We all know that children tend to get ear infections pretty regularly, but the same is true for dogs.
The shape of their ear canals means they are more prone to developing ear infections than humans, and if they have long floppy ears that cover and close their ear canals, they are even more prone to the issue.
If you have a dog that suffers with regular ear infections, you might not want to take them to the vet every time.
Our black Lab, Stetson (floppy ear) and yellow Lab, Derby both suffered from ear infections and we had to make regular visits to the vet. Yep, ear infections are definitely a Lab thing.
Can you treat your dog’s ear infection at home?
The answer is yes, provided it is a mild ear infection that only affects that outer ear.
However, if it has migrated to the middle or inner ear, it is best to go to your vet, since these can result in major health complications.
In this article, I will take a closer look at canine ear infections, specifically what causes them, the different types of ear infections, and the symptoms to look out for to identify a canine ear infection.
I will then go over how to treat a mild infection of your dog’s outer ear at home, as well as what to expect if you need to take your dog to the vet for a more serious ear infection.
Why Do Dogs Get Ear Infections?
Ear infections in dogs are not dissimilar from ear infections in humans, except that they tend to happen much more frequently.
Why is that? Dogs have L-shaped ear canals that enter horizontally and then drop vertically. This makes it easy for fluid, bacteria, and ear mites to get trapped and cause infections.
While all dogs can and do get ear infections, dogs with long, floppy ears that cover their ear canals are more likely to get frequent ear infections.
Our two favorite breeds have floppy ears, Labs and Goldens have both suffered from ear infections.
When the ears cover the ear canals, they create a dark, moist space that bacteria loves!
There are a number of different specific causes of ear infections in dogs.
The first is bacteria, which can be picked up from a variety of places, including your dog’s natural skin microbiome.
But if they get caught in the ear canal and are allowed to grow in that dark, moist space, the bacteria can get out of control and result in an infection.
Allergies are also a common cause of repeated ear infections in dogs, as these irritate the skin and make it more likely that bacteria will end up where it shouldn’t and have the opportunity to grow.
Stetson had allergies and we knew this. However, we did not know this was the main cause of his ear infections. Once we solved his allergy issues his ear infections went away.
FYI, Stetson’s allergies were environmental. We didn’t know this until we moved from our condo on the golf course to a house with a large backyard. We suspect the chemicals applied to the grass in our community may have been the culprit.
Additionally, ear mites, which are a parasite that is passed between dogs, can also cause infections as they enter the ear canal where they bite and irritate the skin.
Types Of Canine Ear Infections
There are three types of canine ear infections, each of which is progressively more serious.
Otitis Externa – This is the most common form of ear infections in dogs and occurs in the outer portion of the ear around the entrance to the ear canal.
Otitis Media – As the name suggests, this is when an ear infection spreads from the outer ear to the middle part of the ear. This is almost always a secondary infection from Otitis Externa.
Otitis Interna – This is when an ear infection progresses and affects the inner ear. This type of ear infection can be very serious. If not treated, it can result in hearing loss, facial paralysis, and neurological damage.
Symptoms Of Ear Infections In Dogs
How do you know when your dog has developed an ear infection? After all, it’s not like they can tell you. Fortunately, there are some telltale signs to keep an eye out for.
If your dog is feeling discomfort in their ears, you will notice them scratching and itching the area.
They will probably also shake their head frequently in a way that seems unusual to try and dislodge whatever they imagine is irritating their ear.
If you notice these symptoms, you should take a closer look at your dog’s ears.
If they have an ear infection, you will notice redness and swelling around the ear canal, scabs or crusted skin in the area, and an unusual odor or discharge coming from the ear.
Can I Treat My Dog’s Ear Infection Without A Vet?
The answer to this question depends largely on the severity of your dog’s ear infection.
If they have an infection of the outer ear and you have caught it early, then you can certainly treat your dog’s ear infection at home without the need to visit the vet.
But if the infection has already spread to the middle or inner ear, then your vet will be better able to treat the condition and avoid complications.
How do you know if your dog’s ear infection is mild or severe?
The main things to consider are how long they have been showing symptoms and how inflamed the ear canal appears.
If you have a dog with floppy ears who regularly picks up infections, you will probably get a good feel for their severity before too long.
How To Treat A Mild Canine Ear Infection At Home
If your dog has a mild ear infection of the outer ear, then you can probably treat them effectively at home.
First, thoroughly but gently clean your dog’s ears. Remember that they will be feeling sensitive!
Carefully remove any debris, discharge, and ear wax. Avoid using cotton balls, as these can leave behind debris that can exacerbate infections.
Also, don’t dig too deep into the ear canal, as this can inadvertently damage your dog’s ear drums.
If there seems to be a lot of dirt deep in their ear canal, talk to your vet, as they can use a medicated solution to dislodge and remove the debris.
Once the ear is clean, you can apply a topical medication, many of which are available without a prescription. This should be applied as per the instructions, which may be daily for a period of seven days.
