Dog Ear Infection? Know the Signs and How to Get Rid of It
On This Page
If a pup lives in your home, it's a good idea to get familiar with the signs of a dog ear infection. It's a common condition that affects up to one in five dogs, according to the American Kennel Club, and left untreated can lead to scarring that narrows the ear canal. In severe cases, a dog ear infection can even cause deafness.
But the good news is an ear infection in dogs is treatable and, in some cases, preventable.
What Causes Dog Ear Infections?
The cause of dog ear infections usually boils down to the combination of germs or parasites and an itchy dog.
"Ear infections in dogs develop when the skin surface becomes unhealthy," says Emily Pashaian-Grant, DVM and medical director of VCA Sylvania Vet Animal Hospital. "So the best way to prevent ear infections is to find the root cause of the condition. That way you can avoid or treat whatever is triggering the problem."
Yeast and Bacteria
Like people, it's normal for dogs to have a collection of microorganisms living on the surface of their skin (called a microbiome). Most of the time, these germs are harmless. But, Pashaian-Grant says, if the normal skin barrier is disrupted in some way and becomes irritated and inflamed, it gives germs the chance to grow unchecked.
"Ear infections are the result of an overgrowth of yeast, bacteria, or a combination of both," she explains.
Ear mites are microscopic bugs that can infest your dog's ears. They spread from animal to animal or your pup can pick them up from simply lying down outdoors. They don't bite, but their presence irritates the skin in your dog's ears and makes them itch like crazy. Because they inflame the skin, ear mites can lead to ear infections.
Bacteria and yeast flourish in moist, dark areas, Pashaian-Grant says. So dogs that have floppy ears (think: hounds and spaniels) are more likely to develop ear infections. Air can easily get into upright ears and keep them dry. But ears that flap down may trap moisture, which encourages germs to overgrow. Also, puppies in a litter can get ear infections from licking and pulling on each other's ears, Pashaian-Grant says.
Allergies are usually the main culprit in recurring ear infections. If your dog has multiple ear infections, it's time to consider allergy testing, Pashaian-Grant says. According to the AKC, 80 percent of dogs with food allergies and 50 percent of dogs with environmental allergies develop ear infections.
Dog Ear Infection Signs
Ear infections are painful for pups. You'll likely see your dog scratching at his ears or shaking his head. Other symptoms include red, irritated skin inside the ears and brown, yellow, or green discharge. Ear infections can also be super stinky.
Dog Ear Infection Treatment
It's best to see your veterinarian as soon as you notice signs because ear infections won't go away on their own. You'll usually need prescription dog ear infection medicine, Pashaian-Grant says.
Your veterinarian will take a swab of the ear discharge and look at it under a microscope to see if it's mites, yeast, or bacteria, and then prescribe the appropriate medication. Treatments include antibiotics, antifungals, and anti-mite medications that are usually applied to the skin. But if the infection has advanced to the inner ear, your veterinarian may recommend oral medications.
Treatment usually lasts two weeks, but your pooch should have some relief from symptoms within a few days, Pashaian-Grant says.
"If it's a one-off ear infection, we won't do anything else," she says. "But if your dog gets multiple ear infections, then we'll talk about allergy testing so we can come up with a better long-term plan for the pet. That might mean changing up foods or long-term medication to address canine allergies."
Home Remedy to Prevent Infections
Want to know how to treat a dog ear infection without a vet? Prevent it in the first place.
Keeping your dog's ears clean and dry is the most important thing you can do to prevent ear infections. Pashaian-Grant recommends cleaning your dog's ears at least once a month. You can purchase a dog ear wash from your veterinarian or a pet store. In a pinch, you can mix half water and half white vinegar to make your own cleaning solution at home. Use a soaked cotton ball or gauze to wipe out the ear, but avoid pouring liquid directly into the ear canal if you suspect your dog has an infection, as this could damage the ear drum.
But the ultimate way to prevent ear infections that reoccur, Pashaian-Grant says, is to discover and treat the underlying cause, which is most often allergies to food proteins, dust mites, or seasonal allergens. Treating what triggers your dog's ear infections provides a long-term solution that leads to a happier, healthier life.