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How Do Dogs Get Ear Infections + Tips For Preventing One

Content Marketing Manager

Jocelyn Stange, MA

Your dog's ears are essential to a happy, healthy life. Their ears are extremely sensitive compared to humans and can hear twice as many frequencies.

That's why it's important to understand how dogs get ear infections, plus how to identify one. In this article, we'll cover:

  • Identifying ear infection in dogs
  • Common causes & symptoms of ear infections in dogs
  • How to prevent them
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Types of ear infections in dogs

There are three distinct parts of your dog's ear that can get infected. The types of ear infections include:

  • Outside of the ear (otitis externa)
  • Middle ear (otitis media)
  • Inner ear (otitis interna)

Outer ear infections are a common occurrence. But if you don't treat your pet's ear, the infection can migrate to the middle ear and inner ear.

When this happens, dog ear infections can turn into chronic or recurrent ear infections. And in severe cases, these types can be detrimental to your pet's health.

Is it common for dogs to get ear infections

According to the American Kennel Club, 20% of dogs experience some form of ear infection or disease. This percentage increases depending on breed and specific health concerns.

12 causes of ear infections in dogs

Not surprisingly, infections usually stem from thriving bacteria and irritation in the ear canal. But there are some other factors that can lead to an infection in your pet.

The most common causes of ear infections in dogs include:

  1. Fungus, bacteria, and yeast
  2. Moisture and wax buildup
  3. Excessive cleaning
  4. Ear mites
  5. Foreign bodies
  6. Trauma (injury to the ear canal)
  7. Tumors or polyps
  8. Environmental allergies (like mold, pollen, and dander)
  9. Food allergies
  10. Bacterial skin disease
  11. Endocrine issues (like thyroid disease)
  12. Autoimmune disorders (like lupus or vasculitis)

Dog ear infections have many underlying causes, but they don't impact every pet in the same way. To get to the root of the issue, it's important to know what signs and symptoms to look for in your pet.

How to know if my dog has an ear infection#

There are a few telltale signs of dog ear infections. Some are easy to spot and treat, while others may require a visit to your vet.

15 signs and symptoms of an ear infection in dogs

Here are 15 common signs and symptoms of ear infection in dogs:

  • Scratching and head shaking
  • Head tilting
  • Pawing or rubbing ears clean
  • Inflammation or swelling of the ear
  • Yellow or brown discharge
  • Redness and skin irritation
  • Distinct odor (yeast)

In severe cases, with excessive scratching and a lack of treatment, your pup may experience:

  • Open wounds
  • Crusts or scabs
  • Bloody discharge
  • Bacterial infection
  • Loss of balance
  • Hearing loss
  • Disorientation
  • Unusual eye movements

What breeds commonly get ear infections

All dogs are susceptible to ear infections because of their unique ear canal shape. Dog ear canals are long, vertical, and L-shaped so by design, your dog may be more prone to an ear infection.

But did you know that some breeds are more vulnerable than others? If your dog swims or has floppy ears they may experience them more often than others.

Here are a few breeds that are more prone to ear infections:

Cocker Spaniels

Well-known for their floppy ears, it comes as no surprise that Cocker Spaniels are on this list. They are also excellent swimmers, so if you parent this breed, be sure to keep their ears clean and dry at all times.

Basset Hounds

Like the Cocker Spaniel, Basset Hounds have large, floppy ears that can trap moisture inside. While floppy ears help keep foreign objects out of your pet's ear canal they can also contribute to bacteria growth. This can lead to severe or chronic ear infections if left untreated.

Labrador Retrievers

Labradors, Goldens, and other sporting breeds are avid runners and swimmers. This active lifestyle is generally healthy for your pup. But, depending on where they're swimming — and how often you clean your dog's ears — ear infections may happen more often.

Pit Bulls

This breed is known for allergies of all kinds, from food sensitivities to skin diseases. Their sensitive skin and ears mean ear infections are all too common in Pit Bulls. Plus, 80% of ear infections occur in dogs with food allergies.

Schnauzers and Poodles

Both breeds are very hairy dogs, so lots of hair inside the ear canal can make it difficult for foreign bodies and wax buildup to exit. This can drum up bacteria if you forgo ear cleaning or grooming which can lead to infection.


