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Dog Ear Infection Signs and Treatment

If you’ve ever had an ear infection, you know just how miserable it can be. The constant pain and pressure can give you a terrible headache and even make your eyes water.

Unfortunately, dogs can face the same affliction. As their pet parents, you need to know the signs and symptoms of a dog ear infection. This can sometimes be tricky since dogs have an instinct to hide their pain.

If your pup starts acting differently but you’re not be sure why, here are some signs of an ear infection in dogs, treatment options and ways to help prevent future issues. For more information, check out our Basic Dog Health Care and Recognizing Dog Health Issues care sheets.

How do dogs get ear infections? 

The ear has a delicate ecosystem. If it becomes inflamed, bacteria and fungi may be able to get past the body’s protective barriers and infection can occur. Some factors that can cause inflammation are:

  • A buildup of moisture in the ear 
  • Underlying food or environmental allergies
  • Ear mites 
  • Foreign objects in the ear canal  
  • Ear trauma 
  • Polyps or other ear growths 
  • Wax buildup 
  • Excessive cleaning that disrupts the skin barrier

For many dogs, ear infections may be more common if they have a health issue that compromises their immune system, like an autoimmune disease, endocrine disease or cancer. Consult your vet about how to help prevent ear infections if your pet’s risk is increased from a disease that compromises their immune system.

Your dog’s genetic makeup and the size of their ear canal can also be factors when it comes to severe dog ear infections. Some dogs are also more susceptible to food or environmental allergies. Breeds that are especially prone to chronic ear infections include:

  • Cocker Spaniels 
  • Springer Spaniels 
  • Poodles 
  • Schnauzers 
  • Labrador Retrievers 
  • Golden Retrievers 
  • Shar-Peis 

You should monitor your dog’s ears closely and take steps to help prevent ear infections from occurring. At Petco, our certified stylists keep an eye out for dog ear infection symptoms during grooming sessions and will refer you to your veterinarian if there are any signs that may indicate an active infection or risk of infection.

How do I know if my dog has an ear infection? 

Common signs of an ear infection in dogs are: 

  • Excessive ear scratching and/or head shaking
  • A swollen and red ear canal 
  • A foul smell coming from the ears 
  • Discharge or crusty buildup
  • Not letting you touch their ear or head due to pain

Signs of a dog ear yeast infection may include a cheesy or musty smell. If the condition is severe, you may notice a loss of appetite and trouble with balance and hearing.

Will my dog’s ear infection go away on its own? 

It’s not likely. Waiting to seek veterinary care can make things much worse. You should never delay seeking treatment because:

  • The infection could worsen Dogs can develop infections in the outer ear, the middle part of their ear and the inner part of their ear. If you wait to seek dog ear infection treatment, the infection can spread deeper into the eardrum and become much more severe. Your dog can rupture their eardrum, lose their sense of hearing and possibly need surgery.
  • Home treatments can make your dog sick If your dog’s eardrum is ruptured, applying over-the-counter medications or cleansers could be toxic. Your veterinarian can determine the proper dog ear infection medicine after an exam.
  • Your dog could be in severe pain It’s important to remember that dogs often hide their pain symptoms. Delaying treatment may cause your pup a lot of pain. Seek veterinary care as soon as possible so your pet can start to feel better. In addition to veterinary services, Petco also offers membership programs for pet insurance, Petco Pay and Petco Vital Care that can help reduce costs.

What should I do for a dog ear infection? 

If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, consult your vet immediately. They will do a full exam of your pet, including their ears, and run tests to determine the type of infection your dog has.

Your vet may prescribe antibiotic ointments and ear drops. Dog ear yeast infection treatment may include an antifungal prescription. Many ear medications also include an anti-inflammatory component to control inflammation.

For a severe infection, your vet may also prescribe oral antibiotics for a dog ear infection. If your dog is prescribed medication that needs refills or needs to be taken long term, our pet pharmacy can deliver the drugs directly to your door.

How can I prevent my dog from developing an ear infection? 

Since dog ear infections can develop for multiple reasons, it’s important to consult your veterinarian for appropriate prevention methods—especially chronic conditions. They can get to the root of the problem.  

Keeping up with an ear hygiene routine is a great way to help prevent a dog ear yeast infection. Using an effective, dog-specific cleanser can help balance the pH in your dog’s ears and keep moisture from lingering. Generally, cleaning your dog’s ears at least once a week is recommended. Ask your vet for a recommendation, or take a look at our health and wellness page, which has a great selection of dog ear and eye care solutions.

Follow the directions precisely and do not use paper towels, toilet paper or cotton swabs in the ear canal. It’s important to not clean the ears excessively, as this can upset the delicate chemical balance and weaken natural protective barriers.

If your dog loves to swim, thoroughly dry their ears once they’re back on dry land. This is also a good practice for dogs who go outside in the rain or splash in puddles.

Dog ear infections are common, but maintaining proper ear hygiene and seeking treatment at the first sign of inflammation can make them manageable. The quicker the issue is resolved, the faster your pup can return to their usual, active and happy self.

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Reviewed by Dr. Whitney Miller, DVM, MBA, DACVPM

As Petco’s Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Miller is the lead veterinary subject matter expert, overseeing the company’s standards of excellence in animal care and welfare, growth in pet services and much more. Dr. Miller leads Petco’s medical team, supporting over 200 full-service hospitals and mobile vaccination clinics operating in over 1,000 Petco Pet Care Centers nationwide