Dog Ear Infections: What Causes Them & How To Treat Them

May 24, 2020

What Are Dog Ear Infections?

best dog ear picture

A dog ear infection can develop in the outer, middle, or inner ear.

The longer you go without treating the ear infection, the more likely your dog will develop a chronic ear infection. It will increasingly be harder to get rid of and the symptoms may likely grow worse and more serious (even resulting in deafness). If that doesn’t get your attention, then consider that you will need to take your dog to the vet more and more often – not an inexpensive proposition!

Dog Ear Infection Symptoms

dog ear yeast infection

Shaking head or scratching ears incessantly are common signs of a dog ear infection.

The most common signs that of a dog ear infection is:

  • Your dog scratches or paws at his ears incessantly
  • She shakes her head a lot
  • The ears smell really bad and/or have a dark discharge
  • The ears are hot to the touch
  • Your dog tilts his head
  • Your dog doesn’t want to open her mouth or chew
  • Loss of balance
  • Unusual eye movements

If the ear infection is severe, your dog could suffer from a continuing cycle of inflammation, infection and thickening of the tissues lining the ear canal. The end result is the build-up of scar tissue inside the ear, which prevents medications from reaching the areas they need to in order to clear up the infection. All of this sounds bad, and it is – but the worst part is: It’s very painful for your pooch!

What Do Ear Infections in Dogs Look Like?

dog ear infection

Signs of an ear infection could be a hot, inflamed ear and dark discharge, crusts or scabs inside ears.

You can’t always tell that your dog has an ear infection, but these signs will definitely tip you off to the possibility:

  • The ear is hot, inflamed or red-looking when you peak inside
  • You see crusts or scabs in the ears
  • You see dark discharge inside the ear
  • There’s hair loss around the ear

And, of course, keep an eye out for any of the scratching/shaking/whining symptoms previously mentioned that show your dog is feeling discomfort or pain in the ear.

What Causes Dog Ear Infections?

There are a variety of causes for dog ear infections: bacteria, fungus/yeast, ear mites, allergies, tumors or polyps, foreign objects in the ear, and more. The most common are caused by either bacteria/yeast or ear mites.

folded ears on a dog

Dogs with long, floppy ears can trap moisture inside, creating a perfect environment for bacteria and fungi.

Some additional points of interest:

  • Long, floppy ears. The canine ear canal is more vertical than that of a human, and it forms an L-shape that tends to hold in fluid. This makes dogs more prone to ear infections, as the ears don’t allow for good airflow, creating a greater likelihood of warm, moist conditions that lend themselves to fungal/bacterial growth. Dogs like Cocker Spaniels, Beagles and Basset Hounds that have long, floppy ears have increased chances for ear infections.
  • Moisture in the ear. If your dog takes a lot of baths or loves to swim, run or otherwise be out in the hot sun, the water and sweat that gather in the ears may create those conditions that foster yeast/fungus.
  • Allergies. If your dog has skin or food allergies (see below), she may be more susceptible. Foods or treats that are high in sugar content are thought to contribute to yeast growth.
  • Immune system upsets. Dog ear infections are sometimes the result of an imbalance in your dog’s immune system – it could be medicines she’s taking, her diet or other illnesses.
  • Thyroid issues. Low thyroid function has been linked to chronic ear infections in some dogs. This condition is not curable but is easily treatable once it’s diagnosed.

Types of Dog Ear Infections

There are three main types of dog ear infections:

  • Outer ear (otitis externa)
  • Middle ear (otitis media)
  • Inner ear (otitis interna)

Most dog ear infections start in the outer ear; the infection can spread into the middle and inner ears, getting increasingly serious as it does so, resulting in issues like deafness, facial paralysis and difficulty walking.

Are Dog Ear Infections Contagious?

best dog ear cleaner solution from Banixx being used on a puppy

If your dog has ear mites, you must clean your pet’s environment.

