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Ear Infections

Ear infections in dogs are a relatively common medical problem, which isn't at all surprising when you combine the unusual anatomy of the canine ear with the fact dogs can't help but stick their heads into places they ideally shouldn't.

There are many causes of ear infections and unless diagnosed and treated correctly they can recur and continue to be a problem for your dog.

How Do I Know If My Dog Has An Ear Infection?

Ear infections in dogs look much the same as ear infections in humans: the ears are irritated or itchy, sore and painful. Signs your dog may have an ear infection include shaking of the head, scratching at ears, or holding the head tilted to the side. Take a look into the outer part of your dog's ear and it may look swollen or redder than normal and there might be a discharge or a lot of waxy material present. It may also not smell so good.

What Causes Ear Infections In Dogs?

There can be a number of things and sometimes several at once:


Ear mites can live in the ear and not only cause irritation; they can also predispose a dog to secondary yeast or bacterial infections.

Ticks from time to time may crawl into the ear and cause irritation and depending on the tick, can be very dangerous.

Grass seeds and anything else that will fit

It's not unusual, due to a dog's sniffing behaviour in long grass, for grass seeds to become lodged down their ear canal. Other foreign objects such as dirt, vegetable matter and even things ‘hidden' by young children can cause ear irritation and infection.

Yeast and bacterial overgrowth

Yeast and bacteria can often be found growing as a natural and benign flora on a dog's skin (including the ears). However, under certain conditions, the populations of these microbes can multiply suddenly, causing ear infections. Dogs that suffer from yeast and bacterial ear infections may have an allergy problem or a genetic predisposition to having yeast overgrowth issues, and/or their ears may be formed in such a way that yeast overgrowth is more likely to occur. For example, dogs with long floppy ears or ears that have a lot of hair in them. Yeast and bacteria can also be involved in secondary ear infections related to the presence of parasites or foreign bodies.


Water gets in the ears and can't get out, providing an ideal environment for microbes to grow and create infection.

What Should I Do If I Think My Dog Has An Ear Infection?

It's vital that ear infections are properly diagnosed and treated. If you think your dog has an ear infection, visit your veterinarian to have him or her examined and diagnosed, and for an appropriate treatment to be prescribed.

Your veterinarian is likely to look down into your dog's ear with a device specially designed for ear canal examinations — an otoscope — and may take some samples of material present in the ear canal for further examination, or may even send the sample off to a laboratory to try to find out which bacteria are involved in the ear infection. If your dog has a foreign body in his or her ears, or a lot of wax or discharge in the ear canals, sedation may be required to remove the foreign body or to properly flush out the affected ear.

Additional Information

The Merck Veterinary Manual

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