Common Ear Problems in Dogs: Inflamed Causes & Infection Types

Common ear problems in dogs can be anything from minor infections to neurological issues. But, how do we know what exactly is wrong, and most of all, how can we help them?

As pet owners, we all understand when our dog is in pain. The real problem is finding a solution!

Keeping dog ears clean all the time is a heroic feat, as it only takes rolling in the wrong place for grass seeds to get stuck and lost in their long ears or for them to swim frequently for water to get trapped in the ear canal, causing yeast infections.

Thankfully, most ear infections can be treated with veterinary medicine pretty easily. We have all of the information you might need right here to better understand dog ear problems and treat them in the short and long term.

The Most Common Causes of Ear Problems in Dogs 

Your Pooch May Have Ear Mites 

Ear mites are microscopic insects that can live in a dog’s ear canal. They are very easily caught from dog to dog and will remain on their host until they are exterminated. You may well notice that your dog is scratching their ears, shaking its heads and dark materials appear inside the ear. 

Your vet will clean their ears, then provide you with anti-parasitic medication that will need to be applied to your dog’s ear daily for a week or so, killing off any ear mites. It’s one of several pet ear problems that will go away with careful treatment

Ear Infections 

Ear infections in dogs are common due to their ear canals retaining more fluid than humans. This makes it easy for bacteria and parasites to spread and cause painful ear infection conditions that can be hard to shake. You will notice that your pup’s ears are red, inflated, that they are frequently shaking and scratching their ears, and there may be an odour. 

A vet will clean your dog’s ears then provide you with a cleanser, antibiotics, and anti-inflation topical medications for you to apply for about a week. 

Something in the Ear Canal 

Ear problems in dogs with floppy ears are typically caused by rolling in the grass, walking with their heads close to the floor, crawling too close to the ground, and a foreign body compromising everything from the ear flap to the ear drum. A dog’ s ear is L- shaped, meaning once things get in there, they’re difficult to get out. Grass seeds are common culprits for all kinds of ear problems.

Depending on what is stuck and how far it is stuck into your pet’s ear, it may need surgery. 

Another one of the most common ear problems in dogs is called otitis externa. This is an ear problem linked to overexposure to water from the outer ear into the middle ear.

Does Your Dog Have Skin Allergies? 

Your dog’s ear problem could mean your pet is allergic to something in your home or garden, such as a plant, a spice, an aroma, etc. Allergy-driven ear issues in dogs leave red, patchy skin, loss of fur, and inflammation of the ear area. 

Depending on the source of the allergy, you may have to adapt to a new lifestyle for yourself and your dog. 

Symptoms may include

  • Redness or inflammation
  • Scratching
  • Constant licking
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Swelling

Trauma to The Head 

Trauma to the head can cause canine ear problems, including bleeding from the ear. It may be difficult to find out exactly what happened to them, but it can be anything from being hit on the head, hitting a car, something landing on them, etc. 

If your dog’s ear does start bleeding due to burst blood vessels, then you must go straight to an emergency vet, where the best course of action for your pup will be decided on the spot. 

Neurological Issues 

If you have noticed that your pup seems to have trouble with its balance, it could have a neurological issue. You may notice them walking with a wobble, stumbling a lot, turning in circles, and tilting their heads. It will be very difficult to determine the cause of the issue, and you will need to contact a board-certified veterinary neurologist for the best diagnosis and treatment possible. 

Ear Polyps 

Ear polyps are tumour spots that grow in the ear canal. Although they are not easy to spot without the proper tools, they often lead to wax building up and infecting the ear repeatedly due to their position. Your vet should be able to see them with an otoscopic examination but may need to sedate the dog before diving in further. 

If they are causing an ear problem, they will need to be treated and surgically removed for your pet to heal. 

Causes of an Ear Infection

Are allergies causing ear issues for your pup? You will need to consult your vet to get the best diagnosis and if you are worried about new symptoms.

Most canine ear infections occur due to parasites, allergies, foreign bodies getting stuck in the ear canal, polyps and other kinds of tumours, and physical trauma. 

Dogs can develop infections from being with other dogs ( as is often the way they catch parasites ) due to seasonal or constant allergies ( for example, dogs have been known for getting hay fever ) or simply playing and rolling around.

How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears 

A dog’s ears should be cleaned regularly. As they are very delicate parts of the body,  cleaning your dog’s ears safely is imperative.

It’s a simple process.

Simply using some warm water on cotton balls to wipe the outer and surrounding areas of your dog’s ear is the best way to start. Then, using a vet-recommended ear cleaning solution, you should massage the liquid into your dog’s external ear canal for about half a minute. Your dog will then shake its’ head, and you should wipe away any build-up that will have been released from the ear canal. 

Finding the best dog ear cleaner on the market is, thankfully, getting easier than ever before.

Additional information on how to clean a dog’s ears safely is available across the web, too.

When to Seek Advice from Your Vet 

If you are noticing ear problem signs in line with the above like the dogs head is shaking, then you should, first of all, know that most ear-related problems in dogs will not go away on their own. Even seasonal allergies will leave your pet in a lot of discomfort for an extended amount of time and could cause some severe damage. 

If you have noticed that your dog scratches their head a lot, you should absolutely see the vet. Your dog may have an underlying condition such as an aural hematoma that requires immediate treatment.

In some cases, you will be able to see the cause of the problem immediately and will be more able to find a quick solution. However, in other cases, like foreign objects being stuck deep in the ear canal or parasites, your vet will need to act as quickly as possible. 

The Last Word

Most dogs shouldn’t need anything beyond occasional topical medication – but to ensure a long, healthy life for your dog, taking good care of their ears is essential. Just as you’d make sure to give your pup the best pet food possible, you should also take care of any ear problem as and when it arises. Ear problems are painful, irritating and go far beyond the ear flap.

If you are noticing any symptoms in your dog that could be related to their ears, then do be sure to get your pup properly treated.  Secondary infections do affect dogs regularly, leading to chronic ear problems and even ear disease if their chronic cases are not given a thorough ear examination by a professional.

The best thing you can do is regularly clean them with cotton swabs and check for any foreign object that could lurk inside! Do make sure to monitor your dog’s skin, too, for any anomaly that could be linked to their painful ears. Always reach out to your vet for treatment for dogs’ ear problems.

Donna Hepburn

Published author, content writer and qualified dog behaviourist I have owned dogs all my life from Boxers, Rottweilers and Akitas, to Staffies and currently a very demanding Frenchie who is harder work than all the others put together.

I had a collar making business for over 10 years and am involved with several doggy charities. I currently live in the northeast and when I am not writing about dogs I enjoy, travelling, cooking and reading.

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