Ear Infection in Dogs: Symptoms to Look For, Causes, and Treatment Options

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When I worked at the vet,  we dealt with ear infections in dogs probably four to five times a week.

While they are among the most common health issues, most owners don’t know the causes, symptoms, or treatment related to them.

Today, we’re going to talk about all of those things and more.

This information will help you understand ear infections and what to look for so you can rectify the situation as soon as possible.

Causes of Ear Infection in Dogs

Learn all about ear infections in dogs, including symptoms, causes, and what your vet will do to treat them.

Ear infection in dogs is one of the most common types of infections seen in our canine companions.

There are two types – ear canal infection and inner ear infection.

Both of these infections are more common among certain breeds with large, floppy, or hairy ears.

Ears of this type help trap moisture and reduce airflow, making the ear canal a prime breeding ground for bacteria and yeast.

Breeds with these types of ears include:

These are only a few breeds whose ears make the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and yeast.

In general, if your dog has floppy, large, or an excess of hair in the ear canal, he is more likely to get an ear infection than other breeds.

Ear Canal Infection Causes

Moisture isn’t the only cause of ear infection in dogs.

There are a variety of issues that can cause dogs to experience this common infection.

In addition to moisture, these include:

  • Bacteria and yeast secondary to chronically moist ear canals
  • Environmental or food allergies
  • Endocrine disorders such as thyroid disease
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Wax buildup which causes bacteria and yeast buildup the same way moisture does
  • Foreign bodies
  • Ear canal injury which opens up the canal area to bacterial infection through the injury
  • Excessive cleaning which creates a moist environment
  • Ear mites

Inner Ear Infection Causes

Inner ear infections are often secondary to ear canal infections.

In general, the most common cause of inner ear infection is bacteria that has moved from an ear canal infection down into the inner ear.

In addition, inner ear infection can be secondary to foreign objects or a polyp in the middle ear. Occasionally, even yeast can migrate to the inner ear.

To summarize, inner ear infections are most often cause by:

  • Migration of bacteria or yeast from existing ear canal infection to the middle ear
  • Foreign objects
  • Polyps

Ear Infection in Dogs- Symptoms & Warning Signs

Learn all about ear infections in dogs, including symptoms, causes, and what your vet will do to treat them.

Just as there are two different types of ear infection in dogs – canal or inner ear – there are separate symptoms for each of these conditions.

It’s important to recognize the symptoms of both an ear canal infection and an inner ear infection in order to get your dog the care that he needs as soon as possible.

Dog Ear Canal Infection Symptoms

The easiest ear infection in dogs to spot is in the canal.

This type of infection occurs in the canal and the outer ear area, so the symptoms are usually quite visible. They include:

  • Ear odor
  • Vigorous head shaking
  • Ear hematoma, a blood-filled pocket, on the ear secondary to trauma from head shaking
  • Brown, yellow, or bloody discharge
  • Excessive scratching
  • Redness of the ear canal
  • Swelling of the outer ear around the canal
  • Pain in and around the ear
  • Permanent thickening of the ear canal due to chronic untreated ear infection

Dog Inner Ear Infection Symptoms

Inner ear infections are harder to spot. In some cases, you may not see any external symptoms like the ones in an ear canal infection.

However, if the inner ear infection in secondary to an ear canal infection you’ll see the above symptoms along with a few others.

Common Inner Ear Infection Symptoms

The below symptoms are associated with inner ear infections that are in the beginning to moderate phases of active infection.

In this period, the infection is still relegated to the inner ear itself.

  • Ear canal infection symptoms if the inner ear infection is secondary to an ear canal infection
  • Head tilt
  • Leaning, falling, or rolling to one side
  • Ability to walk properly
  • Reluctance to chew
  • Experiencing pain when opening the mouth
  • Swinging the head from side to side
  • Side to side eye movement
  • Lack of hearing in the affected ear

Severe Inner Ear Infection Symptoms

Just like ear canal infections, severe inner ear canal infections can spread.

When this occurs, it can damage the facial nerve, located in the area of the inner ear.

In addition, this acute phase of infection can cause nausea as well.

Symptoms of a severe inner ear infection include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Drooling from the side of the mouth
  • Difficulty eating or dropping food
  • Inability to blink
  • Dry eye secondary to inability to blink
  • Eye discharge
  • Dropping of the eyelids, lips, and nostrils on the affected side
  • Face twisting toward the side of the infection due to long-term, untreated infection
  • Enlarge lymph node at the base of the chin on the affected side
  • Reluctance to move due vertigo

Will Dog Ear Infection Go Away on Its Own

Learn all about ear infections in dogs, including symptoms, causes, and what your vet will do to treat them.

Ear infection in dogs, like any other infection, won’t go away on its own.

As mentioned above, ear infections are most commonly caused by a moist environment, and an active infection only makes that environment more conducive to infection.

As bacteria builds up, it causes more discharge and an even more moist environment, which in turn, leads to a better environment for bacteria and yeast.

This makes it imperative that you have your dog’s ear infection treated as quickly as possible.

Complications of Untreated Ear Canal Infections

The most common consequences of untreated ear infections are physical changes in the dog’s ear.

These range from cauliflower ear due to repeat ear hematomas to narrowing of the ear canal.

  • Narrowing of the ear canal
  • Stenotic ear canals (severely narrowed ear canals)
  • Severe stenotic ear canals which require surgery
  • Cauliflower ear secondary to chronic ear hematomas

What Happens to a Dog with an Untreated Ear Infection

There are other complications associated with untreated inner ear infections, as well.

