How to Spot an Ear Infection In Your Dog

Did you know that some dogs are more prone to ear infections than others? It’s true. Floppy-eared dogs like Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, and other long-eared dogs tend to have more ear infections than dogs with upright ears. So do dogs who swim a lot.

In both cases, it’s because they have too much moisture trapped in their ears, leading to formation and growth of bacteria. Fortunately, dog ear infections are easily treatable. Let’s find out the three types of ear infections dogs get, the common reasons for them, and what the symptoms are so you know when to call your vet for an appointment.

What Are the Three Types of Canine Ear Infections?

According to the AKC, “There are three kinds of ear infections—otitis externa, media, and internal—affecting different parts of the canine ear. Otitis externa means that the inflammation affects the layer of cells lining the outer or external portion of the ear canal. Otitis media and interna refer to infections of the middle and inner ear canal, and they are most often are a result of the spread of infection from the external ear. These more advanced cases can be very serious, and could lead to deafness, facial paralysis, or signs of vestibular disease, such as head tilting, circling, and lack of coordination. That’s why it is important to prevent and seek early treatment for ear problems.”

Besides the potential danger, you want your pup to feel better! Ear infections hurt. You know there are different types of ear infections and you know they’re usually (but not always) caused by bacteria, so let’s look at the details.

What Causes Canine Ear Infections? 

As mentioned above, dogs like Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, and other dogs with long ears covering their ear canals are among those who tend to experience ear infections.

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Those droopy ears are cute, but there’s a downside.

Those ears are lined with hair which can trap moisture and debris inside of the ear. Plus, because the ears droop down, there isn’t much opportunity for them to “air out.” As you may know, if the ear doesn’t dry out, then bacteria can form. Obviously, that moisture risk includes the swimming dog population too, so if you have a swimmer, then you’re probably familiar with ear infections. In both cases, you can keep the hair trimmed around your dog’s ears and that can help. For swimmers, there are some drying agents on the market for “after swim care”; you can ask your veterinarian for recommendations. 

What does dog ear infection look like

Bacteria are among a few different causes of dog ear infections: “Bacteria are the primary disease-causing agents that lead to infection and consequent inflammation of the middle or inner ear. Other possible disease-causing agents include yeasts such as Malassezia, fungi such as Aspergillus, and ear mites which increase the likelihood of bacterial infection. Alternate causes include trauma to the body, such as from a car accident, the presence of tumors or polyps in the ear, and the presence of foreign objects in the ear.” 

As you can see there are occasional reasons why an ear infection wouldn’t be caused by bacteria. Your veterinarian will be able to evaluate and diagnose your dog to understand the cause and recommend a treatment.

Typical Dog Ear Infection Symptoms 

If you’re wondering how to recognize if your dog has an ear infection, then check out this helpful list of symptoms. 

  • Scratching of the ear or area around the ear
  • Brown, yellow, or bloody discharge
  • Odor in the ear
  • Redness Swelling Crusts or scabs on inside of the outer ear
  • Hair loss around the ear
  • Rubbing of the ear and surrounding area on the floor or furniture
  • Head shaking or head tilt
  • Loss of balance
  • Unusual eye movements
  • Walking in circles
  • Hearing loss

As you can see some of these symptoms seem more obvious than others. If your dog is pawing at his ears or shaking his head a lot more than usual, then take a quick peek at the ear. Is there a foul odor? Is it red? Either way, you’ll want to bring your dog in for an evaluation.

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Ear infections can happen quickly too, so don’t think it takes days to show up. Your dog can go from okay to suffering from a painful ear infection in just a few hours. Please don’t hesitate to make an appointment.

— Update: 09-02-2023 — found an additional article Dog Ear Infections – Look through the Otoscope from the website for the keyword what does dog ear infection look like.

Every day, veterinarians encounter canine patients with some form of dog ear infection. These infections can be caused by bacteria, fungus, or parasites, and sometimes infections can be caused by a foreign body such as foxtail.

Let’s Talk About the Anatomy of a Dog’s Ear

A dog’s ear can be divided into four different parts:

  • Pinna (or ear flap, or auricle)
  • External ear canal
  • Middle ear
  • Internal ear

There are more than a dozen muscles just for controlling the movement of the ear. The ears are very rich with blood vessels and nerves that are highly sensitive. In many occasions, excessive scratching or head shaking can lead to damaging a blood vessel which can result in filling the ear flap with blood. This condition needs to be corrected surgically.

What You Need To Know About Dog Ear Infections

When a dog has an ear infection it is very noticeable. There are 3 types of ear infection in dogs: otits externa, otitis media, and otitis interna, affecting different types of the ear. Sometimes, infections can spread to multiple parts of the dog’s ear.

Otitis externa refers to the outer part of the ear, and otitis media and interna are infections of the middle and inner ear most likely as a result of untreated infection of the outer ear that spread.

Symptoms of Dog Ear Infections

The symptoms of a dog ear infection are very obvious and they can include the obvious head shaking and scratching, foul odor, head tilting, scaling of the skin, redness, and swelling, dark smelly discharge etc.
The most common culprits for dog ear infections are bacteria, yeast, viruses, ear mites, allergies, foreign bodies, hormonal disbalance, autoimmune diseases (such as Pemphigus), injuries, meningitis, encephalitis, and others.

Read more  Dog Ear Infections – Look through the Otoscope

Every dog ear infections need to be precisely diagnosed in order to prescribe the correct treatment. Some ear infections are so severe that they require system medications, but some can be treated with antibiotics or antimycotic drops.

Common Reasons for Dog Ear Infections

Ear infections in dogs may look more like a bacterial infection in one ear, and a yeast infection in the other. This is because an ear infection can be caused by either yeast or bacteria.

You need to figure out what is causing the pain in your dog’s ears, and treat it accordingly. This article will help you identify the type of ear infection your dog has, and give you some methods for treating it at home.

Your dog’s ears should be checked regularly, so that you can catch an infection and treat it before it is too late.

There are many different causes of ear infections. Some common reasons for ear infections in dogs include:

  • a dirty or smelly environment (dirty bedding, soiled areas, etc.);
  • overheating;
  • swimming in dirty water;
  • lots of accumulated ear wax/dirt;
  • trauma (caused by falling for example); or even an allergy.

Bacterial infections will usually cause a very bad odor, but it is not always the case. Similarly, yeast infections can start to smell really bad too.

Avoid The Following Hygiene Mistakes:

Not cleaning your dog’s ears properly, especially if they get dirty;

Wearing earrings for dogs (these can become clogged);

Not visiting the vet regularly. You should see them every six months for a check-up, and they will also give you tips on how to care for your veterinarian’s ears.

Dirty or smelly environments can make it easier for bacteria to stick in there and turn it into an infection.

In the video below, you can see several different types of ear infections.

If you want to learn more about the diagnostics of dog ear infections read “How to use an otoscope” on our blog.


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About the Author: Tung Chi