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A Guide to Ear Infections in Dogs

Aimee Labbate
  • Aimee Labbate

  • RCVS: 700039


Are ear infections in dogs common?

Unfortunately, ear infections are commonly seen in the pet world, particularly in dogs. Certain breeds of dog are known to be more susceptible due to their ear shape, however all dogs are at risk.

You may hear your vet refer to the infection as ‘Otitis externa,’ this is the most commonly seen infection in vet practices and means that the external ear is affected. More rarely, the infection can spread into the deeper portion of the ear, resulting in a more serious form of infection referred to as Otitis Media. 

What are the causes of ear infections in dogs? 

Ear infections are thought to be more common in dogs than humans due to the shape of their ear canal. This is particularly true in breeds that have long or floppy ears. Infections in the ear are generally caused by a wax build up, bacteria, yeast, or mites. 

There are certain trigger factors that can also predispose certain dogs to ear infections more readily than others. 

Dogs that suffer with skin conditions or allergies often also struggle with ear infections affecting the sensitive skin of the ear. Other chronic diseases can also predispose a dog, such as hormone and autoimmune disorders. 

External factors that can increase a dog’s susceptibility to ear infections include an increased exposure to moisture, for example dogs that go swimming; dogs that have an excessive wax build up, or a foreign body in the ear such as a grass seed or excessive hair.

What are the symptoms of ear infections in dogs? 

Symptoms of ear infections can vary largely between dogs due to severity of disease and the dog’s tolerance to the infection. 

The most commonly seen symptoms include discharge from the ear (of varying colours from brown to yellow), shaking of the head or rubbing at the ear, smelly ears, red or sore looking ear flaps. 

It is important to regularly check under your dog’s ear flap, as sometimes there are no obvious external symptoms and indicators like a discharge can go unnoticed.

Sometimes, secondary to an ear infection, the dog may develop an ‘aural haematoma.’ This condition causes the flap of the ear to swell and can look rather alarming to the owner! Excessive rubbing and shaking of the head can cause a blood vessel in the inner layer of the ear flap to burst, allowing the area to fill with blood (haematoma). Often, resolving the ear infection also clears the hematoma up, with the blood self-absorbing over time. It is important however, to seek veterinary advice if you notice this condition, as occasionally a minor surgical procedure is recommended to resolve this.  

How can I treat dog ear infections without a vet?

If you notice that your dog has symptoms of an ear infection, it is important to seek veterinary advice. 

There are several different treatment options dependant on the cause of the infection and the severity of the symptoms. 

Some infections can be successfully managed with a veterinary approved ear cleanser. These specially designed solutions act to remove debris with an antibacterial and antifungal cleansing action. 

If the infection is more severe, or the cleanser alone is not successful, antibiotic or steroid therapy may be indicated. This can be in the form of tablets or ear drops. 

Rarely, if chronic severe ear infections become an issue, your vet may recommend a surgical procedure to help resolve the recurrence. This procedure is referred to as a TECA- total ear canal ablation. 

Most mild ear infections can be treated within 7-14 days with correct management. 

How can I prevent ear infections in dogs?

As with all diseases, prevention is better than cure and there are a few things that can be done at home to help reduce the risk of ear infections in your dog. 

Regular ear cleaning is a great way of helping to keep the ears nice and wax free. It also gives you the opportunity to examine your dog’s ears for any changes. Please check out the tutorials section at for a handy video demonstration on how to successfully achieve this at home. You can also purchase ear cleaner recommended by our vets in our shop.  (LINK TO SHOP)

If your dog does go swimming, or has a bath, please ensure that you thoroughly dry inside and outside of the ear. A moist environment is one of the risk factors to be avoided. 

If your dog has particularly hairy ear canals, ask your groomer to clip or pluck as much of the hair away as safely possible. If your groomer does not offer this service, please speak to your vet practice as many nurse clinics will offer this. A nice clean open ear canal is less likely to result in an infection. 

Finally, regular treatment with a vet recommended parasite spot on treatment can help to reduce the risk of ear mites and other parasite infections that can result in skin and ear problems. 

If you would like more advice or support on ear infections, please speak to one of our expert vets today who will be able to offer bespoke advice.

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