What Are the Signs of a Dog Ear Infection?

There are many different causes of ear infections, and they are not always the same, even if your pet has had an ear infection before. However, many dog owners have learned to recognize the signs of an ear infection: whining, scratching, and head shaking are often the first symptoms of the problem.

Ear infections are common conditions in dogs, especially those with floppy ears, such as Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels. An estimated 20% of dogs have some form of ear disease, which may affect one or both ears. Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce the length and severity of these episodes for your dog.

Today's article will focus on the multiple facets of caring for your dog's ears: the anatomy of the canine ear, causes of dog ear infections, signs of a dog ear infection, and what to do when a dog ear infection occurs. By the end of today's article, you will have all the knowledge necessary to identify, prevent, and combat dog ear infections!

The Anatomy of Your Dog's Ear

The canine ear anatomy includes three main components: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear.

The outer ear includes several tissues, out of which the most important is the pinna (i.e., the visible part of the ear). The pinna is made of cartilage covered with dermal tissue; its shape allows the dog to direct soundwaves to the eardrum via the ear canal. The fascinating trait of the pinnae is that they can move independently of each other. The breed determines the size and shape of the outer ear.

The middle ear is composed of the eardrum and three small bones located in a small, air-filled chamber: the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup. The middle ear also contains a tiny tube connecting the ear with the nose, thus allowing for air to reach the ear.

The middle and outer ears are connected through the ear canal. With its L-shape and depth, the ear canal allows the dog a sense of hearing four times more acute than ours. Therefore, our dogs detect more sounds and at a higher frequency than us.

With its cochlea(i.e., the organ responsible for hearing) and vestibular system (i.e., the organ responsible for balance), the inner ear connects the auditory apparatus to the brain, transmitting information through thousands of nerve endings.

Breeds Predisposed to Ear Infections

Whether it's because they have big, floppy, hairy ears or they love playing in bacteria-ridden environments, some canine breeds are more susceptible to ear infections than others:

  • Labrador Retrievers show an innate propensity toward the water, which is why they won't miss an opportunity to make a literal splash. However, natural water sources also bring the risk of contracting bacteria and viruses with the potential of onsetting an ear infection.
  • Cocker Spaniels present a higher risk of dog ear infections due to their characteristic floppy ears.
  • Pitbulls are prone to allergy-related ear infections.
  • Due to their abnormally narrow ear canals and the absence of cell migration and wax movement inside the ear canal, French Bulldogs present a wet and warm environment for bacteria, fungi, yeasts, and viruses to thrive and cause ear infections. Be sure to check out the following article on keeping your French Bulldog's ears clean and healthy.
  • Poodles, with their easily-recognizable hairy ears, sit at a crossroads: their hair ears can prevent foreign invaders while at the same time serve as a haven for harmful bacteria.
  • With their narrow ear canals, Shar-Peis are predisposed to ear infections the like of hyperplastic otitis (i.e., manifested through the proliferation or thickening of ear canal epithelium).

Types of Dog Ear Infections

The three main culprits behind your dog's ear infections are otitis externa, otitis media, and otitis interna.

  • Otitis externais the most reported type of dog ear infection by veterinarians. The disease manifests itself in the cells that coat the external ear canal, causing inflammation. Symptoms such as odorous discharge, swelling, and redness point towards otitis externa.
  • Otitis media often represent an expansion of otitis externa to the middle part of the ear or a symptom of a foreign object penetrating the eardrum. The otitis media symptoms, such as discharge and head shaking, are shared with otitis externa.
  • Otitis interna is the most severe form of ear infection. As it spreads over the inner ear tissues, such as the cochlea and the vestibular system, the inflammation will cause behavioral symptoms the like of head tilting, circling, leaning toward the affected ear, and spontaneous nystagmus. However, as the inflammation progresses even further, dogs are at serious risk of developing meningitis, meningoencephalitis, abscesses, and even facial paralysis. Be sure to bring your dog's ear infection to the attention of a vet before it can cause irreparable damage.

