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Ear infections in dogs

Most of us know how painful earaches can be. Bad news – your pooch can suffer from them too, and dogs with sore ears can feel very sorry for themselves. A dog scratching their ear and whining could be a sign of a painful ear infection.

This guide will talk you through dog ear irritation, the symptoms of an ear infection and how to treat them so you can help your best friend feel better.

What is an ear infection?

An ear infection is usually an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria in the ear canal. This overgrowth could be the result of ear mites, a skin condition or an infection. If you suspect that your dog has an ear infection, you should contact your vet as soon as you can to speed up their recovery.

Dog ear infection symptoms

Dog ear infections can be painful – just like human ones. If you notice any changes in their behaviour, or discomfort around their ears, this could be a sign of dog ear irritation.

Dog ear infection symptoms include:

  • Scratching ears
  • Face rubbing 
  • Rash inside ear 
  • Shaking head and ears
  • Smelly discharge, pus may be present
  • Odour
  • Rubbing face into the ground 
  • Crusting, scabs or sores in your dog’s ears
  • Pain
  • Swelling in the ear flap

Inner ear infections in dogs can cause:

  • Nausea
  • Loss of balance and falling
  • Vomiting
  • Head tilting
  • Abnormal eye movements 
  • Circling
  • Partial deafness

What causes ear infections in dogs?

Dogs can catch ear infections in different ways. Sometimes ear irritations in dogs are hereditary and breed-related, though environmental factors can increase their chances.

Skin infections and allergies

Ear infections can be a secondary symptom of allergies. These allergies are often caused by dust mites, pollen, mould, and some animal proteins found in dog food.

Growths and tumours

Ear growths and tumours can cause similar symptoms to ear infections. These include:

  • Head tilting
  • Circling
  • Loss of balance 
  • Rolling
  • Rapid eye movements
  • Loss of hearing

Objects stuck inside the ear canal

One of the most common objects that can get stuck in a dog’s ear are grass seeds. These can pierce the skin and get lodged in their ears while they’re playing on grass. You might be able to spot them around their ears. Otherwise, you might notice some inflammation and your dog scratching and shaking their head.

Parasites and ear mites

Ear mites are a common cause of ear irritation in dogs. If your dog has mites, you may notice them shaking their head or excessively scratching. You may also see brown wax and brown particles (that look like coffee) inside their ears.

Shape of the ear

The shape of a dog’s ear can have an impact on how likely they are to contract an ear infection. Breeds with long, floppy ears are more at risk of developing an infection than dogs with upright ears. Dogs that have small ear canals, or excess hair in the canal, are also more likely to get infections. Likewise, breeds with overactive wax glands are at a higher risk of getting an infection.

How to treat dog ear infections

To treat an ear infection, your vet may want to see your dog first and will likely need to look at a sample of the infected ear’s discharge. They may then recommend:

Ear drops

Ear drops could help your furry friend get on the mend. You may be told to apply medicated eardrops containing antibiotics, antifungals or anti-inflammatories depending on the issue.

Ear cleaning

It’s important to keep the inside of your dog’s ears clean while they get better. You shouldn’t use cotton buds – your vet will advise on what to use and how to clean them.


If your dog has a bad infection, you made need to give them antibiotics to help get rid of it. If they’re in lots of pain, your vet may advise you give them steroids or other anti-inflammatories to reduce inflammation and help with pain relief.

Breeds most prone to ear infections

While all dogs can have irritated ears, some breeds are more prone to getting infections. These include:

Dogs that are swimmers and like to go in water a lot are also likely to develop an ear infection. These include:

Why does my dog keep getting ear infections?

Dogs are prone to ear infections as their ear canals are mostly vertical. This makes it easy for things like dirt, moisture, and debris to get trapped inside and lead to infection.

The most common cause of ear infections in dogs is allergies. If your dog seems to be getting ear infections during certain seasons, this could be due to seasonal allergies.

Some dogs with a long coat can be more prone to ear problems due to overgrown fur in their ears. Keeping long fur in check is a way to prevent dog ear infections.

Does pet insurance cover dog ear infections?

Many pet insurance providers will cover dog ear infections, as long as it’s not a pre-existing or chronic condition. Please see Sainsbury’s Bank dog insurance policy document for more information. Pet insurance provided by Pinnacle Insurance plc.

Frequently asked questions 

Can I treat my dogs ear infection at home?

Before trying any home remedies, you should speak to your vet first. The last thing you want to do is to worsen your dog’s outer, middle or inner ear infection symptoms.

Can a dog ear infection go away by itself?

In most cases, an ear infection will not go away on its own. It’s important to seek advice from your vet to prevent the infection.

How do you check a dog for an ear infection?

To see if your dog has an ear infection, they may be displaying symptoms like scratching their ears, rubbing their face on the ground, shaking their head, or you may notice a rash or smelly discharge.


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