How to recognize, treat and prevent ear infections in dogs (2023)

Dog ears come in all shapes and sizes, but they are unique in their anatomy compared to human ears. Dogs have a long ear canal with vertical and horizontal components. This creates a J or L shape that traps debris more easily, which in turn can lead to ear infections in dogs.

Ear infections in dogs are common, so it's not surprisingIn 2018, Embrace Pet Insurance listed ear infections in dogs as the third-biggest on their list of the five most common diseases affecting dogs..1

Here's a guide to help you recognize the signs of canine ear infections so you can treat them as soon as possible.

Jump to section:

  • Types of dog ear infections

  • Signs of a dog ear infection

  • Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs and Puppies

  • Are ear infections in dogs contagious?

  • Do ear infections in dogs go away on their own?

  • Can Ear Infections In Dogs Be Treated At Home?

  • How do you properly treat ear infections in dogs?

  • Treatment of chronic ear infections in dogs

  • How to prevent ear infections in dogs and puppies

3 types of ear infections in dogs

After the ear canal comes the eardrum, then the middle and inner ear at the back of the head. Otitis is inflammation of the ear. Otitis is divided into three types based on the location of the infection in a dog's ear:

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  • External otitis: Inflammation of the ear canal

  • Otitis media: otitis media

  • Otitis interna: Inflammation of the inner ear

External otitis is the most common of these three infections as it is the part of the ear most exposed to external factors. Ear infections can be acute (quick onset) or chronic and recurring. Dogs can also get an infection in one or both ears.

How to recognize, treat and prevent ear infections in dogs (1)
How to recognize, treat and prevent ear infections in dogs (2)

Signs of a dog ear infection

A healthy dog ​​ear is clean and dry. It's normal for small amounts of microscopic bacteria and fungi to live in the outer ear canal, but when debris builds up or the normal, healthy ear canal is compromised, these bacteria and fungi can overgrow and cause an infection.

Common signs of ear infections in dogs include:

  • redness

  • Odor

  • itching/scratching

  • Dor

  • shake your head

  • to wave

  • Go downstairs

From time to time, dogs may experience hearing loss or balance problems. Rarely, an ear infection can affect a dog's appetite if the animal is experiencing system-wide effects. This is most commonly seen in otitis media or interna.

What Causes Ear Infections in Dogs and Puppies?

Many things can cause ear infections in dogs and puppies. Often an underlying problem is causing a dog's normal protective hearing protection barrier to not function properly. Once the area around the ear is moist or inflamed, bacteria or fungi can easily overgrow and cause an infection.

Here are some common causes of ear infections in dogs:

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  • foreign bodies (grass edge,foxtails) that get into the ear

  • Ohrmilben

  • Excessive moisture from bathing or swimming

  • food allergies

  • environmental allergies

  • endocrine problems likehypothyroidism

  • autoimmune diseases likePemphigus, lupus orVasculitis

  • Polyps (fleshy growths in the ear canal)

  • certain types of cancer

  • ear trauma

All of these problems can leave the ear canal vulnerable to bacterial infection and/or candidiasis. If a dog is in pain and scratching and shaking excessively, a bruise on the ear may also develop. This can be seen in the pinna or lobe of the ear, where the broken blood vessels leak blood, which clots and causes swelling and pain.

Are ear infections in dogs contagious?

It depends on the cause, but most ear infections in dogs are not contagious. However, when the cause is ear mites, these parasites are extremely contagious.

For ear mites, all pets in the household must be treated at the same time. Ear mites are fairly common in puppies and kittens and may not be noticed at first when adopting a new pet. But soon after you bring your new pet home, several pets around the house will be scratching and shaking.

Rarely, a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or other possible contagious infection can grow from an infected ear.

When handling a pet with an ear infection, it is recommended to practice thorough hand washing and to prevent other pets from licking the infected pet's ears. Thorough hand washing after cleaning or treating the ear is also recommended to limit topical absorption of the drug.

Does an ear infection in dogs go away on its own?

Most of the time, a dog ear infection does not go away on its own. All types of ear infections require a veterinarian to assess the infection and the eardrum. When the eardrum is ruptured, certain cleaning products and medications can be toxic to the middle ear.

