Ear infections are a common canine health problem. The ears are an extremely sensitive part in dogs and, as such, they are very susceptible to infection. It is therefore important to establish a diagnosis as soon as possible and get to the root of the cause of your dog's ear infection. Ear infections in dogs can have serious consequences, such as permanent hearing loss. A poor diet can also contribute to causing ear infections in dogs. To protect your pooch from the risks associated with ear infections, learn how to spot the clinical signs and symptoms in order to quickly implement treatment.

What is an Ear Infection?

An ear infection is a painful inflammation of the ear, and more specifically of the ear canal, which can affect both humans and our furry friends. There are several types of ear infection, depending on the location and the cause. The term “ear infection” can refer to various disorders related to the ear. Be aware that ear infections in dogs can occur in both ears.

Otitis Externa (Outer Ear Infection) in Dogs

This is the most common ear infection seen in dogs. It constitutes about 10% of veterinary consultations related to dogs. Otitis externa is an inflammation of the external ear canal and eardrum.

The Symptoms of Otitis Externa

These are some of the clinical signs that you may observe in a dog suffering from otitis externa:

  • Itchy ears

  • Your dog scratching or even shaking their ear

  • Painful to touch

  • Bad smell coming from the ear

  • Redness

The Causes of Otitis Externa

There are multiple potential causes of otitis externa in dogs, including but not limited to:

  • Hair in the ears: this is often the case with Poodles or Bichon dog breeds, for example

  • Narrow ear canal (in a Shar-pei or Pug, for example)

  • Floppy ears

  • Swimming

  • Parasites (ear mites)

  • Allergies

  • Foreign body

  • Tumour

  • Bacteria/fungus


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Otitis Media (Middle Ear Infection) in Dogs

Though less frequent, this is still present in 20% of acute otitis externa cases and 80% of chronic otitis cases.

The Symptoms of Otitis Media

Otitis media manifests itself in many different ways. The symptoms are often very similar to those of otitis externa, with the addition of the following:

  • Hearing loss

  • Persistent head tilting

  • Pain when opening the mouth

  • Dry eyes

The Causes of Otitis Media

Otitis externa is the main cause of otitis media. It is usually infectious (bacteria or yeast), but can also be caused by trauma, such as the intrusion of a foreign body into the ear canal (such as a spikelet), which punctures the eardrum and facilitates the development of otitis media. A tumour could also be the cause of an otitis media ear infection in your dog.

Otitis Interna (Inner Ear Infection) in Dogs

Otitis interna is much rarer in dogs and is usually accompanied by neurological symptoms.

The Symptoms of Otitis Interna

These are the clinical signs most frequently observed in cases of otitis interna:

  • Persistent head tilting

  • Turning in circles and rolling on the ground

  • Jerky eye movements (back and forth from left to right or in rotation)

  • Droopy eyelid

  • Hearing loss

Diagnosing Ear Infections in Dogs

If you notice one or more of these clinical signs, you will need to contact your veterinarian urgently. A licensed professional is the only one who can establish a reliable diagnosis and set up a treatment plan adapted to the type of ear infection from which your dog is suffering. Please note that otitis externa can quickly progress to otitis media or otitis interna.

If your dog has an external ear infection, your vet will perform a simple visual exploration of the external ear canal using an otoscope. This allows them to visualise any possible foreign body, as well as observe your dog's earwax and eardrum.

Your vet may also carry out a cytobacteriological examination by taking samples of the secretions from your dog's ear and analysing them for the presence of yeast or bacteria. For otitis media or otitis interna, the diagnosis will be more complex. Often, a radiological examination of the ear, a CT scan, or an MRI will be required.

Treating Ear Infections in Dogs

Treatment of an ear infection in your dog will depend, first and foremost, on its location and origin. In most cases, it will involve one or more of the following:

  • Gentle and meticulous cleaning of your dog's ear canal using a suitable solution prescribed by your vet. This can involve products such as colloidal silver or Thornit ear powder, which are easy to find and simple to use, to disinfect and sanitise the ear naturally.

  • Local treatments such as anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, antiparasitics, and/or antifungals.

  • If the ear infection is caused by an allergy: after identifying the allergy in question (food or environmental), your vet will aim to desensitise your dog and help you remove the allergen from their environment.

  • If there is a foreign body present: your vet will extract it using forceps, under sedation or local anaesthesia.

  • In the case of a tumour, your vet will usually advise surgery to remove the tumour.

  • Ear drops should only be used in cases of otitis externa. If your dog has a pierced eardrum, ear drops can be dangerous, so your vet will prescribe oral antibiotic treatment instead. If your dog's ear infection recurs, you may need to set up regular check-ups with your veterinarian. Your dog's diet could also be part of the problem.

What Should I Feed a Dog Who is Prone to Chronic Ear Infections?

Poor diet is often one of the causes of recurrent bilateral otitis. This can be the case if your dog's diet is not adapted to their needs. An ear infection can also be a symptom of a food allergy.

If your dog suffers from chronic ear infections, try switching them to a high-quality diet, rich in Omega-3, with a simple, digestible composition. To avoid the risks associated with food allergies or sensitivity, we recommend you choose a single source of animal protein that your dog has never or rarely encountered, such as high-quality “grain-free” or “low grain” kibble made with fish, lamb, or pork. You can also offer your pooch high-quality wet food to limit the quantity of kibble ingested: less kibble means less risk of allergies caused by “storage mites” that can nest in the packaging.

Store your dog's dry food in a cool, dry place, away from the light, in its original packaging, and, if possible, consume within 3 weeks of opening, or store in the freezer to preserve for longer. These simple recommendations can go a long way towards preventing the development of microorganisms which can cause ear infections in dogs.

Finally, give your dog an Omega-3 supplement, such as fish oil, to help improve and maintain a healthy coat and skin. You can also offer your pooch a Brewer's yeast and zinc supplement which contains a high dose of zinc and group B vitamins. If the symptoms persist, it may be necessary to transition your dog to a comprehensive diet composed entirely of wet food or, even better, BARF or homemade dog food.


By the Hector Kitchen medical and scientific team


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