Sad beagle laying with head on paws

Dog Ear Pain and Irritation: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

Do you know what’s sad? Watching your dog slowly walk by, head hanging low, ears drooping, their lips pulled back in annoyance (or maybe pain), while they can’t stop shaking their head. Obviously something is wrong. But what can you do? Irritation in your dog’s ear is a fairly common issue. However, if left unaddressed, irritation can quickly lead to ear infections, and we’re helpless to prevent them, or heal them… Or are we?

Ear irritation—and even infection—while common in dogs, is often misunderstood. The unique anatomy of a dog's ear makes them particularly susceptible to these infections. In this blog post, we will delve deeper into the causes, symptoms, soothing techniques for irritation in the ear—all of which helps to prevent dog ear infections. We hope that you can use this as a comprehensive guide to ensure the best care for your dog.

Symptoms of Irritation and Infections on a Dog’s Ear

Recognizing the symptoms of ear infections and irritation is the first step in providing timely care to our pets. Luckily, most of the symptoms are pretty obvious.

Symptoms of irritation

Frequent shaking of the head or tilting it to one side: This can be an early sign of discomfort.

Scratching or rubbing the ears excessively: Especially if accompanied by other symptoms.

Red skin in or around the ear canal: Red skin is a tell-tale sign of irritation. It could mean that your dog has been scratching, or it could indicate a rash, or it could be the start of an infection.

Symptoms of infection

If you notice any of the following symptoms, your dog could have a nasty infection and will need to see a vet to clear it up.

Foul odor coming from the ears: A strong odor can indicate an ongoing infection.

Swelling of the ear canal: This might be evident upon visual inspection.

Discharge or black/brown waxy buildup in the ears: Often a clear sign of infection.

Sensitivity or pain when the ears are touched: Dogs might yelp or show discomfort when their ears are touched.

While the symptoms of irritation or infection might be obvious, the root cause of the issue isn’t always so easy to spot. If you suspect that something isn’t quite right with your dog’s ear, you should become familiar with the underlying conditions that could lead to infection.

Causes of Dog Ear Infections

Understanding the balance between various factors, both anatomical and environmental, is crucial in protecting dogs from ear infections. Often, irritation is the precursor to these infections. If you're well-versed in alleviating this irritation and have a little understanding of how infections evolve, you stand a much better chance at preventing them altogether.

Allergies are a big player here. Dogs can have allergies to certain foods, things in their environment, or even to parasites like fleas. These allergies often lead to inflammation and serious irritation in their ears. If this isn't tackled early, it can spiral into an ear infection.

Then there is ear anatomy. Breeds with floppy ears (think Cocker Spaniels or Basset Hounds) tend to have more ear infections. Why? Because their ears don't get as much airflow, which means more moisture and a greater chance for bacteria and yeast to grow. Dogs with a lot of ear hair (like Schnauzers) face similar risks since the hair can trap dirt and moisture.

Be mindful of ear trauma too. If dogs scratch their ears a lot or if we clean their ears excessively, it can irritate the skin and make a cozy home for bacteria or yeast. Also, things like too much earwax, water, or dirt in the ears can increase the risk of infection.

Other culprits include bacteria, yeast, and pests like ear mites. Identifying the specific cause is crucial to treat and prevent infections effectively.

Each of these potential causes of infection has a precursor—irritation. By addressing the initial signs of irritation and understanding the underlying causes, you can more effectively safeguard your pet against more serious health issues.

If you think your dog is suffering from an ear infection, or if they’re showing signs of irritation, it’s time to start helping them feel better! The solution can involve anything from medication from a vet, to an over-the-counter remedy.

Prevention of Dog Ear Infections

A timely and appropriate treatment not only alleviates immediate discomfort but also may prevent further problems (or complications) from developing potential complications. Let's delve into the various preventative methodologies to ensure our furry friends stay in the best of health.

Over the Counter Solutions

Ear Cleansers: There are specialized dog ear cleaning solutions available that can help remove debris and prevent infections. Some products even have ingredients meant to soothe discomfort, itch, and minor irritation. Here are some examples of products that we carry at our brick and mortar locations:

- Dr Golds Ear Therapy. This is an alcohol-free, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory ear cleaning solution meant to clean out sensitive ears

- Scouts Honor Probiotic Ear Cleaner. This product also contains aloe vera, and is designed to gently clean your dog’s ears while simultaneously soothing away irritation.

- Zymox Ear Cleaning Solution combines protein, enzymes, and surfactants to thoroughly and gently clean the ear.