Two of these decrease your dog’s quality of life and one of them can be deadly.

Although very rare, untreated inner ear infections can spread to the part of the brain that controls breathing and heart rate, making it quite dangerous.

  • Permanent loss of hearing in affected ear
  • Permanently altered sense of balance
  • Your dog’s ear infection spreads to the brain

What You Should Do

Cleaning out your dog's ear how to

If your dog shows any of the above signs of an ear canal infection, inner ear infection, or both contact your vet immediately.

Don’t let it get to the point where you’re saying, “my dog has had an ear infection for months.”

Your vet can verify the infection, test the infected ear for the particular bacteria or yeast causing the infection, and conduct an ear exam to rule out any foreign body in the ear canal or inner ear.

Ear Infection Prevention

The best cure for an ear infection is preventing it, and it’s relatively easy to do. Most owners can avoid ear infections in their dogs altogether with routine ear cleaning and maintenance.

These are simple things you can do at home to help keep your dog’s ears healthy and prevent infection.

Routine Ear Cleaning

Routine ear cleaning is an important part of dog care.

No matter what kind of ears your dog has, routinely cleaning them will help keep bacteria at bay and keep the ear clear of excess wax and debris. It’s easy to do, too.

Here’s what you’ll need.

  • Cotton balls
  • Q-tips
  • Ear cleaning solution

To clean your dog’s ears, follow these easy steps.

1. Fill the Ear Canal with Cleaning Solution: 

Fill the ear canal to the top with cleaning solution. Your dog will most likely shake his head. That’s okay.

The idea here is simply to saturate the canal initially. Let the canal soak for a minute or two.

2. Massage the Base of the Ear: 

Gently massage the base of your dog’s ear. Don’t do it too hard.

You’re basically giving him the best ear scratches he’s ever had. Do this for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

3. Clean the Canal with a Q-Tip: 

Don’t worry, you can’t hurt your dog’s inner ear with this step.

A dog has an ear canal that is first vertical and then horizontal.

Your Q-tip will only go down to the bend in the canal, so don’t be shy.

Use the Q-tip in a scooping, circular motion to remove debris and was from the canal wall and then bring it out of the ear.

Go as far down as possible during this step.

4. Clean the Outer Ear with the Cotton Balls: 

Finally, clean the outer ear with the cotton balls, removing all the gunk you may have gotten out of the ear canal.

Routine Ear Plucking

If your dog has excess hair in the ear canal, you can pluck the hair, removing it from the canal.

While this isn’t painful, your dog may not enjoy the sensation, so go slow. It’s easy to do. The hardest part is generally getting your dog to be still during the process.

All you need for this is tweezers.

To pluck the hair, simply lay your dog down on his side and use the tweezers to gently pluck the hairs.

Take it slow, plucking one hair at a time.

If you have a dog like a Maltese with long hair in the canal, it’s easy to snag several hairs at once, but DON’T do that.

It can cause an uncomfortable feeling. Instead, slowly find one or two hairs at a time and pluck.

Be aware that this process can be time-intensive, but it’s one of the best ways to help prevent ear infections in dogs with ear canal hair.

Removing the hair allows for more airflow in the ear canal as well as making it harder for debris and excess wax to build up in the ear.

How Much Does it Cost to Take a Dog to the Vet for Ear Infection

Sometimes, even the most fastidious owner will find themselves faced with a dog who has an ear infection.

When that happens, it’s important to have it treated by the vet sooner rather than later. The more advanced the infection, the harder it is to clean.

The cost varies from vet to vet, but you’ll have to pay for an exam, a culture to determine what’s causing the infection, and medications to treat the infection.

Your vet will thoroughly examine your dog from top to bottom to ensure that outside of his ear infection he’s doing well.

Then, the vet will take a culture of the infection with a swab to determine the type of bacteria causing your dog’s infection.

Finally, your vet will prescribe medication to resolve the infection.

When added together, the average cost to treat an ear infection, including the exam and medications is between $100 and $250.

What to do if You Can’t Afford a Vet

A lot of dog owners ask, is there a home remedy for dog ear infection or  want to know how to treat dog ear infection without vet.

It’s inadvisable to try to treat your dog’s ear infection at home.

Infections won’t go away on their own, and over the counter ear infection treatments are nothing more than hydrocortisone.

This will address the inflammation but not the underlying infection.

Don’t worry if you can’t afford your normal vet for your dog’s ear infection, however, there are resources that can help you get him the treatment he needs.

Talk with Your Vet: 

While your vet is running a business, they also love animals.

Often times, if you explain your situation to your vet, they’ll offer a reduced price or break up the cost into multiple payments.

Contact Your Local Humane Society or Animal Shelter: 

Many shelters offer reduced-cost veterinary services to help people with financial difficulties care for their animals.

Approach Your Local Veterinary School:

 If there is a veterinary school in your area, ask about having your dog treated there. Nothing beats hands-on learning, and some vet schools might offer to treat your dog to allow their students more hands-on education.

Ear Infection in Dogs is Common but Preventable

Although ear infection in dogs is common, it’s also mostly preventable.

With routine cleaning and, ear plucking if applicable, you can help drastically reduce the likelihood of your dog developing an infection.

If you do find yourself faced with this issue, it’s key to have it treated by your vet as soon as possible, as ear infection in dogs doesn’t go away on its own.

If you can’t afford a traditional vet, refer to the resources above to help you find affordable treatment.



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