Ear infections in dogs
- If your dog has an ear infection, it’s likely to be caused by bacteria or yeast (or both).
- It’s rare for ear infections to develop without an underlying cause - such as ear mites or a skin allergy.
- Ear scratching, pain and head shaking are common symptoms.
- Ear infections are very painful so rapid treatment by a vet is essential.
- Book an appointment with your vet if you suspect your dog has an ear infection.
- Head shaking
- Scratching their ear(s)
- Red, swollen, hot and painful ear(s)
- Smelly ear(s)
- Discharge coming from the ear(s)
- Rubbing their head along the ground
- Scabs and crusting on the side of their face
- A swelling in their ear flap (aural haematoma)
- Loss or reduced hearing.
Infection affecting the middle or inner ear (the part of the ear that helps with balance) may cause:
- Head tilt (carrying head on one side)
- Loss of balance.
Bacteria and yeast live in all healthy ears and only cause problems if something enables them to overgrow, such as:
When to contact your vet
Book an appointment with your vet if you notice any of the symptoms above - ear infections are very painful.
If you see any signs of an inner ear infection (such as loss of balance or a head tilt), contact your vet straight away - this type of infection can be much more serious.
Be sure to tell your vet if your dog has had more than two to three ear infections in its life.
You know your dog best. If they don’t have the symptoms listed above but you are still concerned it’s always best to contact your vet.
Your vet will likely recommend some of the following treatments:
- Cleaning your dog's ears with a veterinary ear cleaner will help get rid of waxy discharge and ensure ear drops work properly.
Most ear drops combat bacteria, yeast, inflammation and pain.
If your dog is given ear drops, it’s important to follow instructions carefully and complete the course (even if they seem better after a couple of days). This will ensure the infection doesn’t return.
Anti-inflammatory pain relief
- Anti-inflammatory drugs help with swelling and pain.
- Antibiotic tablets aren’t always necessary but are occasionally given (at the same time as drops) if the infection is severe.
- If there is something stuck in the ear canal your pet may need an operation to remove it.
- If your dog is suffering from skin allergies that cause problems with their ears, they may improve with specific treatment for the allergy and/or a change in diet.
- Take your dog back for check up’s as regularly as your vet suggests. Your vet will make sure the infection is clearing, some ear infections take several weeks to get better.
Most ear infections will clear quickly after a short course of treatment from your vet. Some, that have been grumbling on for a while can take a few weeks to clear and in some rare cases, surgery is necessary.
Some dogs are prone to ear infections and need lifelong ear care.
If your dog is suffering regularly from ear infections, your vet may want to examine them under anaesthetic.
How to prevent ear infections in dogs
Regularly check on your dog’s ears so that you spot problems quickly. Get used to the smell of your dog’s ears when they are healthy. If they have an infection their ears may smell sour or pungent.
- Healthy ears will keep themselves clean. However, if your dog has mucky ears your vet may ask you to clean them at home.
- Ask your vet or vet nurse to show you how to check and clean your dog’s ears, or watch our video.
- If your dog tends to get ear infections after swimming it can be helpful to clean their ears after they go into the water.
- Dogs with particularly hairy ear canals may need them trimmed and/or plucked to ensure they don’t develop infection. Ask your vet for advice on this.
Treat skin conditions
Published: July 2018
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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.
Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst