Health & care

Dog ear infections: what to look out for

Date updated: 27 11 2018

Pointy or floppy, big or small, your buddy’s ears need to be looked after. They’re a magnet for dirt, bacteria and the type of microscopic nasties that can lead to infection. Here’s how to keep the chances of infection to a minimum, how to spot a problem - and how to deal with it…

Why do dogs get ear infections?

Here are the main causes:

  • Bacteria and yeast. A healthy dog’s ear is usually able to defend itself against these organisms. But if the skin is punctured or irritated, if there’s excessive moisture in there or if your buddys unwell, bacteria and yeast can multiply more than usual - making it much harder for the immune system to fight them off.
  • Foreign bodies. Those longer grass and plant seeds that tend to stick to your dog’s fur can get into the ear canal, too. They get lodged, cause your dog to scratch, and the irritated area becomes infected.
  • Allergies. The allergy could be down to something your buddy’s eaten, something they’ve inhaled or a skin irritant. Whatever it is, it causes them to scratch and this is what causes the infection to set in.  

If you’re only a foot tall and your fave hobbies include sniffing around in the dirt and jumping in muddy puddles, ear infections are pretty much an occupational hazard. There’s a very good chance that your buddy will experience several infections in their lifetime. And for floppy-eared breeds (like Cocker Spaniels), these are much more likely.

So is it serious? Not usually. As long as you keep a lookout for signs of infection and get treatment quickly, most bouts of ear infection can be dealt with through a consultation with your vet, a thorough clear-out and a course of antibiotics.

Just be aware that the longer you ignore an ear infection, the more difficult it becomes to shift it (and the more painful it is for your buddy). The most severe cases can lead to permanent hearing damage and facial paralysis - so it’s definitely a good idea to get it sorted quickly.


Ear inspections: what to look for…
For most dogs, it’s recommended that you check those ears weekly. Extra checks are a good idea if your buddy’s been for a swim or a walk in the woods where the chances of picking up plant and tree debris is higher.

Most dogs really like having their ears stroked - so if you try to stroke them and your buddy pulls away, this could be a sign that something’s going on in there. The same goes for twitchy head movements or scratching around the ear area.

Next, check for smell. Basically, there shouldn’t be one. If there’s a slight yeasty whiff or bad smell, it’s probably down to a bacterial or yeast infection. These smell and touch tests are pretty good indicators of any inner ear problems that aren’t always picked up by a quick peek inside the ear.

Now take a good look. The skin should be evenly pink with no signs of reddening. A coating of wax is normal, but that wax should be yellow - and there should be roughly the same amount of it each time you check. If the wax is greyish, or if there is a runny discharge, these are all signs of infection.

Ear cleaning: when and how to do it
Clean your dog’s ears if there’s any debris or grime present. For this, cotton buds are best avoided; they pack debris into the ear canal rather than removing it. A clean, damp soft cloth or some cotton wool is the best option.

Squirt a few drops of dog ear cleaning solution into your dog’s ear and massage it into the inner skin with your thumb. Next, get some cotton wool and wrap it around one finger. Go deep into the ear and give it a good wipe to clear wax and any leftover dog ear cleaning solution. Moisture can provide a breeding ground for bacteria, so make sure the ears are dry after cleaning. 

Watch the video below to see Everypaw’s vet, Anna, demonstrating how to check and clean a dog’s ears.



When to get help...
If there are already signs of infection present, it’s time to make an appointment with the vet. Ear infections can be very painful if left untreated, and can also cause permanent damage to the ear canal and middle ear if ignored.

Redness, swelling, a bad smell or discharge are all cues for you to call the vet. A change in behaviour also indicate that there’s a problem. If your buddy suddenly seems wobbly on his feet or can’t hear you properly, get it checked out. Other signs include rubbing the ears on the floor or furniture, walking in circles, unusual eye movements and head tilting.

Treatment depends on what’s causing the problem. Using an otoscope, the vet can take a good look into the ear canal to check out the extent of inflammation and identify any foreign bodies. If it’s a one-off infection, treatment might involve a clear-out, corticoid medication to reduce any swelling - along with a course of either antibiotics if it’s a bacterial infection or antifungals if it’s a yeast infection.

If your pooch is getting recurrent infections, further investigations might be needed to get to the underlying cause of the problem. Sometimes this can involve allergy testing or immunotherapy.

So remember; keep your buddy’s ears clean - and don’t ignore the signs of a problem when they arise!