Symptoms of an Ear Infection in Dogs

Any ear infection in dogs should be treated immediately before serious consequences, such as deafness or even death, occur. An outer ear infection can migrate and become a middle ear infection or even an inner ear infection, if medical treatment is not given as soon as possible.


A canine ear infection can be caused by:

  • Insects or parasites (mites)
  • Moisture
  • Wax
  • Dirt
  • Trauma
  • Heredity
  • Allergies
  • Hormonal abnormalities
  • Restricted airflow within the ear
  • Tumors
  • Fungi
  • Bacteria


No matter the cause, symptoms of an ear infection can include:

  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Discharge
  • Redness
  • Odor
  • Head Shaking

Outer Ear

The outer ear is separated by the eardrum from the middle and inner ear. Outer ear infections are more easily identified since redness, discharge and swelling can be more easily observed. Outer ear infections are usually of a bacterial (yeast) or fungal variety. A veterinarian will use an otoscope to look in the ear and view the eardrum and vertical and horizontal ear canals. A blood test and testing of any discharge will determine the cause and extent of the ear infection.

Sometimes ear infections can be caused by restricted airflow within the ears. This can be especially true for floppy-eared, furry-eared dogs. Ear infections can be prevented by trimming any excessive fur around the ears and by removing excessive wax or debris on a regular basis. Using rubbing alcohol or cleaning solutions will remove the wax and any ear mites, which resemble coffee grounds. Any swelling, discharge or odor may indicate an ear infection.

Middle and Inner Ear Infections

Usually middle and inner ear infections are the result of an outer ear infection spreading. Treatment is needed immediately to prevent further spread of the infection, deafness, loss of balance, neurological problems or even death if the infection spreads into the brain.

Some causes of middle and inner ear infections can include the imbalance of any adrenal, thyroid or sex hormones. Since hormonal imbalances are hard to control, any behavioral change should be followed by consultation with a veterinarian. Otherwise, weekly checking and ear cleaning should prevent any ear infections.

Symptoms of middle ear infections are the same as the symptoms for outer ear infections; however, they can also include the following:

  • Facial paralysis due to inflammation of the facial nerve
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Drooping eyelids, partially covering the eye
  • Drooping facial muscles

Symptoms for inner ear infections are the same as the symptoms for outer and middle ear infections, but can also include:

  • Loss of balance
  • Downward head tilt
  • Circling
  • Constantly rolling over
  • Lying down, since standing up is too difficult

An ostoscopic examination, x-rays and an ear swab will determine if the ear infection is a result of allergies, hormones, hereditary conditions or vestibular disease.


Usually antibiotics and antifungals can treat most ear infections. More severe cases may need other medications or even surgery.