These treatments usually include anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-mite medications.
My recommendations for the best ear infections treatments you can buy online without a prescription are below.
Zymox Otic Dog & Cat Ear Infection Treatment
5 stars, 2,259 reviews
This solution can be used as both a cleanser and a treatment for mild ear infections. It contains active enzymes that have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.
The solution also contains hydrocortisone, which can provide relief from itching and inflammation.
Vetnique Labs Oticbliss Ear Flush Cleaner
4.9 stars, 75 reviews
This is a different type of solution that contains chlorhexidine and ketoconazole to fight bacteria, yeast, and fungus, all major culprits when it comes to ear infections.
As well as cleansing, this solution deodorizes using aloe vera leaf juice.
NaturPet Ear Drops Natural Remedy For Ear Infections
4 stars, 45 reviews
This is a natural remedy that proves effective with treating some types of ear infections. It contains olive oil, calendula, vitamin E, basil oil, aloe vera, and bergamot oil.
These are all natural ingredients that should not further irritate your dog’s skin and ears.
It usually takes about two weeks to complete treatment of an ear infection, but you should start to see a marked improvement in your dog’s condition within two to three days.
What If I Need To Go To The Vet?
If you don’t see an improvement in your dog’s ear condition after two to three days of treatment, or you can see that the infection seems to have spread to the inner or middle ear, then you should promptly take your dog to the vet.
Your vet will take a swab of the discharge escaping from your dog’s ears and examine it under a microscope to try to determine the specific cause of the infection and prescribe an appropriate medicated treatment.
As well as antifungals, the treatment will probably also contain antibiotics, and it can be topical or oral.
How To Prevent Ear Infections
Much like with children, sporadic ear infections can just be a fact of life with dogs, especially if they have long, floppy ears.
The best thing you can do to prevent your dog getting ear infections is to clean and monitor their ears regularly. It’s generally a good idea to do this weekly.
This lets you remove bacteria debris before it has a chance to grow into an infection, and you can catch infections early before they spread to the inner parts of the ear.
You should also be conscious of keeping your dog’s ears dry. Always dry them thoroughly after a swim or a bath. Read our puppy bathing guide here.
Cleaning your dog’s ears regularly? You can also cut their nails at the same time – read our guide.
FAQs About Dog Ear Infections
What happens if a dog’s ear infection goes untreated?
If a dog’s ear infection goes untreated, it can quickly spread from the outer ear to the middle ear and eventually the inner ear.
This is when things get dangerous, as the infection can affect the dog’s neurological system. In the most serious cases, it can even cause blindness, facial paralysis, severe pain, and loss of coordination.
Will dog ear infections go away on their own?
Ear infections in dogs will not go away on their own. Rather, the bacteria will multiply, and the infection will become more serious.
You can treat mild infections at home if you catch them early with over-the-counter antifungal ear treatments, but more serious infections will need veterinary attention.
How do you tell if a dog has an infected ear?
You will know when your dog has an ear infection, as they will show signs of discomfort around the ears, especially itching and scratching.
They will also shake their head a lot to try and dislodge the discomfort. On closer examination, you will also notice redness or scabbing, and ear infections often have an unpleasant discharge and smell.
How long does it take an ear infection to go away in a dog?
Ear infections in dogs will not go away on their own, but with proper treatment, they can be resolved within about two weeks.
You will likely notice a marked improvement in their condition within two to three days, but you should complete the full two-week treatment to prevent the infection from returning.
Are there foods that cause ear infections in dogs?
Excessive sugar can increase your dog’s likelihood of developing an ear infection because it can destabilize the natural microbiome of your dog’s skin, making it more likely for infection yeasts to spread.
If they make their way into the ear canal, this is the perfect dark and damp space for them to thrive and multiply.
What dogs are most prone to ear infections?
Dogs with long, floppy ears that cover the ear canal are most prone to ear infections.
These include basset hounds, Chinese Shar Pei, Labradoodles, beagles, and golden retrievers.
Managing Canine Ear Infections
If you have a dog with long floppy ears that is prone to ear infections, you will probably want to treat them at home as soon as you notice the first symptoms.
There are many over-the-counter ear infections treatments that can be used to clean your dog’s ear and treat the infection topically.
Look for the following symptoms of ear infections:
- Head shaking
- Itching around the head and ears
- Redness around or in the ears
- Scabbing or crusty-looking skin around the ear canal
- Discharge coming from the ears, often with an unpleasant odor
If this sounds like your dog, the best thing you can do is clean and check your dog’s ears regularly to pick up on and treat infections early.
You should also be sure to dry their ears thoroughly after baths and swims.
If your dog develops a more serious infection of the middle or inner ear, don’t waste time trying to treat it yourself and head straight to the vet.
If not properly treated, these infections can attack the neurological system and have much more serious consequences for your canine buddy.