Diseases, Pet Care Basics

Ear Infection in Dogs and Cats

How do you tell if a dog has an ear infection? Ear diseases can cause many problems for your pet. The ear is divided into three main areas: the external ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. Generally, diseases are more serious in the middle and inner ear. If ear diseases are caught early, treatment is usually successful.

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Odor
  • Discharge
  • Scratching
  • Rubbing
  • Shaking head or ears

Pet Ear Problems?

Step 1 – Identify the Problem
If it looks like coffee grounds in your pet’s ears – it’s ear mites. Stinky ears or ears with a discharge – it may be a bacterial or yeast infection.
Step 2 – Clean the Ear
Apply Vet Basics® General Ear Cleanser into the ear canal. Massage the base of the ear for 20 to 30 seconds. Clean out with cotton ball or tissue. Repeat as necessary.
Step 3 – Treat the Problem After Cleaning

  • Ear mites – apply an ear miticide for three weeks.
  • Bacterial or yeast infections – apply Vet Basics® ChlorConazole Ear Flush two times a day for two to three weeks. If the problem persists consult your veterinarian.

Symptoms of Ear Infection in Dogs and Cats

Healthy ears are easy to spot. They’re clean, odor-free, pale, pink and have a minimum amount of wax buildup. Luckily, the signs of ear disease are equally as noticeable: redness, swelling at the ear flap and canal, tender to the touch, black or yellowish discharge from the ear and a strong smell. As the problem progresses, your pet may start shaking and scratching his ears, which results in bleeding, a discharge that looks like coffee grinds, or eventual hearing loss.

What Causes Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats

Some breeds are more susceptible than others. The shape of the ear is an important trait in determining a pet’s susceptibility to ear infections. Dogs with pendulous ears or hairy inner ear flaps are predisposed to ear infections. Dogs with allergies are also more likely to have ear problems.

Infection of the external ear canal can be caused by bacteria, yeast and parasites, such as ear mites. This infection may already be present, but with the right conditions, it’ll begin to grow and thrive. High humidity, swimming and baths create the best conditions for growth. Many of these infections progress to the middle ear canal, which makes them difficult to clear.

How to Prevent Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats

Prevention is the preferred route, and it’s easy to do. Clean the ears with Vet Basics®General Ear Cleanser before giving your dog a bath, and be sure to dry the ears after bathing. If they go for a swim, clean and dry their ears when you return home. This removes the wax buildup and acidifies the ear canal so bacteria and yeast cannot grow. A weekly or bi-weekly cleaning is all that is needed to prevent infections from taking hold.

How to Give Relief for a Dog Ear Infection

When your pet has an ear infection, they will be in considerable pain. Dogs will bang on their ears with their paws, scratching for relief. Vet Basics® ChlorConazole Ear Flush is a great option to take the discomfort away and help remove yeast and bacteria. Early use of an ear flush will solve most issues in the ear.

However, when the problem progresses to a middle ear infection, your pet will require ear treatment, as well as oral antibiotics, to solve the problem. Your veterinarian will need to analyze the ears and prescribe the appropriate antibiotic for your pet.

How Serious Is an Ear Infection in a Dog

By giving your pets the proper treatments before the infection progresses too far, you can help prevent further problems like feline and canine deafness and hematoma.

Deafness in dogs and cats is usually brought on with age, trauma, loud noise or infection, but some pets can have hereditary or congenital deafness. Once it is diagnosed, clinical deafness is a lifelong condition. Hematoma, or blood clot, between the cartilage and skin of the ear flap feels much like an “ear pillow.” Infection, mites, fleas, flies or debris buildup causes vigorous head shaking and scratching, which can break the blood vessels in the ear. Surgery is required to remove the blood and secure the ear layers back together. Both of these conditions can be avoided with regular ear cleaning and early treatment of infections.

Ear care is not difficult, and most pets enjoy ear cleaning. Routine ear cleaning and the occasional ear flush will keep most conditions in check before they require veterinary intervention. Be aware that high risk activities like swimming, hunting or bathing can intensify an ear infection. When a severe infection occurs, see your veterinarian for treatment.

If you have more questions on how to help a dog or cat with an ear infection, give our Pet Care Pros a call at 800.786.4751.

Article originally written by Donald Bramlage, DVM, Revival’s Former Director of Veterinary Services. This article has been updated/reviewed by Dr. Greer.

Written by: Marty Greer, DVM

Director of Veterinary Services

Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.