Itching, whining, and headshaking are often recognized as strong indicators that your dog is experiencing an ear infection. As many as 20 percent of dogs have some form of ear disease that affects either one or both ears. However, self-diagnosing can be difficult given that there are several different types of ear infections that dogs may develop, all of which are approached differently when it comes to treatment. It is important to understand how to identify an ear infection in your dog so that you may be steered towards the correct preventative measures and treatment.

The 3 Types of Ear Infections in Dogs

·      Otitis Externa: This is the most common ear infection that occurs when there is an inflammation or infection of the external ear canal. This ear infection can be caused by an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast and is associated with the demonstration of more well-known symptoms.

o   Symptoms:
§ Head shaking
§ Scratching at the affected ear
§ Dark discharge
§ Odor
§ Redness and swelling of the ear
§ Crusting or scabs in the ears

·      Otitis Media: Occurs when an infection is spread from the external ear to the middle ear canal, just behind the eardrum. This is a more serious infection as there are some nerves closely associated with the middle ear that could be damaged and lead to neurological symptoms.

o   Symptoms:
§ Head tilt
§ Lack of balance
§ Back and forth eye movement (nystagmus)

 ·      Otitis Interna: Occurs when the infection has reached the inner ear canal. This can be the most dangerous ear infection because it can impair the vestibulocochlear nerve, resulting in hearing loss. In rare cases, these types of ear infections can spread from the inner ear to the brain, resulting in meningitis or abscesses.

o   Symptoms:
§ Head tilt
§ Leaning or falling toward the affected side
§ Lack of balance
§ Facial droop affecting the lips or ears
§ Hearing loss
§ Inability to walk 

Common Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs

A dog’s complex ear structure is the main reason why they are more susceptible to infection. Unlike the human ear canal that just goes straight, the dog’s ear canal has vertical and horizontal components, forming an L-shape. This means that debris needs to work its way upwards rather than outwards when exiting the ear. As a result, ear wax, skin oil, and other debris feed the normal active bacteria and fungi in the ear canal, causing infections. This is also why dogs with floppier ears, such as Beagles, Labradoodles, and Golden Retrievers, are more susceptible to ear infections as bacteria, debris, and yeast experience a harder time escaping. 

Other common causes of ear infections among dogs include allergic skin disease affecting the ears, ear mites, foreign material in the ear, hair growth, or masses/polyps deep in the ear canal. These issues encourage the accumulation of ear wax, causing a moist environment for bacterial growth, yeast proliferation, and pus development.   

To diagnose, your doctor will do ear cytology or culture to identify if the ear infection is yeast, bacterial, or both and how to best treat the specific infection.


·      The Simple Ear Infection: When an ear infection is caught early and affects the external ear canal, it may be cleared up by a professional cleaning. If your veterinarian identifies only mild debris present in the ear canals, they may disinfect and properly wash the ear. However, a full ear flush is more common in order to examine the eardrum properly. A sample of the ear discharge is taken before the flush and examined under a microscope to assist in selecting the proper medication. The majority of these uncomplicated ear infections resolve within 1-2 weeks of starting treatment. 

·      The Consistent Ear Infection: If your dog struggles with chronic ear infections, your veterinarian may culture the ear discharge so the cause can be specifically pinpointed and effectively treated. At-home disinfecting ear washes, daily medication application, and/or oral antibiotics will most likely be essential to the treatment plan. 

·      The Chronic, End-stage Ear Infection: Surgery may be recommended when an ear infection has reached the chronic stage and cannot be resolved through oral and topical medications. Depending on the state of the dog’s ear canal, your veterinarian will outline the proper next steps necessary to tackle the diseased tissue and prevent recurrence of infection.  

Suppose your dog is exhibiting any symptoms of an ear infection. In that case, it is extremely important to schedule an appointment with a veterinary professional so they can receive the proper examination and treatment plan. If you are located in the Delray Beach, Boca Raton, and Boynton Beach areas, you can always contact the team at West Delray Veterinary at 561-777-7173, email us at or visit our website at to schedule an appointment. 








Treatment for otitis externa in dogs. (2016). Veterinary Record, 178(11), 273–273. 

The VIN Dermatology Consultants. (2003, November 3). Otitis Externa Treatment in Dogs. VIN. Retrieved March 21, 2022, from 

Brooks, Wendy (2001, January 1). Ear Infections (Otitis) in Dogs. VIN. Retrieved March 21, 2022, from