They can be. Many dog ear infections are caused by an overgrowth of yeast, which can cause an infection. Though yeast infections aren’t contagious, they can develop into bacterial infections (which can be contagious). They can also make your dog susceptible to other fungal infections, like the dreaded ringworm, which is definitely highly contagious not just to other pets but to humans, too.

In addition, a large number of dog ear infections are caused by ear mites, which are tiny parasites that feed off the wax in your dog’s ear. If you see dark brown or black stuff in your dog’s ears that looks like coffee grounds, he most likely has ear mites. While ear mites don’t usually transmit to humans (thank goodness for small favors!), they are highly contagious for your other pets.

So, if one of your dogs has ear mites, you’ll need to treat ALL of your pets. And you’ll need to clean your pets’ environment by washing pet bedding in hot water with a little bleach and drying it in a hot dryer; vacuuming all common areas thoroughly, etc. This type of thorough cleaning is also needed if your dog ends up with ringworm.

Do Dog Allergies Cause Ear Infections?

Allergies are indeed a common cause of dog ear infections. Allergic reactions often lead to inflammation and irritation of the skin – and the skin in and around the ear is susceptible. If your dog has frequent or chronic ear infections, an allergy may be the cause.

Sensitivity To Certain Foods

dog eating watermelon

Be careful what you feed your dog; he could has food sensitivities or allergies.

When it comes to food sensitivities and allergies, some dog foods contain too much corn, soy or other fillers. Dogs can also have reactions to chicken, beef or dairy products. And on very rare occasions even watermelon.

Dogs who have food allergies generally show symptoms of skin irritations and itchiness, whereas humans might react with throat constriction or other more violent symptoms. And developing a food allergy takes time – your dog might have been eating these foods for a while before she develops a hypersensitivity to them. Or, it’s possible the dog food manufacturer changed the food formula – not an unusual occurrence in the dog food manufacturing world.

Environmental Allergens

dog rolling in poop on the grass

If you notice your dog itching or experience an inflammation flare-up during a particular season, it may be due to an allergy to dust, pollen, mold or grass.

It’s possible your dog may be allergic to dust, pollen, mold or grass. Other environmental possibilities include grooming products. If her itching and inflammation flare up during a particular season, the cause may be easier to locate. And be careful of lawn chemicals applied by lawn maintenance companies; these can be problematic for dogs. Along in the same vein, consider carpet treatments as a source of irritation. Your dog’s nose is never very far from the carpet surface.

How To Treat Dog Ear Infections

If you notice that your dog is exhibiting any of the symptoms of an ear infection listed above, be sure to get him to the veterinarian rather than trying to diagnose it yourself. The causes vary, and if you’re just guessing, your dog may end up with an ineffective treatment – and a lot more pain until you get it resolved. The vet will take a swab of the ear canal and diagnose the problem. Once the diagnosis is clear, your dog can get the proper treatment.

If The Cause Is Ear Mites

picture of dog ear mite

If your dog has ear mites your vet may prescribe an easy-to-administer, anti-parasitic formulation.

The vet may prescribe an easy-to-administer, anti-parasitic formulation to get rid of those little creepy crawlies swiftly. In addition, if you can maintain a low pH level in your dog’s ears, the mites are less likely to proliferate and cause problems. Banixx Pet Care creates such an environment and is useful for preventing a recurrence.

For A Fungal or Yeast Ear Infection

this dog ear cleaner should NEVER be used

NEVER use Q-tips; use cotton balls or gauze and discard after use.

Your vet may prescribe a topical antifungal to eliminate the yeast that’s causing the problem. One effective treatment is to use Banixx Pet Care, a spray that’s easy on your dog’s ear tissue, quickly helping to repair any ear surface that has been irritated, inflamed or rubbed raw. Its anti-fungal properties help eliminate the yeast overgrowth, and it’s also an effective dog ear cleaning solution designed to prevent recurrences of yeast infections.

Note: NEVER use Q-tips; use cotton balls or gauze and discard after use.

For a Bacterial Ear Infection

cat ear infection

The vet may prescribe an antibiotic, usually only needed in severe cases.

