A dog attending a veterinary appointment for an ear check up

Dog ear infections: the symptoms and causes of ear infections in dogs

As anyone who’s ever had an ear infection will know, there’s nothing like the pain of having sore ears. But did you know that dogs are just as susceptible to ear infections as their owners? In fact, canine ear infections are one of the most common health issues treated by vets each year.

So, how do you recognise if your dog has an ear infection – and what should you do about it? We take a look at the causes and symptoms of canine ear infections.

The signs and symptoms of ear infections in dogs

  • Frequent head shaking or tilting
  • Loss of balance
  • Discharge or pus from the ears
  • Smelly ears
  • Redness and irritation
  • Swelling
  • Deafness
  • Scabs or hair loss around the ear
  • Rubbing and scratching the ears
  • Walking in circles

Common causes of dog ear infections

Canine ear infections are often caused by a build-up of bacteria or yeast in your dog’s ears. Other common reasons for ear infections in dogs include:

  • Excessive hair, moisture or wax in the ears
  • Ear mites
  • Foreign bodies in the ears
  • Allergies
  • Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid)

The anatomy of your dog’s ears

While human ear canals are horizontal, your dog’s ear canals are mostly vertical, making it easy for debris and moisture to build up and cause infection.

The lining of the ear canal produces oil (sebum) and wax, which can combine with hair, moisture, and debris to become a feeding ground for yeast and bacteria. When these build up, it can lead to inflammation of the ear canal, and the associated symptoms.

 “Your dog’s ear canals are mostly vertical, which makes it easy for debris and moisture to build up and cause infection.”

Dogs with an increased risk of developing ear infections

Much like us humans, some dogs are more susceptible to ear infections than others. Some produce more oil and wax than normal, while others have too much hair inside their ears – both increase your dog’s risk of getting an ear infection.

Other factors can also increase the risk, including:

  • Dogs with allergies
  • Dogs that swim a lot
  • Certain breeds – including cocker spaniels and basset hounds – are especially susceptible to ear infections

Diagnosing and treating dog ear infections

Your vet sees dozens of dogs each year that are suffering from ear infections, and will recommend the best and most effective treatment.

He or she may use a swab to take a sample of the discharge or pus coming from your dog’s ears – a painless process called an ear cytology – which helps to establish whether there is yeast or bacteria present.

While it may not be possible to prevent canine ear infections, your vet can give you tips on the best way to clean your dog’s ears, to help reduce the risk of ear infections.

It should be noted that often repeated ear infections are a sign of underlying skin allergies and your vet may suggest further testing for overall allergic conditions.

Want more information about dog ear infections?

For expert advice on ear infections in dogs, contact your local vet. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our Find a Vet page.