Dog Ear Infections Are Mainly Caused by Bacteria

The main culprit behind dog ear infections resides in foreign invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, yeasts, fungi, and ear mites, which attach themselves to the ear canal and cause inflammation and infections. Out of these foreign invaders, bacteria causes the highest number of dog ear infections. Research shows that Staphylococcus pseudintermediusand Pseudomonas aeruginosaare the main reasons behind otitis externa and otitis media. These bacteria cause infections mainly in the outer and middle ear canal, which, if left untreated, have the chance to travel down the ear canal and damage the remaining parts of the auditory apparatus. Other ways to contract dog ear infections reside in foreign objects stuck in the ear canal, ear canal tumors and inflammatory polyps, and trauma (external or self-inflicted).

Some additional causes may be adrenal gland or thyroid malfunction, gut dysbiosis, alkaline diet, body stress in high heat or humidity, misalignment of cervical and lumbar vertebrae, and not enough available amino acids in the diet.

Dog Ear Infection Symptoms

The symptoms of dog ear infections manifest themselves in several areas that will affect your dog's health and well-being. First off, you will notice an unusual level of attention to the ear, which corresponds to your dog's attempts to relieve the pain. Next, as the infection progresses, you will notice a yellow, brown, or even bloody discharge from your dog's ear — the latter signifies an already-aggressive infection of the ear canal. Finally, behavioral symptoms point toward an infection of the inner ear canal and possibly irreversible damage to your dog's hearing and balance.

Early Symptoms of Dog Ear Infection

  • Scratching at the ear;
  • Pawing at the ear;
  • Head shaking;
  • Head tilting;
  • Rubbing the ear on different surfaces (e.g., the floor).

Signs of Progressing Dog Ear Infection

  • Redness inside the ear canal;
  • Swelling;
  • Odorous smell from the ear;
  • Yellow, brown, or bloody discharge.

Signs of Advanced Dog Ear Infection

  • Walking aimlessly;
  • Loss of balance and coordination;
  • Loss of hearing;
  • Spontaneous nystagmus.

Can Overcleaning My Dog's Ears Lead to an Ear Infection?

Considering the seriousness of dog ear infections, some dog parents might be tempted to clean their canine companions' ears as often as possible in order to prevent any medical issues. However, overcleaning your dog's ears can work against his well-being. The canine ear dermal tissue presents a balanced pH of about 4.6 to 7.2. The repeated contact between ear tissue and cleaning products will throw the ear pH off-balance and allow foreign invaders to cause infections.

Instead of subjecting your dog to regular, rigorous grooming schedules, all you have to do is take a makeup pad or a cotton ball and gently clean the outer ear yourself. We advise that you refrain from cleaning the areas of the auditory apparatus outside of your eyesight while, instead, allowing a professional to address them during grooming sessions.

We know that some dog parents might be tempted to employ Q-tips when cleaning their dogs' ears. However, due to the canine ear canal's L-shaped form, Q-tips do nothing but push the debris further down the ear canal, increasing the risk of infection in the inner ear canal. Furthermore, when used carelessly, Q-tips can go as far as perforating the eardrum and leaving signs of trauma inside the ear canal. As we mentioned earlier, leave the grooming of the ear canal to the care of professionals.

How to Help Your Dog with pH Management

Any rigorous ear cleaning schedule must take the dog's pH levels into account. As mentioned earlier, any pH level outside the 4.6 to 7.2 average encourages bacteria and viruses to invade the ear canal and cause infections. Luckily, you can easily prevent a pH imbalance by creating your very own ear cleaner at home! All you need is the right ingredients (1 cup of lukewarm water and 2 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide, apple cider (or white) vinegar, or plantain tincture), and you're set.

Not only will this ear cleaner remove debris from the auditory apparatus, but it will also deal with foreign invaders! The antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal properties of vinegar have already been documented, whereas plantains deliver proven antibiotic and anti-inflammatory benefits.

After mixing the ingredients, apply a few drops to the infected ear using a liquid dropper, then massage the area for 30 seconds to allow the cleaner to soak. Use a makeup pad or a cotton ball to gently remove the debris.

