Ear Infections in Dogs

Dogs are quite often affected by ear infections and in some cases they can be difficult to treat – requiring a cooperative dog (for ear drops) and a diligent owner.
Most ear problems occur in the ear canal which is really just an extension of the skin down into a relatively narrow dead-end pipe with a bend in it.  Little wonder really that it’s a fairly common site of problems.
Ear infections occur when bugs (bacteria and yeasts) 
multiply out of control in the ear canal.  Signs may include 
  • scratching ears
  • head shaking
  • head held tilted to one side
  • pain when ears touched
  • smelly ears
  • waxy or pussy discharge

So why do some dogs get ear infections?

Most of the bugs causing ear infections are normal residents of the skin (free-loading lodgers if you like!), so something happens in the ear which tilts the balance allowing them to multiply from relatively small numbers to large numbers.
Dogs with narrow ear canals (eg Shar Peis) or big floppy ears (eg Cocker Spaniels) or hairy ear canals (eg Poodles) are prone to ear infections.  The ears don’t ‘breathe’ as well, wax gets trapped, the ears get warm and moist – bugs love it!
Dogs that are in the water a lot may be at risk if water remains in the ear(s).
Dogs with various skin conditions, in particular allergies, are also susceptible. Remember the lining of the ear canal is an extension of the skin, so anything that upsets the balance of the skin can affect the ears as well.  In fact, skin allergies account for a significant portion of the ear problems we see.  The allergy alone can cause severe irritable itching due to inflammation in the ear. The inflamed skin is more susceptible to bacterial infection.


In the first instance ear drops are used to clear the infection.  Sometimes antibiotic tablets and/or anti-inflammatories may be used depending on the severity.  Often, especially if the problem has been present for a long time, the course of treatment may have to be for a long period with several follow-up checks.  If your dog is being treated for an infection DO see out the full course of treatment and come back for check ups.  A 90% better ear isn’t enough.
To help prevent recurrence various measures such as hair plucking and regular ear washes may be recommended.  It is important to remember that dogs susceptible to ear infections may have flare ups from time to time. 100% prevention is not always possible, eg a dog that is allergic to pollen would need to emigrate to the moon to avoid them altogether – the important thing is to recognise the signs early and treat it early.  A final point – not all ear problems are infections – it may be something like a grass seed or a tumour in the ear, so it’s important to always get a vet to check them.