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Dog Ear Infections: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

If your dog keeps rubbing his face along the ground, shaking his head, or scratching at an ear with a paw, then it might be he has an ear infection.

To check, lift the ear flap and look for redness, inflammation, or smelly discharge from the ear canal.

A sore ear can be very painful indeed so don’t leave your dog in distress and get professional help from a veterinarian.

However, if the problem is mild or in the early stages you may decide to try home treatment for dog ear infection.

Quick Glance at Ear Infection Treatment Options

Last updated on 20 July 2021 2:27

Signs of an Ear Infection

Before deciding on a treatment for ear infection in dogs you need to be sure your suspicion that it is indeed the ear that is troubling the dog. Signs of an ear infection include:

  • Shaking the head
  • Rubbing the ear
  • Holding the head to one side
  • Reddened skin when you compare one ear with other
  • A narrow ear canal when you compare one side with the other
  • Tenderness when you touch the ear
  • A smelly ear
  • A discharge from the ear

Another factor when deciding how to treat a dog ear infection at home is to make sure it is fair to your dog to do so and won’t cause the dog undue distress.

dog home on dogstruggles

If there is a bad smell, a heavy discharge from the ear canal, the ear is very hot and inflamed, or the dog has balance problems then your dog may well be in pain and a vet trip is necessary to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

Some problems are not amenable to dog ear infection treatment at home.

This is because they require specialist equipment to sort the problem out.

For example, if the discomfort came on suddenly, especially in the summer months when there are lots of grass awns around, one possibility is that a grass seed got into the ear.

This needs removal with the dog sedated and trying home treatment only prolongs your dog’s discomfort as it is unlikely to dislodge the offending object.

dog thinking on dogstruggles

Cases, where it is acceptable to try dog ear infection home treatment, is if the dog is paying the ear slightly more attention than usual, if there is a small amount of brown wax in the ear, or if your dog is prone to infections and you recognize the earliest signs.

Indeed, for dogs that have waxy ears that are prone to become infected, a regular cleaning with an effective product such as Virbac Epi Otic Advanced Ear Cleaner is positively beneficial and could cut down on the amount of medical therapy needed.

Virbac Epi-Otic

$20.99
5 new from $20.42
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Amazon.com
as of 20 July 2021 2:27

Features

  • Epi-Otic may be used for routine ear cleansing in healthy ear canal or prior to administration of other ear preparations
  • A mild alcohol-free cleansing and drying solution for routine maintenance of otitis externa
  • Epi-Otic has a low pH of 2.2 and contains no chlorhexidine or alcohol
  • Packaging May Vary

What Causes Ear Infection?

Ear infections usually develop as a result of another problem, which makes the issue what’s known as a ‘secondary infection’.

Key to treatment for dog ear infection is recognizing what any predisposing factors are and correcting them.

Spaniel Ears

For example, many spaniel breeds have heavy, dangly ears which cut off the air circulation to the ear canal.

Simple actions like trimming excess fur from the ears help to improve the ventilation (and reduces the chances of getting burrs and grass awns stuck in the hair) and flipping the ears up when the dog is asleep can decrease the humidity in the ear canal and reduce the risk of infection.

Water in the Ears

Another common cause of problems with active dogs that like to swim is water trapped in the ear canal.

When water is in prolonged contact with the skin of the ear canal it causes it to soften and swell, predisposing the ear to invasion by bacteria and infection.

dog bored on dogstruggles

This is a case of prevention is better than cure, and after each swim dry the ears inside as best you can by blotting up excess moisture using dry cotton wool.

Counter-intuitively it also helps to use an ear cleaner such as Omega Pet Dog and Cat Ear Cleaner immediately after the swim because the cleaner helps water to evaporate, leaving the canal drier than before.

Dog Ear Cleaner for Infection

Amazon.com
as of 20 July 2021 2:27

Features

  • Patented Dog Ear Wash Works By Cleaning Drying Acidifying And Deodorizing The Ear Canal
  • No Irritation - Safe And Gentle Dog Ear Medicine Cuts Ear Wax/dirt/grime Almost Instantly. Works Great Without Irritating Dog's Sensitive Ears. Saves Your Dog Pain And Aggravation
  • Dog Ear Drops Formulated For Quick Absorption with No Fillers Or Binders So The Solution Is Very Concentrated A Little Goes A Long Way
  • No-Mess Pointed Nozzle Makes Getting to your Dog's Ears Easy. No More Spilled Solution
  • OmegaPet Happiness Guarantee - If You Don't Love Our Ear Infection Drops For Dogs We'll Refund Your Purchase and You Can Keep the Bottle No Risk

Ear Mites

Another common cause of ear infections is parasites such as ear mites.

These microscopic critters are highly infectious and pass easily between dogs, especially those in the same household.