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Can Ear Infections In Dogs Be Treated At Home?

The simple answer is no. Ear infections in dogs require veterinary care and medication to restore a healthy ear canal.

After the veterinarian examines your pet, he or she will decide if other home treatments are appropriate. This is possible if there is a small amount of dirt and the eardrum is intact.

Physician Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP, advises that if there is a large amount of debris, a deep cleaning should be performed by a veterinarian while the animal is sedated.2

How do you properly treat ear infections in dogs?

Your vet will likely need to analyze ear debris or perform ear scans on your dog to select the appropriate treatment. Here are some tests your vet can perform:

  • Cytology uses special dyes on the debris swab to stain microscopic bacterial or fungal cells. Viewing under a microscope can pinpoint the specific cause.

  • Culture/susceptibility testing uses a special medium/broth to grow and identify the specific bacteria causing the infection. It also evaluates which antibiotics are effective in clearing the infection.

  • Blood tests may be needed to check for an underlying endocrine disorder.

  • Skull x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs may be needed to assess the extent of serious disease or the inner ear.

Once the details of your dog's ear infection are known, therapy is likely to consist of multiple elements, which may include topical, oral, or surgical therapies.


Often a cleanser can be used in combination with an ointment or ear drops. This medicine usually needs to penetrate deep into the ear canal. Sometimes an Oti-Pack is used. This drug is on a slow-release lanolin base that requires no daily cleansing or application of drops.


Depending on the severity of the infection, an oral antibiotic, antifungal, or steroid medication may be used to heal the ear from the "inside out."


Ears that have had a serious chronic condition may no longer respond to medical treatments. The goal of surgery for these ears is to open up the canal, or sometimes to completely remove all of the diseased tissue.

What Happens When Your Dog Has Chronic Ear Infections?

Chronic ear infections can be time-consuming and frustrating for the pet, owner, and even the veterinarian.

According to the Veterinary Information Network, certain dog breeds are known to be more likely to have recurring ear infection problems.3This could be due in part to genetics, ear shape, or ear confirmation. Over time, proliferative ear tissue can form, making treatment difficult.

  • Cocker SpanieljSpringer-SpanielsThey often get chronic infections due to long floppy ears and a large number of cerumen glands (sweat glands in the ear that produce earwax).

  • Shar peisThey have tiny ear canals that can trap and hide dirt.

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  • Labrador RetrieverjGolden RetrieverThey are prone to underlying allergies and sensitivities that lead to chronic or recurring ear infections.

  • SchnauzerjA bottleThey often have excess hair at the bottom of the ear canal.

Chronic ear infections in dogs require working closely with your veterinarian to treat them. It's important to have your vet run tests to select the right medication. Chronic infections may require constant medication for 6 to 8 weeks.

After treatment, tests are needed again to make sure the infection is completely gone. If we stop taking the drug too soon or don't treat the underlying problems, the infection can easily come back and even become resistant to many drugs.

How to prevent ear infections in dogs and puppies

normal bathroom,ear cleaningand ear care are important parts of pet care. Regular ear cleaning is especially important if your dog swims frequently.

Cleaning is best done with a professional dog ear cleaner. They are typically specifically formulated for effective dog pH ranges and contain desiccants.

Important points for clean dog ears

  • Do not use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide as these can kill healthy cells in the ear.

  • Do not insert cotton swabs into your dog's ear as this could rupture the eardrum.

  • It's okay to use cotton balls or baby wipes to clean the crevices and ear.

Cleaning technique for dog ears

  • Apply the liquid ear cleaner as directed.

  • Close the ear flap and massage the base of the ear.

  • Wipe gently with a cloth or cotton ball.

  • Use all prescribed medications.



  2. Brooks, W. DVM, DABVP: 2020-09-30 (revised) 2001-01-01 (published). Veterinary Partner, Ear Infections (Otitis) in Dogs.

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  3. Rothrock K. DVM: 2019-05-19 (revised), Morgan, RV. DVM, DACVIM, DACVO: 19.7.2003 (first author). vet

  4. Information network, VINcyclopedia of Diseases: Otitis externa, General Information.

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