Ear Infections in Dogs


Ear Infections in Dogs

Infection of the outer ear canal is the second most common reason for veterinary visits according to the Veterinary Pet Insurance company.  This is a painful condition and dogs usually present for rubbing or scratching at their ear or head, head-shaking, and sometimes malodor.  The ears can become red, have discharge, and the ear canal can become narrowed and thickened from chronic inflammation. 

What causes ear infections?

Some dogs are at a higher risk of developing ear infections because of underlying skin allergies, narrowed ear canals, those who swim frequently, and certain breeds.  Other causes include ear mites, foreign bodies such as plant awns/foxtails, ear polyps, or tumors in the ear canal.  All of these conditions can cause different types of bacteria or even yeast to proliferate in the ear canal. 

What should I do if I think my dog has an ear infection?


Because of the many different causes and types of infections, it is important to have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian instead of just picking out a medication or an over the counter ear wash.  A veterinarian will perform an otoscopic exam using an instrument that can magnify the ear canal to look for abnormalities.  They can also verify that the ear drum is intact because certain medications can be toxic to the inner ear and cause deafness or even neurological problems.  A microscopic sample of the ear discharge can then be obtained to determine what type of organism caused the infection so the correct medication can be dispensed.  The ears can then be flushed and cleaned of debris.  Some dogs need to be sedated to view and clean the ear canal because the condition is so painful.  In severe or recurrent infections, a culture and sensitivity test may be needed.  

How do I treat an ear infection?

Therapy depends on the cause of the ear infection and will commonly include an ear wash and a topical medication for a few days.  A recheck exam including a follow-up microscopic evaluation is usually performed to verify that the infection has cleared.  Dogs who suffer from chronic or recurrent ear infections may have an underlying disease or skin allergy that should also be addressed.  If it is not, they will continue to suffer from ear problems and can potentially develop resistant infections, aural hematomas, or narrowing of the ear canal.  Their ears become a constant source of pain and discomfort and these dogs may require surgical removal of the ear canal in extreme cases. 


Côté, Etienne. Clinical Veterinary Advisor. St. Louis: Elsevier Mosby, 2011.  Print.

VPI.  “Top 10 Reasons Pets Visit Vets.”  Veterinary Pet Insurance Company and Nationwide, 2014.  Web.  4 January 2015. 

Ward, Ernest.  Ear Infections in Dogs.  Lifelearn Inc, 2011.