I think my dog has an ear infection. What should I do next?

How do I know if it’s an ear infection? 

It is possible for any dog to develop an ear infection. However, some breeds are more prone than others. For example, floppy-eared breeds, such as Cocker Spaniels, are at a higher risk of infection. Other breeds at greater risk are dogs with narrow ear canals, such as English Bulldogs, and dogs with very hairy ears, such as Poodles. These characteristics all result in features that create an environment within the ear where bacteria and yeast are much more likely to survive. Dogs who are prone to skin allergies may also have an increased risk of getting an ear infection. 

There are other reasons your dog may be scratching or shaking their ears. Causes such as a foreign body (e.g. a grass seed); allergies; parasites; or blood blisters can all cause irritation for your dog. It’s worth checking for any of these causes with your vet before assuming the cause of itchiness is an infection. With an infection, there is often an odour coming from the ear and it can look swollen and contain a waxy discharge. 

How can I prepare for my appointment? 

Your vet will need to ask a few questions to try and get to the bottom of the problem. These may include:  

  • Has your dog been shaking or tilting their head, or scratching their ears? This can indicate the severity of the ear infection. 
  • Has your dog been walking in areas of long grass? It is quite common for dogs to get grass seeds stuck in their ears because of the shape of their ear canal, and this can cause them to scratch and shake their head, similar to an ear infection. 
  • Have you noticed any itchiness elsewhere on the body? The vet may want to determine if an allergy or parasite is the underlying cause of the ear infection. 
  • When did you last apply flea and mite medication? If this was recent, the vet may be able to rule out parasites as a potential cause of the itchiness. 

What steps will my vet take? 

Your vet will perform an exam using an instrument called an otoscope, to look inside your dog’s ears, as well as performing a clinical exam over the whole body to check for any other symptoms. 

The course of action the vet decides to take will depend on what they find during their clinical exam. If it is an ear infection, your vet may want to take a sample to find out what kind of bacteria or yeast is causing the problem. They will then likely prescribe medicated ear drops for your dog and provide you with information on how to clean your dog’s ears properly.  

If you want to know more about what to expect when you go to the vets, read our blog here.  

How can I prevent this from happening again? 

To try and avoid future infections, it’s very important to keep your dog’s ears clean and dry – it is the warm, moist environment in ears which encourages bacteria and yeast to grow. If your dog has been swimming anywhere, make sure to dry their ears thoroughly with a towel, and clean them using a solution and cotton ball. Ask your vet about the best cleaning solution for your dog, and how frequently you should be applying it.