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Does My Dog Have an Ear Infection?

Have you ever been hanging out with your dog, cuddling on the couch or playfully wrestling around when you smell something…funky?

Is it their breath? No.

Did they roll around in something stinky? No.

Did they pass gas? No.

You may then realize that your dog’s ears are the source of the odor. Uh-oh. your dog may have an ear infection.

Ear infections are some of the most common reasons that dogs go to the vet. An ear infection could be caused by anything from external irritants to allergies to even mites. Serious infections, if left untreated could cause deafness, facial paralysis, or even vestibular disease (inability to balance).

While you can and should have an ear care routine for your dog – especially if they go to the beach or go swimming a lot – you should definitely seek treatment from a veterinary professional if you suspect your dog has an ear infection, or any ear abnormalities.

A healthy dog’s ears should be relatively unremarkable: neutral smelling, no excessive buildup or discharge, pinkish on the inside, generally clean in appearance. If you notice odd smells or excretions from your dog’s ear, or they can’t seem to leave their ears alone, your dog might have an ear infection.

So let’s take a look at some of the common issues that can arise, and see what our dogs’ ears can tell us.


There are three types of ear infections in dogs: otitis externa, otitis media, and otitis interna – that is infections of the outer, middle, and inner ear. Infection and inflammation could begin in the outer part of a dog’s ear (the external areas) and if not properly treated could infect the middle and inner ear.

Dogs with droopy, floppy, or cropped ears are often more susceptible to ear infections. For this reason, it’s even more important that you not only implement a cleaning regimen for a dog with such ears, but also get familiar with what is normal for their ears.

There are a number of reasons why a dog might develop an ear infection, common causes include:

  • foreign bodies irritate the ear

  • excessive dirt inside the ear

  • over cleaning of the ears

  • allergies (food or environmental)

  • yeast or fungus

  • liquid inside the ears

  • illness

  • mites

Symptoms of an ear infection include:

  • foul-smelling discharge

  • pungent odor coming from the ears

  • dark-colored, yellow, or even bloody discharge

  • consistent scratching at the ears

  • itchy ears

  • scaly skin

  • excessive earwax

  • excessive head shaking

  • agitation, pawing at ears

  • swelling in and around the ears

  • redness inside the ears

  • sensitivity to touch

Additional symptoms in the case of ear mites:

  • black-brown crusty discharge that might resemble coffee grounds

  • bumps in the ear canal

If your dog has a middle or inner ear infection, they may be experiencing significant pain. Along with some of the symptoms above, they may also exhibit symptoms like:

  • whining

  • walking in circles

  • nausea/vomiting

  • unwillingness to open his or her mouth

We must reiterate how important it is for you to seek immediate veterinary treatment for your dog if you see any of the above symptoms. A mild ear infection can easily be treated with antibiotics and proper cleaning, and could clear up in a matter of weeks. If ignored or untreated it could escalate to a painful condition that could cause permanent damage or even become chronic. Do not try to cure an ear infection on your own.


When you take your dog to the vet they will probably ask you about your dog’s medical history, if they get ear infections often, what they eat, if they have any known allergies, and how often you clean their ears. Additionally, they may ask how often your dog goes swimming, bathes, or goes to the groomer. (Just like going swimming, it’s important to make sure your dog’s ears are properly dried after a bath or grooming.)

A vet will likely take samples of any discharge coming from the ears, they will examine the ear canal, test for other contributing issues like a thyroid problem, and any other tests or examinations that might be relevant.

To treat an ear infection your dog may be given antibiotics as well as medications to treat inflammation and pain. You may also be prescribed or recommended products in which to clean and dry your dog’s ears.

If your dog’s ear infection is related to ear mites, your vet will give you a parasite medication. Remember, that if one of your dogs has ear mites, all of your household animals must be treated. If you bring a stray dog into your home or your dog lives outdoors part of the time (something we do not recommend), you should definitely check for ear mites.


Some dogs need more ear cleaning than others.

Generally speaking, if a dog doesn’t have a history of ear infections and has generally clean and healthy ears, they may only need their ears gently cleaned once a month.

If your dog lives in a humid environment, or they go swimming or to the beach often, they may need ear cleanings more often. Every time your dog’s ears get wet, it’s important to take the time to clean and/or dry them.

There are many products on the market that that serve to clean and dry your dogs ears. (Feel free to ask us! We’d love to help you with your dog’s ear health.)

You may want to ask your vet what the best way to clean your dog’s ears is – especially if they have a history of ear infections.

Basic ear cleaning involves using a soft cloth or cotton ball soaked in cleaning solution to carefully clean the outside of your dog’s ear. A squirt bottle of cleaning solution can be used to flush out the ear canal (follow the directions on the product packaging). You may need to massage the base of the ear a bit to loosen buildup and distribute the solution. Some solutions recommend letting your dog shake their head to distribute or expel excess solution, or you can wipe up the drippings with a cloth.

It is not recommended that you insert anything into your dog’s ear canal – not Q-tips, not cotton balls. Not only could a Q-tip damage the inner ear, but it could also accidentally push wax or debris further into the ear, promoting an infection. Plus cotton balls or the cotton tip of a Q-tip could leave behind fibers inside the ear. If you must swab the inside of your dog’s ear, it is recommended that you use gauze.

And remember, while cleaning your dog’s ears is important, over cleaning them can do more harm than good. A healthy dog’s ear is actually pretty adept at staying healthy. Over cleaning can actually cause an ear infection.

It also shouldn’t be overlooked how important a good diet is to your dog’s ear health. An allergy or sensitivity to grain could promote a yeast infection in their body which could then become an ear infection. If your dog gets repeated ear infections, you may want to talk to your vet about altering their diet. We highly recommend eliminating or restricting grain in a dog’s diet if they are prone to yeast and/or ear infections. A low glycemic index food may also help.

If your dog gets an ear infection, don’t fret! It’s not fun for anybody, but if you know what to look for, you catch it early, and you get treatment, your dog will likely be just fine.

Wishing you all clean, comfortable ears!

~Your Loyal Calvin & Susie Blogger

Note: Always check with your vet before making any changes to your pet’s diet. The Calvin & Susie Blogger always researches to the best of her ability, but she is not a vet. This blog is not in any way meant to replace veterinary advice or care. When in doubt, always ask a vet.

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