Shar-peis are short-hair breeds that have many skin folds that can become breeding grounds for bacteria. They also have more narrow ear canals so ear infections are common in breeds of this nature.

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Can dog ear infections go away on their own#

Left untouched, your dog's ear infection will not go away on its own. Many infections will go away in a few weeks, but only if you follow the guidance of your vet and clean your dog's ears regularly.

This is important so that your dog's infection doesn't extend from the outer ear (otitis externa) to the middle or inner ear.

Untreated dog ear infections can cause nerve damage, eye ulcers, and even vestibular disease. This contributes to symptoms like inflammation of the ear canal, dizziness, disorientation, and head tilt.

Chronic ear infections

In chronic or recurrent ear infections, it's important to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible. Your vet can help determine the cause of the issue (ear mites, allergies, etc.) and what type of treatment your dog needs.

Your veterinarian may want to keep your dog on certain medication periodically to keep the infection down. Typical medication has anti-inflammatory or anti-bacterial properties.

To ensure the infection doesn't return, your vet will likely ask for testing following treatment and regular checkups to examine your dog's ears.

Severe ear infections

In severe situations, your veterinarian may want your pet to undergo surgery. Surgical therapies usually help open the ear canal and remove any tissue that could promote reinfection. Your veterinarian may also prescribe certain medications to help with any inflammation in the ear canal post-surgery.

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How do you prevent ear infections in dogs

Ear infections can cause a lot of pain for your dogs, especially in chronic cases. Start by understanding the symptoms of ear infections in dogs, then follow these tips to prevent them altogether.

How to Prevent Ear Infections in Dogs

4 tips for avoiding a dog ear infection

The best way to help prevent ear infections in dogs is with regular care and proper medication. Here are 4 tips for avoiding a dog ear infection:

Clean your dog's ears regularly.

Gentle ear cleaning in one or both ears is helpful to prevent bacteria and avoid yeast or wax buildup. Monthly cleanings are the best way to stay on top of any infection occurring.

Start by filling your dog's ear with a medicated cleaning solution. Using a cotton ball, gently wipe from the inside out avoiding getting too deep in the ear canal. Use a towel to wipe away any remaining solution or debris.

Avoid cotton swabs or other tools that may push objects or wax further into the canal. Use this opportunity to inspect your dog's ear canal for any unusual objects, ear mites, and other causes of ear infections.

Try a prescription treatment.

If your pup has a full-blown ear infection you'll want to get them on antibiotic or anti-inflammatory medications. This will help treat the underlying cause of the infection and control your pet's pain levels.

Depending on the source of your pet's infection, your vet may suggest treatment for other health concerns. Some examples include ear mites, allergies, and other disorders or diseases.

Use medications the right way.

Your vet may prescribe your dog a medication that kills the bacteria from the inside out. Or, they may suggest a topical solution that you apply to their ear canal. Both help with inflammation, discharge, and other painful symptoms.

No matter what type of medication they prescribe, be sure to follow their instructions. Use the appropriate treatment amount to ensure your dog's ear infection doesn't get worse or come back.

Get frequent dog checkups.

You may mistake your dog's ear infection for allergies or other problems like fleas on dogs. If you're unsure, it's best to consult with your veterinarian.

Heading into the appointment, come prepared with:

  • Any symptoms you've noticed
  • Current medications your dog is taking
  • Eating habits or allergies
  • Known health concerns
  • Your current cleaning behaviors
  • Recent events like swimming or baths

Your veterinarian will review these items and perform a visual examination of your dog, head to toe. They may also need cultures, lab tests, or x-rays to determine the severity of the ear infection.

Can I treat an ear infection at home

Prevention is the best treatment for ear infections in dogs. But to really solve the underlying cause of your dog's symptoms and ear pain, you'll need a vet-prescribed medication. Home remedies won't solve the root issue, and may make things worse for your pup.

Dog ear infections are annoying to deal with for you or your dog. But, there are effective treatments that can provide your pup with relief. Follow these tips and stay on top of your pet's ear health to ensure they live the long, healthy life they deserve.


Meet Jocelyn Stange

As a Content Marketing Manager, Jocelyn is committed to creating expert content to help pets stay healthy and keep their humans happy. She received her MA in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. When she's not zeroed in on content strategy you can find her attempting to teach her goldendoodle Murray a new trick.