Dog Ear Infections: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Prevention

 

You notice your dog shaking his head, scratching at his ears, and whining in discomfort when just days before he seemed happy and healthy. Chances are that your dog has an ear infection.

Ear infections are common occurrences in dogs of all ages and sizes, although some breeds are more prone to developing these infections than others. 

 

small dog on a leash in a yard

 

Three types of dog ear infections

Ear infections in dogs can develop quickly, and even the best dog parent may miss the early signs indicating that their dog is in discomfort. There are three types of dog ear infections:

  1. Otitis externa is the most common kind of ear infection. It occurs when the layer of cells lining the outside of the ear canal becomes inflamed.
  2. Otitis media is an infection that happens in the middle of the ear canal, generally due to the spread of an external infection.
  3. Otitis interna is an infection within the inner ear canal that has spread from the external and middle portions of the ear. 

Many dog parents don’t realize their pup has an ear infection until the symptoms become too obvious to miss anymore. Most dog ear infections are easily treatable, and learning what they are and what signs to look for can save you money in veterinary bills and prevent infections from recurring.

 

Symptoms of an ear infection

Many signs associated with ear infections are also common actions and activities that dogs engage in daily; that’s why it’s sometimes difficult to know when an ear infection is developing. These are the most common dog ear infection symptoms:

  • Frequent head shaking
  • Whining
  • Pawing or scratching at the ears
  • Rubbing ears on furniture or the ground
  • Strong odor
  • Redness or swelling in the ear canal
  • Itchiness
  • Small bumps in the ear canal
  • Thick dark or yellow discharge
  • Frequent tilting of the head to one side
  • Scabs or crustiness in the ear
  • Mild lethargy

In extreme and severe cases, symptoms may include hearing loss, vertigo, anorexia, walking in circles, nausea, drooling, and rapid eye movements. 

 

What causes dog ear infections?

Ear infections in dogs happen for a variety of reasons, ranging from breed type to activity type. 

Outer ear infections (otitis externa) are often caused by a moist environment (yeast and bacteria), ear trauma, excessive wax buildup, and allergies. Dogs who swim in pools, ponds, or lakes are more likely to develop outer ear infections due to moisture trapped in their ears. 

Middle and inner ear infections (otitis media and otitis interna) happen when a pathogen, such as bacteria, yeast, or fungi, causes an infection inside the ear. Chronic outer ear infections can also spread and become middle and ear infections.

 

Dog breeds most affected by ear infections

Ear infections are more likely to happen to specific breeds of dogs, particularly those with floppy ears such as;

  • Retrievers
  • Spaniels
  • Hounds

Breeds with hairy inner ear flaps, like Poodles and Schnauzers, are also prone to ear infections. 

Other causes of ear infections include mite infestations, tumors, and foreign bodies that may become lodged in the canal. 

 

Common dog ear infection treatments

Outer ear infections are easily identified and highly treatable. In mild cases, ear infections are treatable at home. Most acute ear infections will need examination and treatment by a veterinarian.

Veterinary treatments

Veterinary care is necessary for ear infections that are established or severe. Your veterinarian will examine your dog’s ear, then clean it thoroughly with a medicated wash. Treatment for longer and more serious infections may involve prescription ear drops that contain fungal, antibiotic, and steroid agents. 

Middle and inner ear infections typically call for oral dog ear infection medicines that address infections caused by environmental or food allergies (steroids) or fungi. 

Complicated, chronic, or advanced ear infections, especially those with underlying causes, may require surgery to resolve the situation. 

Natural remedies

If you catch your dog’s ear infection in the earliest stages, you may be able to use over-the-counter products and natural solutions to resolve the infection. Here are some ways to treat a dog ear infection without a vet:

Ear cleaners and drops

Use an over-the-counter ear cleaner and drops which can resolve symptoms quickly. Look for products that contain 1% hydrocortisone or  0.5% hydrocortisone solution. For natural products without hydrocortisone, choose cleaners that include tea tree oil extract and witch hazel extract, amongst other natural sources.

Herbal remedies

How can you treat dog ear infections naturally? There are herbal remedies that you can use to help soothe and calm itchiness and irritations. Some excellent options include chamomile, green tea, calendula, and oil of oregano.

Remember, always consult your veterinarian before you give your dog any over-the-counter or natural remedies.

 

Treatment Costs

The cost of ear infection often depends upon the scale of the infection and the type of treatment prescribed by the veterinarian. Outer ear infection treatments can cost  $100 - $150 while severe infections, especially those in the middle and inner canals, are more expensive to treat. 

Extreme cases that involve ruptured eardrums require ear flushing, radiographs, and CT scans. Surgery may also be necessary based on the strength and location of the infection and the damage it has caused. Treatment for more severe ear infections can quickly become costly.

 

Do insurance providers cover ear infections?

Ear infections are a common condition in dogs, so do pet insurance providers cover this medical illness? Some companies do offer coverage for ear infections in certain situations. Generally, ear infections, particularly chronic ones, are covered as long as they are not a pre-existing condition

As with other types of insurance, the lower your deductible, the more likely you will receive reimbursement for smaller, standard medical issues like ear infections. Waiting periods may be in effect for your plan, which means you won’t be eligible for coverage until your dog’s ear infection is cured.

To discover which insurance policies cover canine ear infections, review these top pet insurance companies or sign up here for a quick per insurance quote.

 

Prevention of dog ear infections

The best way to treat your dog’s ear infection is to make sure he never develops one in the first place. You can prevent ear infections by following these suggestions:

  • Clean your dog’s ears weekly. You are more likely to catch an infection in its early stages this way.
  • Clip your dog’s ear hair to improve air circulation in and around the ear. 
  • Clean and dry your dog’s ears after swims and baths to eliminate moist breeding grounds for yeast and bacteria to flourish.
  • Add appropriate dietary support to your dog’s meals through the inclusion of prebiotics and probiotics, which will strengthen your dog’s immune system against infection.

Close attention and weekly cleaning can help prevent ear infections from occurring and impacting your dog’s quality of life. If an infection does develop, contact your veterinarian for advice on what steps are best for your pup to overcome this condition. With proper treatment, in just a few days, your dog will be back to his happy, healthy self.

 

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For information on other common dog health problems, read our article 31 Most Common Dog Health Problems.

 

References:

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