Ear mites are adept at creating their ideal living conditions and encourage the ear to produce a different type of wax that is richer in sugar and makes an ideal food for them.

Typical of mite infections is seeing large quantities of thick brown wax inside an ear that is very itchy.

Treating dog ear infection caused by ear mites is possible at home as several products are available that are effective at killing the mites, such as Pet MD Otic ear cleaner.

Pet MD Otic

$12.99
Amazon.com
as of 20 July 2021 2:27

Features

  • Veterinarian Formulated & Scientifically Designed to Deodorize, Clean, Dry & Acidify Ears.
  • Safe & Gentle Cleanser with Aloe Vera for Daily Use. Won't Sting, Burn or Aggravate - Even for Puppies & Kittens.
  • Eliminates Build Up of Wax, Fluid, Dirt & Debris to Stop Your Pet from Scratching and Head Shaking.
  • Pleasant Sweet Pea Scented Drops Help Your Pet's Ears Smell as Good as He Feels.
  • Made in the USA in our Federally Regulated Manufacturing Facilities to Ensure Quality and Safety.

brown dog on dogstruggles

Successful treatment depends on treating for long enough, in order to kill the next generation of mites.

Typically this means using drops for two to three weeks. Another important factor is to treat all the other dogs in the house so that they don’t act as a reservoir of infection.

Yeasts

Another ear infection treatment for dogs is to correct yeast overgrowth in the ear.

Yeasts are a normal inhabitant of the canine skin but under certain circumstances, they can overgrow and cause inflammation and itchiness (think athlete’s foot in people).

Yeast overgrowth also tends to produce thick brown-black wax and can have a distinctive ‘yeasty’ smell.

This where products such as Pet MD Otic cleaner can also be beneficial as they change the pH in the ear canal to make it more hostile for the yeast to grow, plus it debulks the wax which is food for the yeast.

Food Allergies

Sometimes treating ear infections in dogs involves thinking laterally and look for the underlying cause.

Some dogs have food allergies which show up as recurrent hot inflamed ears which then become infected.

Key to ear infection dog treatment in these cases is to avoid dietary allergen.

Feeding the dog on a hypoallergenic diet and eliminating the trigger factor for the allergy removes the driving force behind the allergic reaction.

dog watching on dogstruggles

To find an appropriate diet for your dog the surest fire option is to look for a product containing hydrolyzed protein such as Hills ZD.

Alternatively, review what your dog has eaten in the past with a view to identifying a protein source and a carbohydrate source that the dog has NEVER eaten before.

Then chose a hypoallergenic diet that contains just those ingredients.

Allergies

Bear in mind when hoping to treat dog ear infection that allergies to pollens, molds, or other environmental allergens can also trigger the itchiness and inflammation associated with ear infections.

Keeping the ears clean will help, as it debulks the wax and provides less food for yeasts and ear mites, but it won’t cure the problem.

Unfortunately, the use of antihistamines is often disappointing in dogs and if your dog is itchy, and especially with determined to lick and chew at their paws then allergies could be a distinct possibility.

dog autumn on dogstruggles

Whilst there is no ‘cure’ for the allergies that trigger ear infections, controlling the allergic reaction is the best chance dog ear infection treatment in this instance.

Your vet can prescribe a range of treatments ranging from inexpensive anti-inflammatories such as prednisolone, to highly sophisticated and more costly drugs such as Apoquel or Atopica.

Underactive Thyroid Glands

And last but not least, consider that your dog may have an underlying hormonal problem which weakens the skin immunity and makes him more likely to get an infection.

A common example of this is the dog suffering from underactive thyroid glands.

This dog gets recurrent ear infections because his skin health is generally below par and not so good at defending itself against the normal flora and fauna that lives on the surface.

This dog may gain weight easily, have a poor coat, and lack of energy.

Some say that dogs with underactive thyroids also have a ‘tragic’ expression on their face.

tragic dog on dogstruggles

If this sounds like your dog then the vet can diagnose the problem with a blood test, and there are effective thyroid supplements that boost up the dog’s levels and improve his mojo.

And finally, check your dog’s ear every day for signs of infection.

A problem addressed early with an ear cleaner is more likely to settle down swiftly and possibly without veterinary intervention.

However, if your dog is in pain then don’t delay and get professional help immediately to save your dog from suffering the discomfort of an ear infection. Read our comprehensive guide on Dog Medication here.

Dr Sarah Robinson attended veterinary school at Oklahoma State University receiving a D.V.M. in 2008. Sarah’s longtime interest is to help people to better communicate with their pet companions, and in doing so, to help them to strengthen their relationships with their dogs and cats. Sarah has published numerous articles on canine feeding in pet related magazines, veterinary journals and leading natural health web sites.

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