Dog ear infections

Written by Dr Andrew Miller MRCVSDr Andrew Miller MRCVS is an expert veterinary working in the field for over 10 years after graduating from Bristol University. Andy fact checks and writes for Pure Pet Food while also working as a full time veterinarian. Pure Pet FoodPure Pet Food are the experts in healthy dog food and healthy dogs featured in media outlets such as BBC, Good Housekeeping and The Telegraph. Working with high profile veterinary professionals and nutritionists, Pure Pet Food are changing dog food for the better. - Our editorial process

It's estimated that 1 in 5 dogs suffer from some form of ear disease, mostly due to the shape of their ear canals which make them more susceptible to ear infections. Breeds with larger ears and more hairy ear canals such as Basset Hounds, Golden Retrievers or Cocker Spaniels (to name a few) can also be more prone to ear infections.

If you suspect that your pooch is suffering from a pesky ear infection, it's always best to seek advice from a vet in the first instance. However, there are preventative steps you can take to minimise the risk of repeat and more chronic infections.

Types of dog ear infections

There are three types of ear infections that dog owners should watch out for - otitis externa, media, and interna. Otitis externa is the most common and causes inflammation which affects the cells that line the outer/visible part of your dog's ear canal.

This type of infection occurs when the outer ear becomes infected with yeast, cocci bacteria or rod bacteria. Fortunately, otitis externa can be easily managed and treated but should be handled with urgency to prevent the infection from developing into the more severe otitis media or interna.

Otitis media is when the middle part of the ear becomes inflamed and likely infected by bacteria, yeast or fungi. Some dogs with otitis externa will also have otitis media due to the infection spreading or a foreign object penetrating the eardrum.

Otitis interna is the third type of ear infection and is identified by inflammation/infection of the inner ear. It's usually caused by unresolved otitis media which spreads and gets progressively worse. Inner ear infections are commonly caused by bacteria, but fungus/yeast can also be to blame.

Discover delicious food your dog deserves

Learn more

Causes of ear infection in dogs

There are several causes which can trigger your dog to develop an ear infection – with some easier to identify than others.

The first possible cause is from water entering the ear canal after bathing, grooming or swimming. This extra moisture and wet, damp environment encourage pesky microorganisms to grow in the ear canal, which can then lead to infection.

Dogs that already suffer from food or environmental allergies can be more prone to ear infections. Allergies cause microscopic inflammation that promotes that overgrowth of bacterial or yeast organisms on your dog's skin.

While on the subject; food allergies and sensitivities can also be a cause of ear infections, however, yeast in your dog's diet won't cause a yeast infection. If you suspect this could be the cause, consult your vet and test out a strict hypoallergenic diet for a few weeks to see if this reduces your dog's symptoms.

You should also be mindful that ear infections can sometimes be the result of your dog rubbing and scratching themselves repeatedly, so if you notice this type of behaviour, it's best to take preventative measures before further complications arise.

Chronic ear infections may develop into an inner ear infection if the eardrum is damaged, as this allows bacteria to travel downwards into the inner ear.

If the infection only seems to be in one ear, this may signal that the ear is blocked by a tumour or foreign body. Your vet will take a swab sample from the ear to try and identify the cause – searching for common microbes such as ticks or ear mites which can quickly be passed between dogs.

Dogs that suffer from Endocrine disorders can also be more susceptible to ear infections. You should also keep in mind that an underlying cause can't be identified in every case.

Dog ear infection symptoms

Monitoring your dog's symptoms is a good indicator of whether they're suffering from an ear infection. The first sign of ear infection in dogs is a build-up of ear wax or thick dark or yellow discharge coming from the ear canal, which may be red or swollen with small bumps. You might also notice an unpleasant odour coming from the ear.

Your dog might also be scratching, rubbing or shaking their head more often than usual. As a result of the scratching, your dog might start to develop hematomas, which are blood blisters that often form within the ear. Another symptom to look out for is your dog tilting their head to one side often or having less energy than usual. These are all signs of an acute ear infection.

A sign of middle or inner ear infections (otitis media and otitis interna) is your dog frequently tilting their head to one side as with acute ear infections. You may also notice some more severe symptoms such as drooling, nausea, anorexia, losing the ability to chew correctly, loss of balance, problems with hearing, rapid eye movements and walking in circles.

If you notice any of these more concerning symptoms, you should book an appointment with your vet as a matter of urgency so they can carry out the appropriate tests.

Our vets are frequently asked whether ear infections in dogs are contagious, and the answer is no. You don't need to worry about your dog interacting with other dogs when they're suffering from an ear infection.

Dogs can, however, catch ear mites from other dogs or from the environment, which causes some of the same symptoms as a standard ear infection. The naked eye can't usually see ear mites, so your vet will need to examine your dog's ears using an otoscope to identify whether they're present.

