Pet Articles

Dog Ear Infections

Ear Infections in Canines

How common are ear infections in dogs?

Infections of the external ear canal (outer ear) by bacteria or yeast, are one of the most common types of infections seen in dogs. This is called otitis externa.

Some breeds, such as Cocker Spaniels and Poodles, seem more prone to ear infections but they may occur in any breed.

What are the symptoms of an ear infection?

A dog with an ear infection is uncomfortable; his ear canals are sensitive. He shakes his head trying to get the debris and fluid out, and scratches his ears. The ears often become red and inflamed and develop an offensive odor. A black or yellowish discharge commonly occurs.

Don’t these symptoms usually suggest ear mites?

Ear mites can cause several of these symptoms, including a black discharge, scratching, and head shaking. Ear mite infections generally occur most commonly in puppies. Ear mites in adult dogs occur most frequently after a puppy carrying mites is introduced into the household. Sometimes ear mites will create an environment within the ear canal which leads to a secondary infection with bacteria and yeast (fungus). By the time the dog is presented to the veterinarian, the mites may be gone, but a significant ear infection remains.

Since these symptoms are similar and usually mean an infection, can I just go to the vet and get some medication?

There are several kinds of bacteria and at least one type of fungus which might cause an ear infection. Without knowing the kind of infection present, your veterinarian will not know which drug to use. In some cases the ear infection may be caused by a foreign body or tumor in the ear canal. Treatment with medication alone will not resolve these problems. Also, the dog must be examined to be sure that the eardrum is intact. Administration of certain medications can result in loss of hearing if the eardrum is ruptured. This determination is made by the veterinarian and must be done in the office.

How do vets find out which drug to use?

First, the ear canal is examined with an otoscope, an instrument that provides magnification and light. This permits a good view of the ear canal. This examination allows veterinarians to determine whether the eardrum is intact and if there is any foreign material in the canal. When a dog is in extreme pain and refuses to allow the examination, he must sometimes be completed under sedation or anesthesia.

The next step is to examine a sample of the material from the ear canal to determine which organism is causing the infection. This is called cytology. Examination of that material under the microscope is very important in helping the veterinarian choose the right medication to treat the inflamed ear canal.

How are ear infections treated? The results of the otoscopic examination and cytology tell the veterinarian what to do. If there is a foreign body or tick lodged in the ear canal, the dog is sedated so that it can be removed. As stated previously, some dogs have such a heavy buildup of debris that sedation is needed to cleanse the canal and examine it completely.

Cytologic study of debris from the ear canal dictates which drug to use. Sometimes it reveals the presence of more than one type of infection (i.e., a bacterium and a fungus, or two kinds of bacteria); this situation usually requires the use of multiple medications or a broad-spectrum medication.

An important part of the evaluation of the patient is the identification of underlying disease. Many dogs with chronic or recurrent ear infections have allergy problems or low thyroid function (hypothyroidism). If a underlying disease is found, it must be diagnosed and treated, if at all possible. If this cannot be done, the dog is less likely to have a favorable response to treatment. Also, the dog might respond temporarily, but the infection will relapse at a later time (usually when ear medication is discontinued).

What is the prognosis?

Nearly all ear infections that are properly diagnosed and treated can be cured. If an underlying cause remains unidentified and untreated, the outcome will be less favorable. A progress check may be needed before the process is completed.

How important is it to treat an ear infection?

Dogs with ear infections are miserable. Their ears are a source of constant pain resulting in head shaking and scratching. However, that is not the only problem. Head shaking and scratching can also cause broken blood vessels in the ear flap, requiring surgery, and chronic ear infections can penetrate the ear drum and result in an internal ear infection.

My dog’s ear canal is nearly closed. Is that a problem?

Closing of the ear canal is another result of a chronic ear infection. There are medications that can shrink the swollen tissues and open the canal in some dogs. Some cases will eventually require surgery.

What is the purpose of surgery?

The surgery for a closed ear canal is called a lateral ear resection. Its purposes are to remove the vertical part of the ear canal and to remove swollen tissue from the horizontal canal. Removing the vertical canal should be successful, but removal of large amounts of tissue from the horizontal canal is more difficult. In some cases, the ear canal is surgically obliterated. This solves the canal problem, but it leaves the dog deaf on that side.

What can be done if the ear canals are completely closed?

The most severe consequence of a chronic ear infection is total closure and hardening of the ear canal. When this occurs, the lateral ear resection will no longer be helpful. The appropriate surgery for this situation is an ear canal obliteration. The entire ear canal is surgically removed. Since severe scarring and calcification occur, this can be a lengthy surgical procedure requiring a skilled veterinary surgeon.