The vet may prescribe an antibiotic, usually only needed in severe cases. (Antibiotics are not effective for fungal infections.) Note: Many people wonder if their dogs can take Bactrim, a popular antibiotic for humans. The answer is that, while Bactrim may be effective in inhibiting the growth of harmful microorganisms, it must be prescribed by a vet, as it has certain bad side effects that can harm your dog if given in the wrong dosage.

Other Home and Natural Remedies

Essential Oils

essential oils for ear infections

Before using oils, educate yourself about purity, strength, and directions before using on your furry friend.

Many proponents of home remedies tout essential oils as having healing properties. Essential oils are compounds extracted from plants through distillation or cold pressing. They’re used for aromatherapy, in which they’re inhaled – and they are not meant to be swallowed. Some are also touted for their anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties, and some folks interested in using natural therapies on their dogs believe in using essential oils for wounds and infections, like dog ear infections. The main thing to remember about essential oils is you have to be careful where you buy them – make sure you’re educated about purity, strength and directions for use – and there is very little research that proves its efficacy. Here are two examples:

Oregano Oil

oregano essential oil

You must always be dilute Oregano oil before being applied.

Oregano essential oil is used by home-remedy proponents to treat dog ear infections, as it has natural anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. It must always be diluted before you apply it. Coconut oil or sweet almond oil are recommended as “carrier oils” to dilute it. While it can be applied directly to the dog’s ears, left for a short time and flushed out, you shouldn’t try to do this at home – always consult with a veterinarian before putting essential oils in your dog’s ear.

Tea Tree Oil

bottle of tea tree oil

It is not recommended to treat dog ear infections with Tea tree oil.

Tea tree oil is known for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. It contains chemicals called terpenes that make it effective against bacteria and fungi – but they are also highly toxic to animals. Whether taken orally or through the skin, terpenes are rapidly absorbed by your pet – and the toxic effects can be quite serious. So while tea tree oil can be effective in treating certain infections, the concentrations needed to be effective are higher than what you can actually find in tea tree products (.1% – 1%). We do not recommend the use of tea tree oil to treat dog ear infections.

Monistat 7

monistat 7 box - miconazole for dogs ears

If your vet gives the OK to use Monistat on your dog, follow the instructions mixing with hydrocortisone cream.

Monistat 7 is an over-the-counter product commonly used by women to get rid of vaginal yeast infections. It is easily found in drugstores and does not require a prescription. Its active ingredient is miconazole, which is effective in eliminating yeast infections. This active ingredient is also safe for dogs. When used correctly, this topical cream can often clear the yeast infection from your dog’s ears. (NOTE: Be sure you use Monistat, not other products like Vagisil, which are not formulated to eliminate fungus/yeast.)

If possible, talk to your vet first before using Monistat on your dog. If given the go-ahead, make sure to mix the Monistat with hydrocortisone cream (half and half) to help relieve any itchiness your dog is experiencing due to the yeast infection. The consistency of the blended mixture will be thick, so add several drop of water to thin it, and carefully squirt the mixture into your dog’s ears using an eye dropper. Use this home remedy for about a week. If the problem doesn’t subside, take your dog to a vet.

Hydrogen Peroxide

bottle of hydrogen peroxide for ear infections in dogs

Don’t be fooled into thinking Hydrogen Peroxide will prevent an infection when it might not be.

Some people ask if hydrogen peroxide can help clear out ear mites that cause dog ear infections. They think that the bubbling cleaner will wash the ears, get rid of the mites and prevent or heal the ear infection. But hydrogen peroxide is basically water with an extra oxygen molecule. The oxidation when you use it is what makes it fizz and look like it’s “working.” And, in fact, it does help clean the area by attacking many types of bacteria and suppress the activities of parasites like ear mites – but:

  • It’s caustic and can damage the tender skin in and around your dog’s ear.
  • It doesn’t work on all bacteria – many types are resistant. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s preventing an infection when it might not be.
  • Most vets believe its toxicity to cells outweighs any benefits of its antibacterial properties.
  • You absolutely don’t want to get it in your dog’s eyes – so administering it to the ears must be done with extreme care.

