Dog Health

Tackling Dog Ear Infections: Expert Tips For Prevention And Treatment!

by Alison Page

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Ear infections are painful and irritating for your canine companion. If your dog constantly scratches his ears, that could be a sign of an ear infection.

But can an ear infection kill a dog? Can you use coconut oil or oregano oil to treat dog ear infections? And how can you treat and cure dog ear infections?

Read this guide for our expert tips for preventing and treating dog ear infections.

Does My Dog Have An Ear Infection?

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Ear infections are surprisingly common in dogs, with around 20% of canines suffering from some form of ear disease in one or both ears.

Sometimes, your dog might not show any symptoms of an ear infection. However, ear infections are usually extremely painful for dogs, and they display the following telltale signs:

  • Unpleasant odor
  • Dark-colored discharge
  • Pain, whining, or shying away when you touch the infected ear
  • Head shaking
  • Swollen or red ear canal
  • Itchiness
  • Scabs on the inside and outside of the ears

If you think your dog has an ear infection, don’t try to clean the ear yourself. That will be extremely painful for your pet and requires prompt veterinary attention.

Why Do Dogs Get Ear Infections?

Dogs are more prone to ear infections (otitis externa) than we are because of the shape of their ear canals. The most common causes of dog ear infections are yeast or bacterial infections, although sometimes environmental allergies or endocrine problems can be to blame.

Otitis externa can be acute and relatively easy to resolve or chronic, sometimes becoming a lifelong problem for your pet.

Causes Of Ear Infection In Dogs

There are many different causes of ear infections in dogs. However, the infection often results from some underlying, undiagnosed issue.

Here are some of the most common causes of ear infections and ear problems in dogs that owners should know about.

Environmental Allergies

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Canine ear infections are most commonly caused by environmental allergies, including pollen, mold, and dander.

Allergies weaken the skin’s natural barrier, causing the ear canal to produce more and more wax. Bacteria and yeast are created, encouraging and allowing severe strains of ear infections to grow, causing pain, discharge, and inflammation.

That inflammation can cause the ear canal opening to deteriorate, and treating that condition is often very difficult.

Ear Mites

Ear mites live in your pet’s fur, feeding on skin debris. These tiny black mites trigger itching and pain in your furry friend’s ear as they feed, triggering inflammation and infection. Chronic ear mite infestation can lead to inflammation of the dog’s ear canal and can eventually cause partial or complete deafness.

Ear mites lay eggs that must be destroyed to break the parasite’s reproductive cycle. Your vet will prescribe ear mite medication that kills the adult pests, but it doesn’t work on their eggs, so the problem can take some time to resolve.

Endocrine Issues

Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism can trigger dog ear infections.

If your dog keeps getting otitis externa but their ears are not itchy, an endocrine disease could be the culprit. Endocrine diseases typically cause the following symptoms in dogs:

  • Increased thirst
  • More frequent urination
  • Weight gain
  • Excessive hunger
  • Lethargy and sleepiness
  • Poor coat and skin condition

My dog Jess developed hypothyroidism as she grew older. Although, thankfully, the condition didn’t cause her to have ear problems, she did have some of the other symptoms mentioned above. Fortunately, the condition was diagnosed early, and my vet was able to prescribe an effective daily medication that kept Jess’ symptoms under control.

Thanks to my vet’s expert advice, Jess lived a long and happy life despite her hypothyroidism. So, I always recommend dog owners ask for veterinary advice if they have any health concerns about their canine chum.

Food Allergies And Sensitivity


It’s estimated that ear disease occurs in 80% of ear infections caused by food allergies or sensitivities. Dogs with food allergies often have recurrent ear and skin infections unless the underlying cause is remedied.

Your vet will test your dog for food sensitivities and recommend a suitable diet for your pet.

Inhalant Allergies

Seasonal allergies and inhalant allergies are just about the most common underlying cause of dog ear infections.

Allergic reactions often worsen over time, causing itchy ears, feet, and faces, which are often susceptible to secondary infections, even after treatment.


It’s thought that long-term ear canal inflammation can cause tumors in the ear. If your dog has an ear tumor, look out for the following symptoms:

  • Swelling of the ear
  • Pain or whimpering when you touch the ear
  • Yellow or bloody discharge
  • Chronic or recurrent ear infections
  • Pawing at or scratching the ear
  • A foul smell coming from the ear
  • A visible lump inside the ear

Initially, your dog will be uncomfortable, so we recommend seeking veterinary advice as soon as possible. The good news is that most canine ear tumors are benign, although there are many different types, such as the following:

  • Inner, middle, and outer ear tissue tumors
  • Bone tumors
  • Ear wax gland tumors

Usually, your vet will be keen to remove the tumor, regardless of where it occurs in your dog’s ear, to prevent the growth from causing pain or infection if left untreated.