Dog ear infection treatments

Externa otitis or acute ear infections should be relatively easy to resolve once your dog starts the treatment recommended by your vet. This is likely to be treated using an over-the-counter cleaner and treating the infected ear/s with prescription ear drops.

Most ear infections will need to be treated with prescription drops which usually contain a steroid, antibiotic and an antifungal. The earlier you address the infection, the faster the symptoms will improve or resolve completely.

You should be very careful about cleaning your dog's ears to avoid making the problem worse. Keep reading to learn the proper technique for cleaning your dog's ears. It's important to remember that an untreated outer ear infection can spread to the inner or middle ear.

More serious infections such as externa media and interna will take longer to resolve and likely treated with an oral antibiotic or antifungal. Your dog may also need to be treated with an oral steroid. If more complicated symptoms such as vomiting, nausea or anorexia have developed as a result of your dog's ear infection, your vet may recommend a separate treatment to help resolve these specific symptoms.

With very severe inner ear infections, if your dog isn't eating or drinking properly, your vet might recommend that they are hospitalised and put on an IV fluid drip to prevent dehydration. Some dogs with chronic repeat internal ear infections may require surgery.

If the infection has been triggered by an underlying food or environmental allergy, you should speak to your vet about how to treat the allergy itself to avoid future inflammation or infection in the ears.

How to prevent ear infections in dogs

As the old saying goes, prevention is better than the cure. One simple step you can take to help prevent ear infections in dogs is to keep their ears as dry as possible. Make sure you dry your dog's ears gently and thoroughly after grooming, bathing or swimming.

You should also keep your dog's ears as clean as possible by cleaning them at home using an over the counter veterinary-approved cleaning solution. Follow these simple steps to make sure that your dog's ears are squeaky clean.

  • Pure's expert vets recommend squeezing the solution into the ear canal. Be careful not to let the solution applicator touch your dogs' ear when you're spraying it in.

  • Massage the base of the ear very gently for around 30 seconds.

  • Next, use an absorbent gauze to wipe the ear canal (being careful not to go too deep). You can also use a cotton pad to clean the outer ear, but you should avoid using these inside the ear as they can leave unwanted debris behind.

We recommend cleaning your dog's ears at least once a month, but you should consider more frequent cleaning if your dog's ears get wet frequently due to swimming, for example.

You should also avoid products that contain harsh substances such as vinegar, alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, which can cause your dog's ear canals to become irritated and inflamed. Keep in mind that overcleaning can also cause ear infections, so speak to your vet for guidance if you're unsure how often to clean your dog's ears.

A healthy, natural diet that is dense in vitamins, nutrients and minerals will also help strengthen your dog's immune system in case of future infections. Pure's range is also useful for dog's suffering from different types of food allergies, with recipes to suit most common allergies.

If your dog is showing signs of an ear infection or ear problems, you should seek advice from your vet as soon as possible to prevent the condition worsening and tackle the issue as early as possible.

What is the best dog food for ear infections?

Since dogs with allergies are more prone to ear infections, feeding them a nourishing diet that avoids irritating additives and allergens is a great first step. In fact, some food allergies can even cause ear infections, so the best dog food for ear allergies will contain complete nutrition to maintain their health whilst avoiding ingredients you know will make your pup unwell.

A great way of ensuring that your dog won’t eat anything they’re allergic to is by buying personalised food.

Preventing allergies is important because rubbing and scratching at itchy skin can cause infections. This is why many vets suggest trying a grain-free dog food for ear infections, as wheat is a common allergen and could trigger both skin and ear infections.

There are other ingredients that could be causing your pet’s illness, and a vet may advise a hypoallergenic diet to combat re-occurring infections. But, plenty of pups see a fantastic improvement in their health and reduced irritation when eating Pure.

Pure offers various grain-free dog food recipes and our plans are personalised to your pup so they’ll never have to worry about eating a known allergen again.

For instance, Bey the Frenchie was having no luck on hypoallergenic food, but within a few weeks of starting Pure her skin and stomach had settled and improved massively. Beautiful beagle Millie had previously suffered from yeast infections for years, but was “much improved” and her skin was almost entirely normal within a month of eating Pure.

Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind when trying to find the best dog food for ear infections is that prevention is better than a cure. Feeding your dog a healthy, highly-digestible diet packed full of nutrients will help to strengthen their immune system and prevent future infections. The simple but high-quality (and all-natural) ingredients in Pure are hand-picked to provide complete nutrition for your pup.

Tell us more about your dog so we can recommend the perfect personalised recipe to help prevent allergies and infections, and ensure their bowls are licked clean and tails are always wagging!