Coconut Oil

Using coconut oil to treat dog hot spots

It may kill bad bacteria, but coconut oil also may kill the good bacteria that fight off the bad ones.

Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which has antibacterial properties. It is also known for its anti-inflammatory usefulness. That’s why some owners see it as a possible home remedy to reduce the itch, irritation and swelling caused by ear mites. But you’ll need to keep in mind that the lauric acid in coconut oil is great for many things – but it is not a broad-spectrum anti-bacterial agent. It’s possible that it could eliminate the good bacteria that are fighting the bad bacteria causing the ear infection in your dog. And In fact, not much research has been done on the effectiveness of coconut oil for pets.

Manuka Honey

jar of manuka honey

You can’t just use any type of honey on your dog’s ears.

Honey is known to have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. But to help your dog’s ear infection, you have to have the right type and grade of honey. The gooey stuff is classified according to how and where bees get the ingredients to make it.

Manuka honey is made from the nectar of a tea tree in New Zealand and the eastern part of Australia. The bees pollinate the native manuka bush, making it a “monofloral” type of honey (meaning the ingredients come from one type of plant).

Studies conducted on manuka honey show medical grade honey gel was effective in killing bacteria that causes ear infections in dogs. These studies received funding from the companies producing the gels – so more research needs to be conducted and the evidence of whether it really works is limited. In addition, medical-grade honey is sterilized and prepared like a dressing – so you shouldn’t apply manuka honey that you can buy at the grocery or health-food store to your dog’s ear.

Plus another downside – it’s sticky and messy to deal with. There are other products on the market that are easier to apply and require no clean-up.

Garlic Oil

garlic for ear infections

Garlic can be used to fight infections and treat ear mites.

Allicin is the main property found in garlic that fights infections. It’s also believed to be effective in getting rid of ear mites. To use it, peel and grind six cloves of garlic in a food processor until it’s like a paste. Then add one tablespoon of olive oil and mix well. Over low heat, warm the mixture and then remove from heat. Cool it completely before using a dropper to put it, drop by drop, into your dog’s ear.


White Vinegar

white vinegar home remedy

Be careful using vinegar if your dog has a sore or lesion on her ear.

Vinegar has many great properties and has been used as a home remedy for medical problems for years. Some people like to use it to treat dog ear mites. Its acidic properties create an environment in the ear where bacteria and fungus can’t live. However, be very careful when using vinegar if your dog has scratched his ears and has sores or lesions around his ears. He will yelp with pain when that vinegar hits it! Just as you would be if you put vinegar onto a cut! If you decide to try this, make a mixture of 2 tablespoons of water to one tablespoon of white vinegar. Pour half into the dog’s ear and massage gently. Use a cotton bowl soaked in the mixture to wipe the inside of her ear. If you don’t see positive results in a week, better take her to the vet.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar For Dogs Ears

Avoid using Apple Cider Vinegar IF your dog has any broken skin around ears.

Like any vinegar, apple cider vinegar is an acid. It starts as apple juice; yeast and bacteria are added to turn the fruit sugar into alcohol, which ferments and turns into acetic acid.  It’s the acetic acid that gives the vinegar its strong smell and taste.

The fermentation process gives apple cider vinegar its antimicrobial properties – it naturally kills organisms like bacteria and fungi. This is one of the reasons it has become known as a great home remedy for a variety of physical ailments. And yes, an all-around household cleaner and disinfectant.

Try apple cider vinegar in your dog’s ears UNLESS there is any broken skin. The burn and sting it causes when it hits a wound will make your pup yelp and scamper away. Needless to say, it’s too caustic to be used around the eyes.

Should you decide to try it, you can use it undiluted if there are no open wounds or lesions. And use organic, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar for more strength in fighting the infection.


jar of yogurt

Be sure to use UNFLAVORED yogurt when treating your dog’s ears.

