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If you’re a pet owner, you’re probably already aware that ear infections can be relatively commonplace in dogs, particularly with some breeds. It’s always upsetting to see your dog’s delicate, shell-pink ears in an inflamed state, but the good news is that there’s a variety of safe ways to successfully treat the condition, as well as ways to prevent it from happening again. If your dog’s ears show signs of infection, the important thing is to get professional vet treatment as quickly as possible so that the infection doesn’t spread and cause further health complications.

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What causes dog ear infections?

The primary cause of dog ear infections is bacteria which can build up due to moisture, dirt, inflammation, and other factors. Another common cause is yeast buildup, which can create a fungal infection. A third cause is ear mites, which are especially common in dogs who spend a lot of time outdoors. Additionally, dog ear infections can be caused by wax buildup, excessive cleaning, trauma to the ear, foreign objects in the ear canal, and ear tumors or skin polyps. Other health conditions, such as autoimmune disorders and endocrine disorders, can also cause ear infections.

 Dachshund dog running on grass with ears up. Capuski / Getty Images
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Symptoms of dog ear infections

If your dog has an ear infection, they’re most likely uncomfortable and might even be in pain. Signs to look for include head shaking, pawing, scratching, or rubbing the ear on the floor or furniture. Inside the ear, there may be swelling, redness, a foul odor, dark discharge, and scabs or crusts. In addition, if your dog is in pain, it can be lethargic and act sick or uncomfortable.

Beautiful, sad-looking tan and brown dog lying on floor with one ear flap up. HAYKIRDI / Getty Images
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Types of ear infections in dogs

There are three types of ear infections in dogs: otitis externa (outer ear), otitis media (middle ear), and otitis interna (inner ear). Since each of these types involves a different part of the ear, treatments may vary according to the area of infection.

 Man grinning and holding yellow retriever dog's ears up. mediaphotos / Getty Images
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When to see your vet

If your dog is showing any ear discomfort or any of the symptoms of an ear infection, you should call your vet immediately. If left untreated, an ear infection can develop into an irreversible, untreatable ear canal disease. In addition, ear infections can lead to permanent deafness, facial paralysis, and chronic balance issues. Because ear infections can also be caused by a host of underlying health issues that may be undiagnosed, it’s crucial to take your dog for a thorough vet exam if you see signs of an ear infection.

A beautiful mixed-race pregnant couple lounge on the floor in front of the couch together. They are feeling her belly and snuggled up together happily, along with their faithful companion, a beautiful brown floppy-eared dog. FatCamera / Getty Images
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What to tell your vet

During your appointment, your vet will ask you several questions about the duration and severity of the symptoms you’ve noticed and how your dog has been behaving. You’ll need to share information about your dog’s diet, activities (such as baths or swimming), current medications, and whether or not your dog has had a history of ear infections. You’ll also need to mention if you’ve cleaned your dog’s ears recently or plucked or trimmed any hair in or around your dog’s ears. It may be helpful to make some notes before you get to the vet office.

 Vet checking small Chihuahua dog's ear. bymuratdeniz / Getty Images
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Treatments for dog ear infections

After a thorough examination, your vet will likely clean your dog’s ears with a medicated ear cleanser and apply a topical antibiotic. In addition, your vet will probably provide you with an ear cleanser as well as a topical medication, typically in the form of ear drops applied daily until the infection is cleared up. In some cases, your vet may also prescribe oral antibiotics (in the form of drops or pills) and, if the inflammation is severe, anti-inflammatory medications.

 Vet examining golden retriever's ears. DenGuy / Getty Images
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How common are dog ear infections?

According to the American Kennel Club, approximately 20 percent of dogs get some type of ear infection during their lives. The good news is that, because ear infections are so common, experienced vets are well-equipped to treat the condition quickly and successfully, so there aren’t any complications.

 Small, shiny black dog with big ears tilting head. Capuski / Getty Images
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Risk factors for dog ear infections

Dogs that swim a lot or spend a lot of time outdoors are at a higher risk for ear infections. In addition, ear infections can be caused by food allergies or by undetected, underlying health conditions, including endocrine or autoimmune disorders, tumors, or polyps. That’s why it’s so important to see your vet when dog ear infections occur.

 Cute, shaggy dog in lake up to his neck. Glasshouse Images / Getty Images
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Some breeds are at higher risk for ear infections

Dogs with long floppy ears seem to be at higher risk for ear infections. High-risk breeds include cocker spaniels, bloodhounds, and basset hounds. In addition, other long-eared dogs in the hound or spaniel categories (including mixed-breed dogs) should also be monitored for potential ear infections and inflammations.

 Basset hound with huge ears in front of fan. Ingo Boddenberg / Getty Images
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How to prevent dog ear infections

One of the best ways to prevent ear infections is to ensure that your dog’s ears are free of excess moisture. Be sure to dry your dog’s ears after swimming. Likewise, if your dog spends a lot of time outdoors, check its ears regularly for dirt or debris. For drying and cleaning, never use cotton swabs or paper towels. Cotton swabs can cause damage and injury, and both products can leave debris in the ear. Instead, you can gently clean your dog’s ears with a pad of absorbent cotton gauze and a commercially made dog ear cleaning solution.

 Woman cleaning a yellow and white dog's ears with cotton gauze. M_a_y_a / Getty Images

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