Is there anything I need to know about getting medication in the ear?

It is important to get the medication into the horizontal part of the ear canal. Be aware that the dog’s external ear canal is “L” shaped. The vertical canal connects with the outside of the ear; the horizontal canal lies deeper in the canal and terminates at the eardrum. The ear canal may be medicated by following these steps:

  1. Gently pull the ear flap straight up and hold it with one hand.
  2. Apply a small amount of medication into the vertical part of the ear canal while continuing to keep the ear flap elevated. Hold this position long enough for the medication to run down to the turn between the vertical and horizontal canal.
  3. Put one finger in front of and at the base of the ear flap, and put your thumb behind and at the base.
  4. Massage the ear canal between your finger and thumb. A squishing sound tells you that the medication has gone into the horizontal canal.
  5. Release the ear and let your dog shake his head. If the medication contains a wax solvent, debris will be dissolved so it can be shaken out.
  6. If another medication is to be used, apply it in the same manner.
  7. When all medications have been applied, clean the outer part of the ear canal and the inside of the ear flap with a cotton ball soaked with a small amount of rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. Do not use cotton tipped applicators to do this as they tend to push debris back into the vertical ear canal.

Dr. Raymond Van Lienden DVM
The Animal Clinic of Clifton
12702 Chapel Road, Clifton
Virginia, U.S.A. 20124

33 Responses to this Article, So Far

  1. Avatar carey lyncker says:

    My dog is already deaf and seems to be in pain. I have absolutely no confidence in my vet. When my shituzu first began having ear problems, he wanted me to give him $7000 for a lateral ear canal procedure. Because I am on a fixed income I told him that as much as I loved my dog I could not afford that kind of money, so for the past year she has been on and off in pain. Is there anything that I can give her to make her more comfortable like baby aspern, or somthing? I really appreciate your informative comments on this site, it seems like most of the outher answers on this page is folks trying to either impress people with there vocabulary, or just plain blow smoake. Thanks Buz

    • Avatar Marko says:

      I’d try to get a second opinion from another vet that was referred to me by someone I trust.
      Please do not linger though especially if your dog is in pain…. I’m not a vet and don’t know your dog’s history so I can’t/won’t give advice on any meds.

      Good luck and thx for the comment!

    • Avatar agenfoxxy says:

      Hi Carey,

      My 5 yr old shih tzu was diagnosed with Ear mites and Otitis Media – a form of middle ear infection. Yours is probably in the same situation too.
      The good news is, he successfully recovered in 2 weeks following this medication from our VET and it will just cost you less than $50.

      1. 3.5ml 2x/day of Cefalexin 250mg 15ml suspension for 14 days.
      An antibiotic for internal infection.
      Dog should not have an empty stomach before drinking this or he will feel weak.

      2. EPI OPTIC Ear Cleanser by Virbac
      Instill 2-3 drops on both ears, then massage the base, and wipe using cotton (NOT COTTON BUDS OR SWABS)
      Check on youtube for demos on cleaning dog’s ears.
      2x a day for 14 days.

      3. After cleaning, instill 2-3 drops of DEXORYL Ear Drops by Virbac.
      Do this on both ears, 2x daily for 14 days.

      4. Change his shampoo to Dermolyse. A medicated formula for dogs with skin sensitivity like shih tzus.
      Leave the lather 5 mins on coat, then rinse and dry thoroughly.

      5. Buy him vitamins with Omega Fatty Acids for Coat Shine.
      Mix 2 tsp with his meal once a day.

      I’m pretty sure this will help.


  2. Avatar Lucy says:

    Hi. I left a comment the other day but as it hasn’t appeared, I probably pressed the wrong button.

    My question is: why are we told to keep our dogs’ ears dry – such as when we bath them or after they have been swimmings; yet we are told to put lotion/solution in their ears once a week to clean them and also to apply liquid medication. Isn’t putting liquid in their ears the same as putting water in?

    I took my dog to the vet when I saw bits of dark wax one of her ears and was given medication for her. Since then it has happened three times. I would like to go to the vet each time and have her ears checked (the dogs) but at $80. each time, I wish I knew when there is a problem and when its “just wax.”


    • Avatar Marko says:

      Hi Lucy,

      In general (as far as i know) drier ears prevent bacteria from growing, but if you are treating something in the ear the “treatment” may be wet. That’s my take on it anyway. Feel free to post this question in our pet forum for free for additional information.
      Good luck!

  3. Avatar John Kitley says:

    After years of misery and thousands of dollars I solved my Rosey’s yeasty ears. Google spaniel ear cleaner or gentian violet ear cleaner and you can help your critter.

