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Why Does My Dog Keep Getting Ear Infections?

Written by Anna Hollisey

Updated

awesome basset hound with droopy ears on dog bed

For so many dogs, ears are a defining characteristic. Whether they’re straight and pointy like a German Shepherd or Husky, big and floppy like a Spaniel or Poodle or purely decorative with no apparent practical function like some of the pups at FOTP HQ! No matter what they look like (or how effective they are), it’s important they’re well looked after. If your dog gets recurring ear infections, there could be an underlying cause. In this article we’ll look at common causes and treatments. 

What Are the Symptoms of Ear Infections?

Healthy ears are dry and clean – and a small amount of wax is normal. When your dog has an ear infection, you may notice some of the following symptoms:

  • The inner ear becomes inflamed. The inner ear could be red and swollen or painful for your dog when it’s touched. 
  • The dog is scratching their ear. You’ll notice increased scratching – a natural response as your dog attempts to eliminate the pain. 
  • There is a discharge and/or strange smell. Your dog’s ear will produce discharge and it will smell different. 
  • The dog shakes or tilts their head. This is another response aimed at easing the pain. In rare cases, dogs may suffer from loss of balance caused by an ear infection. 

What Causes Ear Infections in Dogs?

Ear infections are caused by an increase in yeast or bacteria inside the ear. This imbalance occurs when the ear can’t do its job properly – for example, there’s a foreign body inside, or the body’s immune system is malfunctioning. When your dog has an ear infection, here are the main causes that your vet will consider:

External Causes:

  • Foreign object lodged in the ear. Things like grass seeds are designed to latch on to animals and if they attach inside a floppy ear, they can create the right conditions for an ear infection to develop. 
  • Ear trauma. Likewise, an injury to the inner ear doesn’t get much dry air and will take longer to heal – promoting the conditions for an ear infection. 
  • Ears aren’t dried after swimming. Dogs who love the water can become prone to ear infections. If there’s a lot of water in their ears, the natural balance can be affected. 
  • Ear mite infection. These tiny parasites are about the size of a poppy seed and can be very irritating. They should be diagnosed by a vet – fortunately they’re simple to treat and most flea medications eliminate them (but check the packaging). 

Internal Causes:

  • The dog has a food allergy. This is more likely than you may think: PetMD says it’s the root of ear infections “for most dogs”. Allergies cause a steep increase in levels of bacteria all around the body. 
  • The dog has an environmental allergy. It’s a similar story here: an allergy to grass or dust mites can create an imbalance inside the body, producing an ongoing cycle of ear infections. 
  • The dog has an autoimmune disease. Your dog should be screened for these if they get recurrent ear infections. 

Sadly, some dogs are genetically predisposed to suffer from ear infections. This is largely due to the shape of their inner ears: for example, Cocker Spaniels have floppy ears which create a warm, moist environment that harbours bacterial growth; Shar Peis have very small ear canals where debris can become trapped; and Poodles tend to have excess hair growing inside their ears. 

Treatment for Ear Infections in Dogs

Unless your dog has ear mites, their ear infection is unlikely to be contagious. You don’t need to be too concerned about letting them mingle with their best canine buddies. But it is wise to wash your hands after handling your dog and use a separate towel for rubbing down their ears, such as after they’ve been swimming. 

Take your dog to the vet to have their ear infection checked. They’ll confirm whether your dog has an external, middle or inner ear infection – and prescribe the right medication to help you deal with it quickly. This may include a cleanser as well as steroid or antibiotic ear drops. 

The vet will usually take a swab to test the ear debris and may order blood tests if they want to check for an underlying disease. 

Preventing Ear Infections in Dogs

Preventing recurrent ear infections in your dog depends on the cause of the infection. 

For example, you can prevent an ear mite infection by keeping your dog’s monthly flea and tick treatments up to date (and ensuring you use a brand which guards against ear mites). 

If your dog loves swimming or romping in grassy meadows, you should check for seeds and dry their ears carefully after walks. There’s no need to stop them from swimming: if their ears are healthy, they can continue to enjoy the water.

If your vet suspects an allergy, diagnosis is your first challenge. Your vet may prescribe a food which has none of the major allergens (dairy, wheat, egg and beef); it will take 6 weeks to see whether it eliminates your dog’s symptoms. Seasonal or environmental allergies can also cause ear infections, and you can get an idea about the cause by looking at your dog’s recent hangouts and seasonal charts. For this type of allergy, avoidance is the main strategy. You will have to avoid areas and times of day where the pollen count is high or, in the case of dust mites, keep the home well-vacuumed. 

Ear Cleaning for Dogs

Regular ear-cleansing can help to keep your dog’s ears in top condition. You can buy medicated cleanser which has a special dispensing tip, making it simple to squirt into the ear. Look for a solution containing natural actives: alcohol can irritate some doggy ears.

Once you’ve applied the solution, wipe it around and out gently using gauze or cotton. Be sure that you don’t push any debris down into the ear canal. This treatment might be surprising to your dog at first! As long as they aren’t in pain, keep trying, little and often, until they’re used to the idea. 

Could a Supplement Help to Keep your Dog’s Body in Balance?

Skin and gut health are intertwined. To support our dogs’ digestive health, we’ve developed a special supplement – it’s called Soothe. It is a blend of powerful postbiotics which can improve your dog’s immune response and gut health. There is Omega-3 fish oil, famously good for calming inflammation, and egg membrane to reduce free radicals. Read what other customers have said about improving their dogs’ health with Soothe.