The Volhard Diet for Chronic Ear Infections

The breed, ear cleaning schedule, and environmental factors are not alone in determining your pooch's ear health. More often than not, your dog's diet will determine how the ear infection will progress (or regress). For example, if your dog has already been diagnosed with an ear infection, excess grain and sugar will only hinder his recovery efforts, as these ingredients feed the bacteria and yeasts that cause inflammation. Also, a protein and amino acid deficiency will make a dog more susceptible to ear infections.

What your dog needs is food that speaks to his special dietary needs during this time of recovery. If you're looking to transition your dog to a healthier diet, look no further than Volhard! With its grain-free composition, the Rescue Diet will help your pooch eliminate everything that feeds bacteria, viruses, and yeasts while combating inflammation. This natural, minimally processed diet serves as the basis for transitioning towards a healthier diet, one packed with all the nutrients and amino acids your canine friend needs for optimal health. Just six weeks and your dog's ear infection will recede, become manageable, and, hopefully, go away!

Transition plan from old food to Rescue (Source: Volhard Dog Nutrition)

Herbal Remedies for Dog Ear Infections

Numerous herbal remedies can help you and your pooch with keeping ear infections in check. The first of such herbal remedies is Calendula, an herb with proven antimicrobial properties that helps reduce inflammation and relieve pain. The easiest way to use Calendula is to purchase it in tincture form. Simply mix 5 to 10 drops of Calendula with lukewarm water, then use a makeup pad or cotton ball to apply the mix to the infected area.

Another effective herbal remedy for dog ear infections is Niaouli, an essential oil with strong antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Aside from repelling invaders such as ear mites with its strong fragrance, Niaouli oil can also be used to soothe bug bites. Don't hesitate to blend Niaouli oil with lavender or eucalyptus to boost its effects.

The third remedy we recommend for dog ear infections is Gentian violet, a powerful antiseptic that works wonders against bacteria and yeast infections. Gentian violet ( 16 drops of 1% Gentian violet solution) can be turned into a potent ear cleaning solution when mixed with isopropyl alcohol (16 ounces) and boric acid powder (4 tablespoons).

You may be surprised to see your dog's ears turning purple after applying Gentian violet. Fortunately, there's nothing to worry about, as purple ears are a harmless side effect of Gentian violet that will vanish shortly.

Homeopathic Remedies for Dog Ear Infections

Aside from herbal remedies, you can dive into homeopathic remedies that can enhance your pooch's ear cleaning schedule:

  • Pulsatilla is ideal for skin sensitivity, redness, and acute flare-ups accompanied by discharge.
  • Hepar Sulph can provide relief for inflammation in the shape of abscesses and infections in the skin, gums, ears, and anal glands.
  • Sulphuroften comes in handy for dogs with skin conditions and ear infections.
  • Phosphorus contains bloody discharges.
  • Silica helps the ears in their self-cleaning process.
  • Tellurium puts an end to odorous discharges from your dog's ears.

Para-Yeast

Para-Yeast has become a staple treatment for yeast overgrowth or parasitic infestations. As the canine ear's pH is thrown off-balance, or certain circumstances, such as surgery, vaccines, medication, and stress, affect his well-being, your dog becomes more prone to yeast and bacteria infections. Para-Yeast uses its antibacterial properties to keep foreign invaders in check and keep your dog's ears healthy. Para-Yeast can also be used for other medical issues, such as:

  • Eye irritations;
  • Swelling of eyelids or dry eye ;
  • Sore throats;
  • Respiratory difficulties;
  • Thyroid disease;
  • Swollen joints;
  • Ongoing skin rashes;
  • Hair loss or brittle nails.

A Parting Reminder

Ear infections make up most of the canine visits to the vet in the United States, and either because of breed predispositions or environmental factors and other circumstances, your dog is at risk for developing one, as well. Luckily, ear infections are easily managed, as long as you quickly detect them and put a recovery plan in place. We hope that today's article has helped you naturally approach your dog's ear infection. For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us and check out our blog!


To help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods, Volhard Dog Nutrition and its nutritionists are now offering online consultations! Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind. If you're interested in contacting one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to check out our consultation page!

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