    • Avatar Joey Bachrach says:

      Hey John,
      My dog Toby has had ear problems since I brought him home from the pound a year ago. Time after time I would take him to the vet, the infection was caused by yeast and eventually went away with the medication. But soon after the medication was done the infection would come back. I have an appointment set up for tomorrow because it came back again but this time his ear is turning black…. any thoughts?

  4. Avatar Lucy's Mum says:

    John, I am going to track this down tomorrow. Again Lucy has had the black bits and pieces in one ear — I think this is the 6th time in 18 months. I don’t like using the strong solution from the Vet so maybe once this episode is over I can try something milder and more often. I think she gets wet outside and comes in where it is warm and its creating a moist warm environment – maybe I should buy a microscope to check the ear …. does seem like ear mites but I am really not sure.
    I was reading that ear mites are very hard to clear up and sometimes eggs are left in the ear….??
    I no longer think its wax but as ear mites are contageous and she is only dog here, wonder how she is getting them…..

  5. Avatar John Kitley says:

    Ear mites are easy to get rid of with olive or mineral oil. You can chase them off quicker by using flea shampoo on the entire dog. Mites often times hang out on the tail, and jump into the ear when the dog is curled up sleeping. You can see ear mites on black paper.

  6. Avatar John Kitley says:

    @Joey- The prescription stuff is greasy and goopy, and keep things moist which as soon as the drug dissapates feeds the yeast. I would make the gentian violet recipe and do it 3x a day. Worked for me.

  7. Avatar Lucy's Grandmother! says:

    …hi – John my friend has lots of cats and she was telling me she can see the earmites on her cats, but I can’t see any in Lucy’s ear. I’m still perplexed about her ears… and the more I read inforamtion the more I am confused. I got out the medication from last year from the Vet and am using it… but the next time I see all those black dots in her ear (always just one ear) – I will take her back to Vet with my list of questions.
    I even read a site where she said – get the wax out of the dog’s ear, but not all of it. Well, sorry, I can’t get it right in the first place…. then the ambiguous put liquid in/don’t get liquid in your dogs ears: or is it just me? :-)
    There has been some very useful information on this site and I am pursuing all… I just am not sure “what” Lucy has…. mites, wax, infection etc., and so I think I’ll pay the $80 plus next time and find out.
    My neighbour said if you put the bits of black on a damp cloth and get a reddish mark, that it is dried blood – and that seems to be more what she has – although once I clean it out, there’s nothing left to test.
    If I sound confused, i am, sorry… but from what I have read on the Internet, I’m not alone :-)
    (I havent yet checked the gentian violet)

  8. Avatar Lucy's Grandmother says:

    …. John
    I didnt have any black paper or any idea how to get an ear mite on it if I did; so I had a brainwave (for me anyway)… I had a piece of thin black material from last time I got new eyeglasses, so wipe inside Lucy’s ear with it … there were just two white specks on but didn’t see any legs! Could have been cookie crumbes for all I know.
    Anyway, you are right about the prescription ointment – the whole area of hair around her ear is yukky and greasy yet I don’t want to wash that area with soap and water, considering we are told to keep the ear dry.
    I just wish there was a simpler solution (for ME) to know if its: a – mites; b – wax; c – mites and wax; d – infection of some type… honestly, I think I understand what i read, then read another site and get confused
    Anyway, the next time I will take a photo of insider her ear and also go to vet and maybe I will understand. It’s strange as this is our first dog in 30 yrs, but I remember having a dog when I was a child and I don’t remember my parents even looking in Sparky’s ears!
    And those days, we just opened the back door and off went the dog for a few hours … as did many dogs then (in the fifties) :-)
    I digress; lots of good info on here … one day the penny will drop for me

  9. Avatar Mary Ferris says:

    2 year old yellow lab keeps shaking her head and scratching left ear. It looks a little red but I can’t see anything. Is there a home remedy I can try before spending money for a vet? Is it ok to try olive oil or alcohol squeezed in ear with a cotton ball?

  10. Avatar Kelly says:

    I have a older larger dog with a problem. On and off for years he has had an infection in one ear which started with mites. Now is crusty and very sore, Shakes head, scratches and cries. Problem is he is very protective, always has been since he was a pup. You can’t trim his nails, clean his teeth, or go near his ears. Even wiping his feet off is traumatic. He gets so upset at times that he hyperventilates – and runs. Before Christmas I gave him antibiotics for a week which cleared up a secondary skin infection, now it is back to just the ear. For the first time in 12 years he actually bit me last week when I was trying to put drops in his ear. Now all I have to do is look at him and he runs. What can I do?

