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Ear Infections in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatment

Canine ear infections are most often due to bacteria or yeast. Ear mites, growing hair, trapped water, a tumor or foreign body in the ear canal can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast. Infections may also develop when allergies, hypothyroidism or an excessive amount of ear wax are present.

Frequent bathing, swimming and incorrect cleaning methods can also lead to infections. Because a dog's ear canals plunge downward and then horizontally from the ear opening, it is difficult for caught debris or water to be released as it must work its way upward to escape; this makes dogs especially susceptible to ear infections.

How Can I Tell if My Dog Has an Ear Infection?

The following symptoms may indicate that your dog needs to have his ears checked by a veterinarian:

  • Ear scratching
  • Brown, yellow or bloody discharge
  • Odor in the ear
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Crusted or scabby skin on the near ear flap
  • Hair loss around the ear
  • Wiping the ear area on the floor or furniture
  • Head shaking or head tilt
  • Loss of balance
  • Unusual eye movements
  • Walking in circles
  • Hearing loss

Which Dogs Are Prone to Ear Infections?

Dogs who are prone to allergies or have floppy ears can be especially vulnerable. These include cocker spaniels, golden retrievers and poodles. Dogs who tend to grow hair in the inner ear canal, such as schnauzers, are also susceptible to ear infections.

How Are Ear Infections Diagnosed?

A veterinarian can usually diagnose an ear infection by examining the ear canal and ear drum with a magnifying ear cone similar to devices used on people. This may require sedation or full anesthesia. A sample of ear discharge may be examined to look for bacteria, yeast and parasites. A vet may also suggest bloodwork and allergy tests to determine the root causes.

It's important not to self-diagnose ear problems, as improperly treated infections may lead to chronic pain or deafness in dogs. Please always allow your vet to determine the cause of your dog's symptoms.