dog with large ears parvo parvovirus

Ear problems in dogs

Ear problems or infections in dogs are common and they usually have an underlying cause. Causes include bacterial or fungal overgrowth, parasites such as ear mites, a skin allergy or they may be associated with regular swimming, which leads to trapped water within the ear canal.

Meet a vet online

✓ Included free as part of many pet insurance policies
✓ Help, treatment and if you need it, a referral to your local vet
✓ Open 24/7, 365 days a year

Symptoms of ear disease

  • Shaking their head
  • Scratching their ears
  • Rubbing their ears or face on furniture, the floor etc
  • Painful, hot, red or swollen ears
  • Vocalising when they scratch or when their ears are rubbed
  • Increasingly waxy ears
  • Smelly ears
  • Discharge from the ear canal
  • Scabs and crusting on the ears or on the face
  • A fluid-filled swelling within the ear flap (aural haematoma)
  • Deafness or reduced hearing

Causes of ear disease in dogs

  • Parasites: ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) can be common in puppies and can also spread to other animals in the household.
  • Allergic skin disease: dogs with skin issues often also have ear issues.
  • Wax: a build up of wax can create the perfect environment for bacteria and yeast to thrive in. This is often worse in narrow ear canals.
  • Trapped water after bathing or swimming.
  • Excessive cleaning or plucking of the ear canal
  • Foreign bodies: occasionally a grass seed, or a barley or wheat awn, can get lodged in the ear canal.
  • Ear shape: some dogs will be more prone to ear disease than others, such as breeds with ‘floppy’ ears or narrow ear canals.
  • Growths within the ear: occasionally non-cancerous (polyps) or cancerous masses grow in the ear canal.
  • Inner or middle ear infection, or vestibular disease: these often cause a head tilt and/or loss of balance.

How can you help your dog?

  • Regularly check your dog’s ears. Get them used to a daily check up. Here is our guide to doing a simple examination of your pet.
  • Use regular parasite treatment to try and prevent mites. Not all treatments are effective against mites, so please speak to one of the FirstVet vets or make an appointment with your vet to discuss the most appropriate treatment choice for your dog.
  • If your dog suffers from allergic skin disease, talk to your vet, or make an appointment with one of our vets, to see if there is anything else that you can do to help your dog at home.
  • Keep your dogs ears clean if they tend to suffer from a build-up of wax. Your vet can suggest suitable ear cleaners or make an appointment with a FirstVet vet to discuss this.
  • Cleaning your dog’s ears after swimming helps to remove water and debris from the ear canal. Speak to your vet or one of the FirstVet vets to discuss which cleaner is recommended.

Treatment of ear disease in dogs

Treatment depends on the cause of the problem. An ear cleaner is often recommended as the mainstay of treatment if the ears have a build up of wax. Medicated ear drops may be prescribed to reduce inflammation, treat an infection, or to kill certain mites. Ear infections are usually painful so your vet will want to make sure that the appropriate pain relief is also provided.

If parasites are the main cause, your vet will prescribe anti-parasitic treatments. A swab may be taken to sample any discharge from the ear canal. The swab is sent to a lab for bacterial and fungal culture. If an infection is identified, the lab will be able to identify the correct antibiotic to use for the bacteria present. Using the correct antibiotics is important to avoid antibiotic resistance, which can be common in bacterial ear disease.

If your dog will not tolerate their ears being examined or, if there is a lot of wax present, then your vet might discuss giving your dog a short general anaesthetic to fully examine and/or clean them. If there is a suspicion of a foreign body in the ear (the signs of this are: sudden onset of pain, often after having been outside recently; scratching at the ear; holding the head to one side, etc) an anaesthetic may be recommended to assess the ear canal and safely remove the foreign body without causing any damage. If there is a mass in the ear canal, biopsies under an anaesthetic may be recommended to determine the cause and the most appropriate treatment. In some cases surgery may be needed.

If your dog suffers from allergic skin disease then treatment will also focus on this in order to control flare ups.

When to see your physical veterinarian

  • If your dog is showing any of the signs listed above.
  • To discuss ear cleaners or parasite treatment for your dog, please make an appointment with your registered vet clinic or one of the FirstVet vets.
  • If your dog has a head tilt or is struggling to balance, make an appointment with your vet straight away.

Further reading from the Blue Cross and the PDSA.

Still worried?

Book a video appointment to have a chat with one of our vets.

More articles about Dog