10 Signs Your Dog Has an Ear Infection

By Mia Barnes – March 1, 2023

Second to smell, hearing is a prominent sense for pups. But without healthy ears, dogs lose an important avenue to understand the world around them.

Ear infections are common ailments among dogs, which can happen in three different forms: otitis externa, otitis media and otitis interna. Each has different concerns but all of them need treatment.

Otitis externa occurs when inflammation afflicts the cell layer positioned at the outer or external portion of the ear. This is the least serious form of ear infection. Otitis media is inflammation in the middle of the ear. It’s more serious than otitis externa since it’s farther inside the body. Otitis interna is inflammation in the center of the ear and is the most serious infection.

Causes of an Ear Infection

Dog with large ears.

An ear infection can develop on its own or escalate from another issue. For example, unmanaged food allergies can disturb your dog’s system and cause an infection. The same goes if your dog has an immune condition that makes them vulnerable to infections.

Ear infections can oftentimes come from bacteria entering and multiplying in the ear, whether from rolling in the mud or retaining water inside it after a bath. Dogs with larger ears are more susceptible to infections, as their inner ears are more vulnerable to outside elements.

Signs of an Ear Infection

Thankfully, there are ways to tell when your dog has an ear infection. Here are the signs to look out for in your pup.

  • Scratching: One of the most apparent signs of a canine ear infection is scratching on, in or around the ear. All dogs itch on occasion, but frequent or persistent scratching at these areas or scabbing from it are signs that their ear is very itchy or in pain.
  • Discharge: When there’s an infection, your dog’s white blood cells will try to fight it off. This creates yellow, brown or bloody discharge from the ear. 
  • Odor: The bacteria from an infection can emit a smell from your dog’s ears, making it necessary to contact a veterinarian.
  • Rubbing: In order to relieve pain and itching, your dog might rub their ear on surfaces like the floor or furniture.
  • Hair Loss: An ear infection can cause hair loss around the infected area. The stress from an infection can also cause them to shed excessively, so pay attention to their grooming needs and observe any signs of distress as you do so.

Portrait of adorable dachshund puppy, who obediently sits and listens attentively to someone with its head tilted, funny ear sticking out isolated on white background, front view.

  • Tilting: When your dog’s ear is uncomfortable, they could try to relieve that discomfort by tilting or shaking their head.
  • Imbalance: When an ear infection increases in severity, it could cause your dog to lose their balance. This is a critical sign that needs immediate attention.
  • Eye Movements: If your dog’s eyes are moving in a strange way, it could indicate a severe infection is occurring.
  • Circling: Whether from nerves or the infection spreading to their neurological system, it’s important to get your pup evaluated if they’re walking in circles seemingly without reason.
  • Hearing Loss: A severe ear infection can cause your dog to lose hearing when it damages the inner ear.

Though the symptoms of an ear infection can develop gradually, it’s also common for them to suddenly show signs of one. Dogs are good at hiding minor discomfort, but it might seem like a switch flips in your pup when it escalates. Many dogs with ear infections will go from perfectly happy to showing multiple symptoms almost immediately. 

If this happens, don’t panic. Contact your vet about seeing them for a possible ear infection. You can help your pup by staying calm and providing treats and comfort until you can take them in.

We hate to see our pets in pain but taking action when you notice signs can help prevent the discomfort from getting worse and causing major problems. If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, contact your vet about possible treatments to get your pup back to their normal self with healthy ears.

About the Author

Mia Barnes smiling.

Mia Barnes is a health and wellness writer and editor-in-chief at Body + Mind. She specifically enjoys writing about women’s fitness, as well as mental health-related topics. When she’s not writing, Barnes can usually be found reading poetry, taking a dance or cardio class, or hiking.


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