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Ear infection in dogs

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This week we discuss ear infection in dogs:

If you see your dogs scratching or rubbing their ears frequently, and accompanied by head shaking or head tilt, they might have ear infections. Some other symptoms include:

  • Odor from the ear
  • Yellow or brown discharge
  • Crusts on the inside of the outer ear
  • Swelling and redness
  • Hearing loss

In some severe cases when the infection has reached the middle ear, you may notice loss of balance in your dogs that can cause them walking in circles. Nystagmus (unusual eye movements) may also be noticed in this case.


Ear infection in dogs are commonly caused by bacteria and yeast, though ear mites are a common cause in puppies. Less common causes are allergies and hormonal imbalance (e.g hypothyroidism).

Dogs with floppy ears have a higher chance of getting ear infections. The same applies to dogs with excessive hair growth in the ear canal or on the inside of the outer ear. This is because the ear canal will be more moist than those with erect outer ears, and this moisture fosters the growth of microorganisms that can lead to ear infections. The shape of dog’s ear canal is almost vertical, so it is easy for debris, moisture, and wax to be retained in the canal.

To diagnose the cause of your dog’s ear infection, your veterinarian will check the ear canal and ear drum of your dog with an otoscope (similar to magnifying glass) and take a sample of ear discharge to be checked under a microscope to identify what microorganisms are present. In some painful cases, sedation may be required.


The first step to treating ear infection is a professional cleaning. An effective way to clean the ear canal is by filling the canal with a special cleaning solution, then gently massage the ear base. A cotton ball may be put in the ear canal opening to absorb excess solution and hold onto the the debris that comes up. Please do not use Q tip as this will push the debris further down in the canal. If the ear canal is very dirty with a lot of discharge, the cleaning process can be repeated a few times as your dog tolerates it until the cotton ball comes up fairly clean. Now let the ear canal dry before applying topical medication that your veterinarian prescribes. In special cases, oral medication may be prescribed but in common cases, cleaning and topical medication at home are enough. Please note that it is common for some dogs to have recurrent ear infections.


Make sure to check your dog’s ears regularly for abnormal discharge, odor, redness, and swelling. If your dog has excessive hair growth in the outer ear canal, they should be removed regularly. Your veterinarian can show the proper technique to remove the hair, or this can be done by a groomer.

Routine cleaning with the method mentioned above can prevent debris and wax build-up in the ear canal. This will also reduce the frequency of recurrent ear infections. Depending on your dog condition and activities, your veterinarian can make recommendations on how frequently the cleaning should be done.


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