What are Ear Infections in Dogs?

Ear infections in dogs are infections affecting the dog’s ears (flaps or canals). According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), up to 20% of all dogs have some form of ear condition, with infections being particularly common.

Dog ear infections are more frequent in breeds with floppy ears (Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels) and hairy ear canals (Poodles and Maltese Dogs). The most common sign of an ear infection is ear scratching.

Common causes of dog ear infections are bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and ear mites. Persistent and recurrent ear infections cause concern and require veterinary attention.

What are the Types of Dog Ear Infections?

The three types of ear infections are otitis externa, otitis media, and otitis interna. This is based on the location of the infectious process within the ear structures.

Let’s take a closer look at the different types of dog ear infections.

  • Otitis Externa. This is an infection of the external ear (affects the layer of cells lining the external part of the ear canal. Otitis externa is the least serious form of infection, and it is easily managed with appropriate treatment (ear drops and cleansers).
  • Otitis Media. As the name suggests, this is an infection that affects the dog’s middle ear. Otitis media progresses and can have severe consequences (for example, facial paralysis and deafness are common complications).
  • Otitis Interna. This type of infection impacts the innermost canal of your pet’s ear and may cause damage to the eardrum. Dogs with otitis externa need immediate veterinary help – they can end up deaf if treatment is not provided.

Are Ear Infections Common in Dogs?

Yes, absolutely – dog ear infections are widespread. However, some dog breeds are more prone to ear infections than others due to age, breed, and lifestyle factors.

A study showed that ear problems are most common in dogs aged 1 to 4 (this age group accounts for 39.78% of all cases). Puppies younger than one year are much less likely to get ear issues.

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What Breeds are Prone to Ear Infections?

What Breeds are Prone to Ear Infections

Based on a study, the top five breeds prone to ear infections are Golden Retrievers, Basset Hounds, Chinese Shar Peis, Beagles, and Labradoodles. Spaniels and Poodles are also at a higher-than-average risk.

Here is a list of the dog breed prone to infections of the ears:

  • Golden and Labrador Retrievers
  • Basset Hounds
  • Cockapoos
  • Beagles
  • Weimaraners
  • Poodles
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Labradoodles
  • Chinese Shar-Pei Dogs
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • German Shepherd Dogs.

Dogs with large ear flaps and floppy ears suffer from ear infections more frequently. Simply put, they cover the dog’s ear canal and trap moisture leading to ear infections.

Upright ears have the advantage of more natural air circulation, but flying insects and other foreign objects can make their way inside easily. The presence of such objects also causes infections.

Dog ear infections are also common in dogs whose ear canals are covered with hair. The hair trap debris and moisture, which contributes to ear infections.

What Causes Dog Ear Infections?

Pathogen microorganisms like bacteria are the most common cause of dog ear infections. However, there are other possible culprits like allergies, ear tumors, and growths.

Here is a closer look at the causes of dog ear infections.

  • Microorganisms. Bacteria are among the most common culprit for causing ear infections in dogs. Fungi multiply fast and can lead to stubborn infections that take time to go away. Yeasts result in a red or brown waxy discharge that can be very uncomfortable. Ear mites make the dog’s ears itchy and produce brown to black discharge.
  • Dog Allergies. As unusual as it sounds, dogs with allergies (seasonal, atopic dermatitis, or food) are likely to develop ear infections. The ears become inflamed and itchy, which eventually results in an infection.
  • Ear Growths. Growths inside the dog’s ears (polyps and tumors) may cause an infection. They can impact the outer, middle, or inner ear. The presence of such growth leads to excess production of ear wax and irritation. Over time, the dog’s ear will become infected.
  • Foreign Objects. Foreign bodies like sand, dust particles, grass material, and foxtails can trigger an infection in the dog’s ears. Such bodies can lodge and cause excessive ear wax. As a result, the dog’s ears become irritated, infected, and painful.

What are the Symptoms of Ear Infections in Dogs?

Ear scratching, redness, and smelly discharge are among the most common signs of dog ear infections. Here is a more detailed review of the signs of ear infections.

  • Ear Scratching. Scratching the ear and surrounding area is the first sign of infection – the inflammation in the dog’s ear can cause it to become itchy. As a result, your pooch might scratch it often (even wake up or stop eating for a scratching episode).
  • Discharge and Odor. An infected ear will produce excess cerumen and discharge. The type and color of the discharge can say a lot about the cause of the infection. Usually, the discharge is smelly and repulsive.
  • Ear Pawing. In addition to scratching the ears, dogs with ear infections are likely to paw at the ear and surrounding area.
  • Head-Shaking. Head shaking is common in dogs with ear infections caused by a foreign object. The dog may also paw at the ear in an attempt to remove the object. Head tilting to the affected side is possible too.
  • Ear Redness. Redness, inflammation, and swelling accompany every infection. Infected ears will show these signs on the inside, while on the outside, there can be scabs, blood crusts, dried discharge, and bald patches.
  • Hearing Loss. In severe cases, chronic ear infections may result in permanent damage to the ear structures and cause hearing loss. Infections of the outer ear are less dangerous, but infections of the inner ear can quickly advance and be detrimental.

