Treating and Preventing Ear Infections

Pet Health and Safety  •   Erin Tursam  •   Mar 05, 2018

Whether floppy, upright, mismatched, or bat-like, our dogs’ ears are part of what makes them unique and adorable! While they are expressive enough to tell us how dogs feel, ears can’t always tell us when they are fighting an infection. Ear infections in dogs are more common than you might think. Though easily preventable, ear infections are the second most common reason for vet visit for dogs! 

If you don’t know about ear infections, now is the time to learn! Springtime is a common time for ear infections to crop up. Rainy days, increased allergens, springtime baths, and trips to the lake all contribute to a higher incidence. Warmer temperatures and humid weather also make perfect breeding ground for ear infections.   


What Causes Dog Ear Infections 

Infections can occur in the inner (interna), middle (media), or outer (externa) ear. Cause and ear “style” play a role in the type of ear infection. Most ear infections in adult dogs are caused by bacteria and yeast growth which results in inflammation, infection, and pain. Puppies can also experience ear infections, but puppy ear infections are typically due to mites. It’s less common for adult dogs to develop ear infections from mites.

Some dogs are more prone to ear infections than others, but all dogs are at risk. Breeds with excess ear hair or floppy ears are at a higher risk due to the propensity of trapping dirt and moisture and excess wax build up. Dogs that suffer from skin allergies (atopic dermatitis) are also at a greater risk. About 50% of dogs with skin allergies will develop ear infections at some point in their life. Also, at risk are dogs who frequent the pool or lake. Water can get caught in the inner ear and cause bacteria growth.  


Dog Ear Infection Symptoms 

Symptoms of an ear infection can range from subtle to dramatic depending on the location and the severity. The most common sign of an ear infection is incessant scratching and head shaking. Once the infection has progressed, there is often a distinct odor that anyone who has ever had a dog with ear infections would recognize!

Common symptoms include:

  • Scratching at ears
  • Rubbing ears on the ground or furniture
  • Foul, yeasty odor from ears 
  • Shaking / tilting head 
  • Redness and swelling in ear 
  • Moisture or yellow discharge from ear
  • Scabs from scratching
  • Loss of balance 
  • Loss of hearing 

If an ear infection has progressed, your dog may also whimper or yelp when he is scratching his ears due to pain.


What to Do if You Suspect an Ear Infection

If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms and you suspect an ear infection, you should call your veterinarian. Your vet may make a diagnosis based on physical exam or they may need to take a sample for a diagnosis.  Getting a sample is quick and painless. Your veterinarian will use a cotton tip applicator to swab the inside of the ear and will examine the sample under a microscope.

If your veterinarian determines the ear infection is minor or in the early stages, he or she may just recommend a medicated ear cleaning solution for you to use at home. Your vet or veterinary technician will demonstrate how to clean your dogs ear with the solution.

If the infection is more severe or chronic, your vet may also recommend a medicated ear drop. Ear drops are typically administered two to three times a day for a minimum of one to two weeks. Dogs do not typically avert to the ear drops and tolerate them well—especially if given a treat! More severe or persistent ear infections may require oral antibiotics, but this is not common.

Persistent or untreated ear infections can lead to deafness, so it is important for you to address the symptoms sooner rather than later. Improper or excess use of ear drops can also be harmful. Also, it is important to never to use human ear cleaner or ear drops on your dog unless recommended by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can prescribe dog-safe ear cleaning products.


Preventing Ear Infections in Dogs 

Rather than treating an ear infection, you can prevent them! Adding an ear cleaning routine to your grooming and bathing regimen can help prevent ear infections. If you have a breed that is more prone to ear infections, cleaning may have to be more frequent. Another good preventative is consistently drying the inside of your dog’s ear after swimming or bathing. Simply use a towel and/or cotton ball to dry out the ear before the moisture has time to fester.

Before implementing an ear cleaning routine, have your veterinarian or veterinary technician demonstrate how to clean your dog’s ears. Using the wrong technique or cleaning too often can damage your dog’s ear canal and cause more damage. Never use a cotton tipped applicator (or “Q-Tip”) when cleaning your dog’s ears unless otherwise advised by your veterinarian. Dog ears are shaped very differently than a human ear and cleaning too deeply can cause damage to the ear drum.

Don't let ear infections keep you and your dog from enjoying the great outdoors as the weather warms up! Take a few simple steps to ensure your pup’s ears stay clean and dry while still having a great spring season!


The information provided in this blog is intended for educational purposes only and should not serve as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your veterinarian. Always consult your veterinarian with questions about your pet’s health and before initiating any treatment regimes.

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Erin Tursam

About the Author
Erin Tursam

Erin Tursam comes to AKC Pet Insurance with a background in specialty and emergency veterinary medicine. She is now using her knowledge and experience in the role of Breeder Support Specialist where she is helping breeders use pet insurance to ensure their puppies stay safe and healthy. To learn more about the Breeder Support Program, visit