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Common Dog Ear Problems - What You Need to Know By A Veterinarian

a black and white dog with a tan background, looking sideways at the camera

Ear Infections

Dogs can get an ear infection for many different reasons. 

Allergic reactions

Allergic reactions in dogs are seen very commonly in the early spring to late fall. These infections are usually seasonal, and you will see a re-occurrence around the same time each year.   Your dog is most likely allergic to something that is blooming during that time of year. This is most likely pollen from trees or grass allergies. Your veterinarian can run an allergy test to figure out precisely what your pet is allergic to. One of the best ways to help your dog's seasonal allergies is by giving them regular baths. These baths will help keep the pollen and grass off their fur.

Food allergies

While food allergies are not commonly seen in a dog, they can cause ear problems. This is one of the main sites that are commonly associated with food allergies. Most pets who have food allergies are allergic to beef, eggs, chicken, and dairy. If you think that your dog has a food allergy, try switching their diets. These are two great diets to try

  •  A novel protein diet: A novel protein diet is one where the protein is weirder meats such as kangaroo, fish, rabbit, or venison.  
  • A hydrolyzed protein diet: By hydrolyzing the proteins, you are shrinking them.

Both of these types of diets should be given for at least 6 weeks before deciding that they do not work correctly

Bacterial infections

Bacterial infections in the ear are a very common cause of ear infections.  These ear infections will cause discharge to come from the ears. Many different types of bacteria could be causing the infection.  One of the most common is staph. This type of ear infection is treated with ear cleaner and topical medication. This may be something you have to do every day for a week, or your veterinarian may pack your dog's ear with medication that stays in place for a week.

Yeast infections

Yeast infections are another common cause of ear problems.  If your dog has an allergic reaction, it will produce more skin oils.  These oils build up in the ears and make it the perfect environment for yeast to grow. Yeast infection in your dog's ear will produce very smelly waxy debris.  If you notice a pungent smell coming from your dog's ears, take them to your veterinarian. They can make sure that your dog has a yeast infection and get your dog started on a treatment for the yeast.  These infections can commonly reoccur many times throughout your dog's life. If you notice that your dog is commonly getting yeast infections in their ears, talk to your veterinarian about preventative maintenance in the ears. 

a black and white husky sitting gin dirt scratching behind his ear


Ear mites can cause ear problems in dogs. These microscopic mites are crawling around in your dog's ear, causing irritation.  Your veterinarian can check for ear mites in your dogs’ ear by looking at a sample of ear debris under the microscope. If your dog does have ear mites, there is a medication that will be put directly into the ear channel.  This medication will kill all the ear mites and stop your dog from itching their ears.  

Foreign objects

There are many foreign objects that your dog can have in their ears, causing problems. These are a few of the common things that veterinarians find in dog's ears.

  • Dirt: Dogs who love to play outside and roll in the dirt, they can easily get dirt in their ears. This dirty will not cause infection but can cause your pet to itch their ears.
  • Plant debris: When your dog is outside smelling around in the tall grass, they can easily get a piece in their ears. Grass seeds and debris can be very irritating to your dog’s ears.
  • Small bugs: Small bugs, fleas, or ticks can get into your dog's ear when they are sleeping. Your veterinarian can look in your dog's ears to make sure that there are no bugs in their ears.
  • Dried ear medication: If your dog has recently had an ear infection, the ear medication can dry in their ears and cause their ears to bother them. This is very easy to fix with an ear cleaning.

Symptoms of ear infection

There are many symptoms of ear infections in your dog.  Some of the most common signs seen with dogs with ear infections are:

  • Head shaking
  • Odor coming from the ears
  • Scratching the ears
  • Bloody or yellow discharge coming from the ears
  • Redness in and around the ears

If you notice any of these signs in your dog, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.  They will examine your dog's ears to determine the cause of the redness.

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There are many ways that you can prevent ear problems in your dog. If your dog is prone to ear infection, these are some things that you can do to help decrease the chance of ear infections.

  • Regular cleaning after bathing or outdoor activity. After your dog has been outside or after they get a bath or groom, make sure that the ears are clean and dry. When a dog's ear gets wet, there is a higher chance of their ears getting infected. By keeping the ears clean and dry will help decrease the number of ear infections that your dog will get.
  • Monitoring diet and allergies: If your dog seems to get ear infections and you suspect that they have a food allergy, try to switch their diet to a novel protein diet. This may help clear up ear infections.
  • Regular veterinary checkups: By regularly seeing your veterinarian will help with ear infections. Your veterinarian can advise you on allergy medication and other at-home prevention that you can give your dog to help with ear infections.

Dogs can very easily get ear problems. If you notice a smell coming from your dog’s ear or large amounts of waxy debris, it is best to take your dog to your veterinarian to see what is causing these problems. Many of these problems can easily be treated before the problem get worse.

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Author Dr. Sara Ochoa DVM

Dr. Sara Ochoa DVM

Since she was a little girl, she knew that her dream was to become a veterinarian. With a tremendous passion and love for animals that makes her a great source of knowledge for others. She lives happily with her husband Greg and her babies Ruby the Schnoodle, and Bam-Bam the bunny.

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