If there is excess discharge buildup and damage, the dog may experience additional, more severe signs such as ataxia (unbalanced walk) and unusual eye movements. These are all concerning signs and if your dog is showing them, take them to the vet immediately.

Will Dog Ear Infections Go Away on Their Own?

No, dog ear infections do not simply go away. On the contrary, they tend to progress and become more dangerous quickly.

For example, if the infection progresses, it can cause permanent damage and hearing loss. It is also possible for excessive head shaking to result in an aural hematoma. A dog with aural hematoma requires surgical management.

Even if such complications do not develop, it is critical that you seek veterinary help for your dog’s ear infection. Namely, dog ear infections are painful and impact the dog’s quality of life.

How are Dog Ear Infections Diagnosed?

What are the Symptoms of Ear Infections in Dogs

To diagnose a dog ear infection, the vet will start with a regular physical examination. This will give information on the dog’s overall health and well-being.

Then, the veterinarian will focus on the dog’s ears and use an otoscope to evaluate them. An otoscope is a special device that allows visualization of the ear canal and eardrum.

To determine the underlying condition of the ear infection, the vet will take a swab from the dog’s ear and analyze the cerumen sample under a microscope.

Based on the underlying cause, the veterinarian may suggest additional diagnostic tests. For example, if the vet suspects dog allergies, they might recommend intradermal skin testing or, if suspecting tumors – fine-needle aspiration or biopsy.

How do You Treat Ear Infections in Dogs?

How do You Treat Ear Infections in Dogs

The treatment of dog ear infections depends on the underlying cause. Here is a short review of the possible treatment options:

  • Ear Cleanser. First, the ear must be cleaned with an ear-cleaning solution made for dogs. Based on the circumstances the ear can be cleaned once, or the procedure repeated a couple of times and days.
  • Topical Medication. Then, the vet will prescribe or recommend topical medications – ear drops usually containing antibiotics (especially for bacterial infections). The vet will give clear instructions on how to use the drops and for how long.
  • Oral Medication. In severe cases, the veterinarian will prescribe oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. Sometimes, the dog may also need pain relievers.
  • Natural Supplements. Probiotics can be used in the treatment of dog ear infections. We recommend the Honest Paws Well Pre + Probiotics Supplement. The probiotic blend will help with the ear issue, boost the dog’s gut health, and support overall wellness.
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Can I Treat My Dog’s Ear Infection at Home?

Yes, it is possible to treat a dog’s ear infection at home. However, it is strongly advised to talk to a veterinarian before self-medicating your dog.

In case the vet approves the at-home treatment, you will need some top-notch products. Here is what you can use for cleaning the ears and managing the infection:

  • Pet MD Ear Wipes. The Pet MD Ear Wipes include aloe vera and eucalyptus that clean debris and dirt from around the dog’s ears. They are veterinary formulated and alcohol-free, soothing, and deodorizing.
  • Zymox Otic. The Zymox Otic Solution is used for treating bacterial, viral, and yeast infections of the dog’s outer ear. The solution is available in an easy-to-use bottle and contains hydrocortisone to help reduce inflammation and swelling.
  • Epi-Otic. Epi-Otic is a gentle, alcohol-free ear cleaner solution containing an antiseptic. It is formulated to be pH neutral so it doesn’t alter the balance and normal microorganisms within the dog’s ear.

Some of these products should not be used in dogs with damaged and perforated eardrums. So, once again, we must note the importance of consulting the vet before treating your dog.

What Happens to a Dog With an Untreated Ear Infection?

A dog with an untreated ear infection may experience severe complications – from facial paralysis and perforated eardrums to aural hematomas and hearing loss.

Therefore, it is recommended you seek out a vet to confirm the cause and the best way to treat ear infections. If you suspect an ear infection, do not wait and see – get proactive and take your dog to the vet’s office.

How Much Does it Cost to Treat a Dog Ear Infection?

The cost of the dog ear infection treatment varies between $100 and $250. This usually includes the physical examination and initial application of medications.

If your dog needs a longer treatment, you will have to buy the prescribed meds, which adds to the overall cost. Also, if the vet suspects a more serious underlying condition, the tests will increase the veterinary bill.

How can I Prevent Dog Ear Infections?

How can I Prevent Dog Ear Infections

Regular cleaning of the ears can go a long way to prevent ear infections in dogs. However, if your dog’s in an overall healthy condition, there shouldn’t be a need to clean their ears very often.

You should also be careful if bathing your dog at home. Namely, you must take proper care and ensure no moisture is left in the dog’s ears. Putting a small cotton ball inside the ears will prevent water from getting in (you can do the same if your dog is swimming).

It is also highly recommended to practice regular vet checkups. High-quality veterinary care can be expensive. Therefore, it is helpful to invest in a good pet insurance plan, like OneVet. With OneVet you get 24/7 access to licensed veterinarians, $3.000 in emergency funds for as little as $19.99 per month. Plus, the plan does not exclude pets with pre-existing issues.