Many ear infections in dogs are caused by the overgrowth of yeast. Dogs’ ears have yeast in them all the time, but when an overgrowth occurs, inflammation and irritation follow.

Yogurt contains alive bacteria, such as acidophilus. It helps maintain the right balance of the normal yeast in your dog’s system. If you want to apply it to the infection, dab a small bit of unflavored yogurt that has active strains of probiotic bacteria on the ear.

You can also try having your dog eat yogurt. Put two tablespoons of UNFLAVORED yogurt to your dog by adding it to his food or giving him yogurt-based treats. As a preventive measure, feed it your dog even when an ear infection is not present. Your dog might like the taste of flavored yogurt better. The sugar in the yogurt can make the yeast proliferate and make the problem worse. Therefore, please be sure to use unflavored yogurt.

Why Does My Dog Keep Getting Ear Infections?

dog shaking head due to ear infection

Keep your dog’s ears dry is a very important step in avoiding ear problems.

Dog ear infections that keep recurring are usually caused by the overgrowth of yeast – and that can happen for a variety of reasons. See below for ways to prevent your dog’s ear infection recurrences.

How To Prevent Dog Ear Infections

Keep Your Dog’s Ears Dry

Excess moisture is a common cause of ear infections in dogs. It’s easy for this to happen due to the shape of the dog’s ear and the vertical ear canal. So make sure you dry your dog’s ears thoroughly after he has gone swimming or you’ve given her a bath.

Keep Your Dog’s Ears Clean

this happy dog is getting his ears cleaned

Clean your dog’s ears at least once a month.

Clean your dog’s ears regularly. To avoid ear infections in dogs, veterinarians recommend that they have their ears cleaned no more than weekly but at least once a month. If your dog has floppy ears, swims regularly, has heavy fur around the ears, suffers from skin allergies or gets frequent ear infections, you should clean the ears more frequently. Consult with your veterinarian about how often is best for your dog. Use a good quality dog ear cleaner, such as Banixx. Do not use olive oil, vinegar, shampoo or any other substance in your pet’s ear.

Don’t Overuse Antibiotics

Try to avoid the overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics can destroy the beneficial bacteria in your dog’s gut, reducing his immunity and making it more likely he’ll get recurring ear infections.

Control Your Dog’s Allergies

dog allergies of the skin

Watch your dog’s diet. Food allergies are common.

Allergies to food are a very common cause of ear infections in dogs – in fact, 10% of all allergies in dogs are food-related. Genetic factors are the cause which trigger something the dog eats. Check your dog food to see if it is highly processed and contains ingredients like wheat, rice, spelt and soy, food additives and preservatives, the lectin found in unsprouted grains, sugar, genetically modified foods (GMOs) or pasteurized dairy products.

Dogs can sometimes develop allergies to foods they have eaten for years with no problems. A food elimination diet can help determine the source of the allergy. Sometimes changing to a less processed diet can help. Rotate the protein sources your dog eats. Limit or eliminate grains.

Some dogs have environmental or seasonal allergies. Depending on the time of year, your dog may have a reaction to ragweed, grasses and pollens. Indoor allergens are mold, dust mites and cleaning chemicals. Ask your vet to help with diagnosis and treatment of these allergies.

Dog Ear Infection Treatment Over The Counter

Use Banixx to treat and/or prevent ear infections. You can avoid the mess, stink and dangers of other home remedies and medications by using Banixx Pet Care. The formulation creates an environment in which it is impossible for fungus and bacteria to grow. Use Banixx three times a day to get rid of the yeast/bacteria, soothe the irritated skin, and prevent the infection from coming back. There are no side effects. Banixx will not harm the eyes if it should accidentally get in them. It is easy and safe to apply.

If you enjoyed this article, you can learn more about taking care of other small pets by reading another blog;  such as goat care. Or if you have ever wondered about something more frivolous such as dog eye boogers or, more seriously, what to do if your dog has diarrhea.

dog ear infection treatment

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