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Canine Ear Infections

by Dr. Kelsey Woolsey, DVM


Otitis externa, more commonly known as an ear infection, is acute or chronic inflammation of the external ear canal. This condition is all too common in our canine companions. 


Clinical signs of an ear infection can include scratching at ears, pain, head shaking, head tilt, discharge from the ear, and odor from the ear. The ear flap may be swollen, crusted, or red. 


Redness and brown discharge in a dog with yeast infection of the ears


There are several things that can predispose or cause ear infections including, but not limited to: parasites, food or environmental allergies, endocrine disorders, immune-mediated disorders, abnormal ear canal shape, and excessive hair in the canal. Dogs with pendulous ears and breeds with high numbers of ceruminous glands like spaniels, Labrador retrievers, and golden retrievers are predisposed to ear infections. 


What should you do if you suspect your dog has an ear infection? Call your veterinarian! Your vet will likely take a swab of your pet’s ear and look at the material under the microscope. Your vet will be able to determine if there are yeast or bacteria causing the infection and prescribe appropriate treatment. 


What NOT to do if you suspect your dog has an ear infection:

  1. Use hydrogen peroxide - it is damaging to healthy tissue and may do more harm than good. 

  2. Put any type of oil in the ear canal (olive oil, coconut oil, etc.) - oils can trap moisture and reduce airflow making a perfect environment for yeast and bacteria to thrive. 

  3. Stick Q-tips into the ear - sticking anything small down into the ear risks rupturing the tympanic membrane (ear drum). Instead, use cotton balls to clean the outer ear canal.

  4. Use home remedies such as colloidal silver and apple cider vinegar - the use of such remedies is rarely effective and may delay proper diagnosis and treatment of the ear infection. 

  5. Use  powders in the ear (like Athletes Foot Powder) - powder cannot easily leave the ear canal on its own giving it the potential to cause severe irritation as well as trap moisture and decrease air flow. 

  6.  Use tea tree oil - it is unsafe for dogs. When used in high concentrations it can lead to severe neurologic effects or death. Avoid any over the counter product that has tea tree oil as an ingredient. 

Tips for preventing ear infections:

  1. Avoid getting water in the ears when bathing. 

  2. Use a drying ear flush after your dog goes swimming. 

  3. If your dog has allergies, make a management plan with your veterinarian.

  4. Take your pet to the groomer on a regular basis if they have hairy ears.

  5. Use a veterinarian recommended ear flush weekly if your dog is predisposed to or has a history of ear infections .


Left untreated, ear infections can cause significant pain and lead to chronic conditions such as irreversible narrowing  and ossification of the ear canal. These conditions often require surgery for correction. If you suspect your pet has an ear infection, call your veterinarian! 


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