- NaturVet Ear Wash with Green Tea. This solution helps dissolve ear wax and remove foreign debris while also encouraging the damage or irritation around the ear to heal.

By the way, if you have questions about which ear cleaning solution is right for your dog, you can always give your local Kahoots a call. Or better yet, stop by so our knowledgeable associates can learn about your pet and provide the best recommendations possible.

What Can a Vet Do?

Consultation and Diagnosis: If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, it's crucial to seek veterinary advice promptly. A veterinarian can thoroughly examine the ears, determine the cause of the infection, and suggest a suitable treatment.

Cleaning the Ears: Your vet might recommend a professional cleaning, especially if there's a significant amount of debris. They may use vet-approved ear cleansers to ensure a thorough cleaning.

Medications: Based on the type and severity of the infection, the vet can prescribe antibiotics, antifungals, or a combination of both. It's vital to follow the prescribed dosage and duration to ensure effective treatment.

Allergy Management: If allergies are found to be the root cause, the vet may recommend allergy tests. Based on the results, a comprehensive management plan may be designed, which can include dietary modifications, environmental adjustments, and allergy-specific medications.

Preventative Measures: Vets can provide nuanced and personalized guidance on routine ear care, recommend products for cleaning, and give tips on preventing future infections.

With a better understanding of treatment options, the next step is to focus on long-term care and prevention to keep our pets healthy and happy.


Preventing an ear infection from happening in the first place is always going to be cheaper, less stressful, and less painful than curing an ear infection. By incorporating preventive measures and regular checks, we can minimize the chances of our dogs contracting ear infections, ensuring their long-term well-being and comfort. 

Regular grooming, ear cleaning, and maintenance are vital. Use professional dog ear cleaning products for effective pH ranges and avoid substances like alcohol or hydrogen peroxide when the ears are visibly red and raw as they may sting. The frequency of cleaning usually decreases over time, but it's essential for prevention. If your dog swims frequently, using drying agents and ensuring water doesn't enter the ear during baths

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes ear infections in dogs?

Bacteria and yeast are common culprits, but ear mites, wax buildup, foreign bodies, allergies, and underlying health conditions can increase susceptibility to infection.

What are the symptoms to watch out for?

- Head shaking or tilting

- Scratching at the affected ear

- Discharge or odor from the ear

- Redness or swelling of the ear canal or ear flap

- Pain or tenderness when the ear is touched

- Loss of balance or hearing

How are ear infections diagnosed in dogs?

A veterinarian will typically perform a physical examination and may take a sample of the ear discharge to look for bacteria, yeast, or parasites under a microscope.

How are ear infections treated in dogs?

Treatment often involves cleaning the ear and administering prescription medications like antibiotics, antifungals, or anti-inflammatories. In some cases, oral medications or surgery might be required.

Can dog ear infections be prevented?

Regular ear grooming can help prevent infections, especially in breeds prone to infection. It's also crucial to keep the ears dry, especially after swimming or baths.

Are some dog breeds more prone to ear infections than others?

Yes. Breeds with floppy ears (like Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels) or dogs with hairy inner ear canals (like Poodles and Schnauzers) are more susceptible.

Can ear infections lead to other complications?

If left untreated, ear infections can spread to the inner ear, affecting balance and hearing. Chronic infections can lead to thickening or scarring of the ear canal.

How long does it take for a dog ear infection to heal?

With proper treatment, most ear infections should start improving within a few days, given that your dog completes the entire treatment as prescribed by your vet. However, some chronic or severe infections may take weeks to months to resolve.

Can dog ear infections spread to humans?

While the specific organisms causing the infection in dogs might not typically infect humans, it's always a good idea to wash your hands after handling a dog with an ear infection.

Are ear infections contagious for other dogs?
Ear infections in dogs are typically not contagious to other dogs, especially when caused by common pathogens like bacteria or yeast.

Should I clean my dog's ears regularly?

Regular cleaning can be beneficial, especially for breeds prone to ear infections. However, excessive cleaning can be counterproductive. Ask your vet for recommendations on frequency and cleaning solutions.

My dog's ear infection keeps coming back. Why?

Recurring infections might be due to underlying issues like allergies, hormonal imbalances, or anatomical abnormalities. It's essential to address the root cause to prevent frequent recurrences.

Wrapping Up

Dog ear infections can be uncomfortable and painful for our pets. By understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, and seeking appropriate veterinary care, we can ensure our dogs receive the necessary treatment to alleviate their discomfort. Remember, early detection and prevention are key in maintaining your dog's ear health. Stay vigilant and prioritize your furry friend's well-being.