    • Avatar Marko says:

      Hi Kelly, you wrote – Now is crusty and very sore, Shakes head, scratches and cries

      If I’m reading this correctly and this is the beahviour he is exhibiting now, then I’d bet a lot of cash that your dog STILL has ear mites – as these are classic symptoms.
      Vet time for SURE asap!
      Good luck!

  11. Avatar Kat89 says:

    Um I have a question I have a 5 year old yellow lab he had smear infection since he was a pup which I took him to the vet and spend like 500 on all he’s treatments well I left for a year left my baby with a family member and he wasn’t well taken care of he has a big ear infection again he’s ear is all closed up nf he keeps shaking he’s head and scratching both ears is their anything home remedy I can do bc right now am under budget big time..

    • Avatar Marko says:

      Dog ear infections just like human ear infections are painful and require antibiotics prescribed by a vet….please stop searching right now and take your poor dog to a doctor.
      Or the dog could have ear mites as the symptoms u describe fit that as well….though i am not a vet.
      Both treatments aren’t that expensive. Please borrow some cash to see a vet to spare your pet from additional pain and aggravating the situation further. Infections spread, mites multiply….
      Good luck.

  12. Avatar franks mom says:

    Hi I have an abandoned pit mix that is only a couple weeks old. We have been bottle feeding him, not cow milk, and when we found him his whole neck, behind his ears was swollen but in the past two days his left side has subsided but not his right. It is almost like a knot behind his ear and around his jaw. It doesn’t seem to be causing him any pain and he doesn’t scratch his ears but we can’t know for sure until we take him to a vet because he is so young. Just any advice or clue what it might be? Thank you

  13. Avatar ashley says:

    I have a 10 yr old chihuahua. He is big for the breed. He has such a severe ear infection that both of his ears are completely swollen shut. He is in a lot of pain, but still eats okay. I have decided to have him put to sleep but I am having an EXTREMELY hard time with my decision. I feel very guilty because if I had knew in the beginning that he had an ear iinfection I would have got it treated but I didnt know until it was too late and now the only thing left is surgery that I cant afford and that seems to take a very skilled vet to do. He has been my best friend for over 10 yrs and I am not ready to tell him goodbye but I dont want to keep him in pain either. I am also feeling guilty because every now and then he will have a good day, but his bad days far outweigh his good now. I have made him an appointment for this tuesday to be put to sleep. Can you tell me if I am doing the right thing?? I am very heartbroken over this. Im scared. I cant eat or sleep. All I keep thinking about is taking him for his last car ride to the vet and I dont know where to find the strength to do this for him. I have never been so terribly sad. Please help me decide what to do. I look into his eyes and he doesnt look very happy anymore…

  14. Avatar Lucy's Mum says:

    I feel for you Ashley – when you say your pal’s bad days are more than the good days, it makes me wonder what he still had to endure, if you do find the $$ to have him operated on etc. I read somewhere a pet owner had made a decision that when her pet could no longer do three of the things he “enjoyed” in his life, she would make the final decision.
    I dont know if it is the same in UK now… but when I was growing up we had a dog and not much money but people gave money to the RSPCA and it was used to provide free vet fees to those like us who wanted a pet but had not much money.
    Those days the RSPCA was not there for all the types of vet visits like I make now, but for injuries and bad illnesses you describe, their services were free.
    I am retired and my husband is still working yet I am amazed at what it costs these days for a dog.
    Adding up the costs of vet bills and special foods, it’s a large sum. I am sure there are many pet owners who cannot afford vet bills…. but isn’t that why we donate to the Humane Society etc?
    Why isn’t there an agency which provides free vet services to those who cannot (legitimately) afford a dog, but would love one (or a cat) as a family member. There are so many dogs up for adoption but a lifetime of vet bills must play a part in the decision not to get a dog in the first place?

    I’ll be thinking of you tomorrow Ashley….

  15. Avatar robin says:

    Hi all, My japanese chin louie, was diagnosed with an ear canal yeast infection. While he was under for his teeth cleaning, the vet discovered that he has a puntured ear drum. The medication that was prescribed was mometamax and their website specifically states to NOT use this medication if the eardrum is not intact. Any suggestions? I appreciate your forum, you all are nice people. If you ever need my advise on wild animal rehab/care, just ask.

