy to identify as some other health problems your dog might experience. Unlike a cut or rash, ear infections can sit deep in your dog’s ear and may be difficult to notice. Some dogs have almost no symptoms at all other than slight wax buildup or ear discharge. Here are a few symptoms that indicate your dog has an ear infection:

  • Head shaking or tilting to one side
  • Incessant scratching at the infected ear
  • Dark-colored discharge
  • Yeasty odor
  • Redness or swelling of the ear canal
  • Pain or sensitivity to touch
  • Scabs in the ear
  • Itchiness
  • Pain

If you notice a combination of the above symptoms, assume your dog has developed an ear infection. Schedule a visit to a licensed veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis and begin treatment. When caught early on, most ear infections in dogs are easy to treat and quickly resolved.

black and white short coated dog

Causes Of Ear Infections

Your dog’s ear canal is L-shaped and much more vertical than that of a human. This shape tends to hold fluid, making them prone to developing ear infections. These infections are usually caused by bacteria, yeast, or both. In young dogs or puppies, ear mites can also cause infections. Causes of ear infections include:

  • Moisture (the perfect growing environment for yeast and bacteria)
  • Allergies
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Endocrine disorders (thyroid disease, for example)
  • Wax buildup
  • Foreign bodies
  • Excessive cleaning
  • Injury to the ear canal 

Diagnosis Of Ear Infections In Dogs

If your dog is exhibiting common signs of an ear infection, you should take them to a veterinarian to get checked on. Getting your dog’s ear infection treated quickly is important to get them feeling better but also to prevent the spread of the infection to the inner ear.

Your veterinarian will want to know what symptoms your dog has been experiencing, how long he or she has had symptoms, and if they have any allergies. Your vet will observe the ear for signs of redness, swelling, and discharge. They will examine the inner ear and palpate to check for pain and sensitivity. The vet will then take samples from the ear and examine the microscopic samples to check for signs of bacteria or yeast.

Home Remedies

Despite what you may read on the internet, home remedies can make your dog’s ear infection worse. It’s best to leave the diagnosis and treatment to the professionals.

white and black American pit bull terrier at daytime

Treatments

Your dog’s treatment may depend on what kind of ear infection they have and its location. In all likelihood,  your veterinarian will thoroughly clean your dog’s ear with a medical-strength ear cleanser. They may even give you a cleanser or topical medication to use at home. In very severe ear infections or those that have penetrated deep into the ear, you will likely give your dog an oral antibiotic.

Most ear infections clear up 1 to 2 weeks after treatment begins. Severe infections or those that are the result of chronic issues may be more difficult to treat. In the worst cases, the veterinarian may suggest a Total Ear Canal Ablation or TECA. TECA surgery removes the ear canal, thus preventing infection from recurring. This option is only used when no alternative methods are successful in treating chronic infections. TECA removes the outer ear canal, leaving the inner ear canal intact so your dog is still able to hear.

Know the Signs of Ear Infections

Our dogs can’t tell us their ears hurt. Familiarizing yourself with the signs of an ear infection is paramount to identifying the issue quickly. Ear infections are easy to treat when they’re caught early. Know the signs and when to take your dog to the veterinarian for treatment. Do not treat your dog’s ear infection with home remedies. With the help of your vet, you can get your dog’s ear issues resolved so they can get back to being their best, happy selves.

shallow focus photo of Chihuahua

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