How Is Ear Infection In Dogs Treated?

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An essential part of ear infection treatment in dogs involves thoroughly cleaning the dog’s ears. However, be careful not to get carried away and overclean the ears, which can also cause infection.

What Does A Clean Dog’s Ear Look Like?

When your dog’s ears are clean and healthy, they should be free from dirt and grime, pink on the inside, not swollen, and without any unpleasant odor.

If your dog’s ears appear inflamed, are reddened, or have a yeasty smell, consult your vet as soon as possible.

Do not attempt to clean out an infected ear yourself; that’s a job for a qualified professional.

How Do I Clean My Dog’s Ears?

As mentioned earlier, it’s essential to keep your dog’s ears clean to prevent infection, and a monthly ear clean should be included as part of your grooming regimen. Here’s how to safely clean your dog’s ears.

What You Need

  • Cotton balls or gauze
  • A clean towel
  • Canine ear cleaning fluid

You can usually buy canine ear cleaning fluid in good pet stores, but you can also get it from your vet practice. Never use Q-tips or any other pointed tools for ear cleaning, as that can push the dirt deeper into the ear, potentially triggering inflammation and infection.

How To Do It

The best place to clean your dog’s ears is in your bathroom or somewhere your dog can shake his head as much as he wants to.

  • Following the manufacturer’s instructions on the product packaging, fill your dog’s ear with the ear-cleaning solution.
  • Gently rub the base of the ear for around 30 seconds.
  • Use gauze or a cotton ball to gently wipe around the ear canal, taking care not to go in too deep.

If your dog cries or appears to be in pain, stop what you’re doing right away and contact your vet for advice.

Regular Ear Cleaning Is Important

Vet cleaning dog ears

Keeping your dog’s ears clean is a great way of preventing infection, especially if your dog has floppy or extremely hairy ears. Regular cleaning can also help protect your dog from mites and other problems before they cause major issues.

After you’ve bathed your dog or when he’s been swimming or for a wet walk, take the time to clean and dry your dog’s ears. Moist, warm skin provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and infection, and keeping them dry and clean is a good way of keeping those problems at bay.


In this part of our guide, we answer some of the commonly asked questions about dog ear infections and how to treat them.

Q: Will a dog ear infection go away on its own?

A: Generally, a dog ear infection won’t clear up by itself. We recommend that all kinds of otitis are evaluated by a vet so that the infection or other problem doesn’t spread and cause problems with the dog’s eardrum.

Q: What can I give my dog to relieve ear infections?

A: When your vet has examined your pet and determined the type of ear infection and its severity, they will clean the ear thoroughly to get rid of ear wax, discharge, and debris. Your vet might apply a topical medication or use a medicated ear cleaner, or in more severe cases, prescribe oral antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medication for your furry friend.

Although you’ll find plenty of home remedies on the web for dog ear problems, we recommend you speak to your vet for advice rather than taking the DIY route.

Q: What foods cause ear infections in dogs?

A: Allowing your dog to eat sugary human treats feeds the yeast that’s naturally present in your pet’s body. When a dog eats excessive sugar, yeast overgrowth can occur, causing infection in the ear canal or ear folds.

Some dogs are sensitive to certain foods, such as beef or chicken, and eating those foods triggers skin irritations that can affect the dog’s ears.

Q: Should I clean my dog’s infected ear?

A: Ask your vet’s advice before cleaning your dog’s infected ear; you could make matters worse.

That said, otitis externa can be prevented by regularly cleaning your dog’s ears. One day per week, do a quick ear check and a gentle clean using a veterinary-recommended product.

If your dog has very hairy ears, they should be trimmed to stop moisture and heat from getting trapped in the ears and potentially causing problems. Dogs that enjoy swimming should have their ears dried thoroughly afterward.

Q: What happens if you ignore a dog’s ear infection?

A: If you leave an ear infection untreated, that can lead to more chronic issues, such as hearing loss. Untreated ear infections can progress to deeper middle and inner ear infections, leading to nerve damage and even eye ulcers.

Q: Why does my dog keep getting ear infections in one ear?

A: Chronic ear infections are usually caused by allergies. However, infections can also be caused when your dog gets foreign material in his ears, such as dirt and grass seeds. Ear canal masses, mites, and polyps can all cause chronic ear problems.

Final Thoughts

I hope you found our guide to tackling dog ear infections interesting and helpful. If you did, please share the article!

Ear infections are most commonly caused by allergies to food or environmental conditions. Mites can also set off an infection, and endocrine issues, such as hypothyroidism, can also be responsible for chronic ear problems.

Regular ear cleaning with a veterinary-approved canine cleaning solution can help keep canine ear infections at bay. However, if your dog’s ears are inflamed, smelly, or painful, always contact your vet immediately for advice.

Is your dog prone to ear infections? What breed is he? Tell us about your pet in the comments box below.

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