  16. Avatar Lucy's Mum says:

    Hi…Robin, how did your pet’s eardrum get punctured in the first place I am wondering?
    I am still at a loss with Lucy – had her 2.5 years now and when she has an ear problem I don’t know whether to treat it at home or go to Vets. I can find the $ for the Vet but they give such strong medication, whereas if I can treat with a home remedy, I would feel better.
    Off opinion I know, but has a bright red small lump on her vulva – vet recommended Topagen with Syntec but Lucy just licks it off etc. It has been 5 weeks – I used polysporin, zinc etc. for 2 weeks and now nothing for two weeks its no bigger or smaller….
    I love my dog and am happy to have her but I find I get really stressed when something is wrong with her – I read the bad effects some of these medications have and really would prefer not to use them unless absolutely necessary…..
    Good luck Robin…..

    • Avatar robin says:

      lucysmom, louie came from an amish puppy mill, he was a breeder. They kept him in a rabbit cage, lord knows what else happened to him in there. Japanese chins get little bursts of energy and will tear off only to slide out of control into a wall. It could have happened when they fostered him, he is fearful of kids. as for the red bump, leave it alone, just keep an eye on it, if it becomes an open sore or starts to ooze, then address it. What kind of dog is she? I recommend that you use a solution of 1/4 white vinegar 3/4 distilled water for ear cleaning. I am a wildlife rehabber and not really familiar with some of the new meds, but im sure that they have warning labels not unlike the scary commercials for human meds, that we see on tv. good luck dear.

  17. Avatar Lucy's Mum says:

    Thanks for the help. To tell the truth I dont swish out Lucy’s ears often – I still cant get over the fact that they tell us not to get water in our dogs’ ears when we bath them and not to get water in their ears swimming etc., then say to put water/plus in :-(
    But, I will do it with the water/vingegar once a week after she gets over this – inside her ear is quite red… so off to the vet in 2 days.
    Yes, will keep an eye on that red spot on her “peepee” – it has not changed no matter what I have used – prescirbed, or not, and its the same. Groomer said sometimes they just get a spot like that, or a moke, or whatever.Its like having a child – if you take it to the Dr., there’s nothing wrong, but if you don’t take it to the Dr., turns out you should have :-)
    Ah, that’s a sad story about your dog…. I wish I was younger and in better health and then i would get another dog, but Lucy’s all I can manage right now.

  18. Avatar vyrlee says:

    our 11 month shih tzu had surgery for eye lashes growing into eye causing a ulcer
    did surgery weatherd very well, but the tips of both ears got infected and dried up and could
    pull off tip of ear= what could be the cause of this? she wore a soft cone for 2 weeks
    the specialist who did the surgery was fantastic and very well pleased, but now worried about
    the tips of both ears that were able to pull off. thanks

  19. Avatar Lucy's Mum says:

    OMB I hope someone in the know answers this soon…. I’ve never heard of this before – almost sounds like tips of ears got frozen ?? If this happened due to the visit to the vet, what is his/her explanation I wonder?

  20. Avatar Cujo's mommy says:

    hello we just adopted our 8 month pit bull out of an abusive situation and I think he has a yeast ear infection I know someone that works in a vet office told me it is a yeast ear infection. I don’t have the money this week to take him to the vet. Is there anything I can do until I can get him to the vert next week? Please help I feel aweful for my pup and I didn’t want him being hit or punched anymore and im worried he’s in pain from this ear infection. Thank u

    • Avatar Marko says:

      Impossible to give advice on what something might be. I’d borrow the cash or ask the vet if he/she could take payments – ear infections are indeed painful.
      Good luck!

  21. Our little guy is having ear problems again, yeast, we’re using epi-otic cleaner & easotic to treat him
    I have ordered epi-otic over the internet coming soon. Will have to return to our vet to get a new supply
    of easotic. My question is could the product Dexoryl antibacterial work as well as easotic made by the
    same company Virbac.
    Please advise

    Thank you, M Sawyer

  22. Avatar Lucy says:

    …. I wish they had in Ontario/Canada “free” animal clinics. A lot, a LOT, of money is donated and bequested to humane societies – surely someone on limited income could get some free vet services? I know they have Harley (or something) at my vets – but low income doesn’t qualify – owner has to be on disability pensions etc. I do not mind donating towards vet care for someone who wants a pet but cannot afford the bills.
    One of my concerns with my dog was whether or not the bits of black in her ears was blood… and I found a solution. I use urine test strips and one of the parts of the stick shows blood. So I get a clean container and put some of the debris from her ear in with some boiled cooled water and test it. If it shows blood – off to the vet, if it doesn’t, just a cleaning. This might sound strange, but seems to be working for me.
    p.s. I just had a $650.00 vet bill to pay after she had been vomiting for a few days and I saw bits of blood in vomit. So even though my spouse is working and I am on OAS, it’s still a big chunk of change. It is becoming very expensive to own a pet.

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