The 4 Most Common Ways Dogs get Ear Infections

Written by Shaunice Lewis
Updated: November 14, 2023
Share on:


There are a few different reasons why dogs can develop ear infections, and it might seem as though dogs are prone to developing them more often than people are. This is due to a variety of things ranging from allergies to wax build-up. Read on to learn more about the most common ways that dogs can develop ear infections and what you should do about it.

What Is an Ear Infection?

First, let’s go over what exactly an ear infection is. There are actually three different types of ear infections: otitis externa, media, and interna. Each of the three different types of ear infections pertains to different portions of the ear canal. The most common type of ear infection is otitis externa, which deals with the external part of the ear canal. Ear infection in this area means that there is inflammation occurring that effects the layer of cells that line the external section of the dog’s ear canal.

The other two types of ear infections are otitis media and otitis interna. Otitis media is an ear infection of the middle part of the ear canal, while otitis interna is an ear infection involving the inner ear canal. If your dog has an infection in either of these two portions of the ear, it is likely the result of an infection that spread from the external ear or otitis externa.

If left untreated, otitis media and interna can result in your dog becoming deaf or experiencing facial paralysis, so it is very important to seek treatment for your dog as soon as you notice the signs and symptoms of an ear infection.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Ear Infections in Dogs?

There are a few signs you should be on the lookout for in order to know if your dog is suffering from an ear infection. The sooner you’re able to recognize those signs, the sooner you can get your dog the help and treatment that it needs so that the ear infection doesn’t become more severe.

Let’s go over some of the signs and symptoms you should be on the lookout for that could indicate an ear infection in your dog.

First, we should note that it is possible for your dog to show no signs of an ear infection, other than a buildup of wax in their ear accompanied by discharge in their ear canal. This is one of the main reasons why it’s so important for you to check your dog’s ears regularly to make sure that you don’t spot anything out of the ordinary, as some dogs will display no other symptoms.

In other cases, there are some symptoms that dogs will display when suffering from an ear infection. Here are some of the things you should take note of that could point to an ear infection in your dog:

  • Dark discharge
  • Scratching the infected ear
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Crust or scabs
  • Head shaking
  • Odor in the affected ear

You may notice that there is a darkly colored discharge in one or both of your dog’s ears. This is a common sign that your dog has an ear infection. If you notice discharge in your dog’s ears, you should get it to the vet soon so that it can be examined and the ear infection can be treated before worsening. Intense itchiness, redness, or swelling are also signs that you should be on the lookout for.

Checking your dog’s ears regularly can help you spot when something looks out of the ordinary. If you notice your dog showing signs of any of the above symptoms, you should schedule an appointment to see your vet as soon as possible so that the infection doesn’t progress and become more severe.

Most Common Reasons Why Dogs Get Ear Infections

There are many reasons why dogs get ear infections. The likelihood of getting an ear infection can also increase depending on the type of ears your dog has as well. Let’s go over some of the main reasons why dogs develop ear infections.


A rough collie receives an ear examination at a veterinary clinic

Excess moisture can cause an ear infection in your pup.


The first and most common reason why dogs can develop ear infections is moisture. Having excess moisture in the ear can lead to the growth and development of excess bacteria and yeast. An overgrowth of these bacteria can lead to the development of an ear infection and all of the symptoms, like redness, itchiness, and swelling, that go along with it. You can prevent excess moisture by regularly keeping your dog’s ears clean as well as drying your dog properly after exposure to water from bathing, rain, or outdoor play.

Injury to Ear Canal

Sometimes ear infections can happen due to injuries that a dog acquires. Injuries to a dog’s ear can happen as a result of many things, like fighting, mites, or foreign bodies. If something gets stuck in your dog’s ear, it can damage the ear canal and result in an infection. Fighting with another dog or animal also has the potential to cause damage to the inside of your dog’s ear. The damage that is caused can lead to the development of an ear infection.

Mites can also cause ear infections. These tiny insects are not life-threatening to your dog, but they can cause a tremendous amount of discomfort if your dog has them. They feed on the wax and oils that are in your dog’s ears and cause a lot of irritation and itchiness. Your dog may try to scratch more because of the mites, which can increase the redness, swelling, and irritation. These things combined can result in the development of an ear infection if the mites are not treated soon.


Allergies are also a common cause of ear infections in dogs. Dogs that suffer from allergies can also be prone to developing ear infections even more often than dogs that do not have allergies. Many times, ear infections can be a secondary symptom of an allergy to things like mold, dust mites, or some ingredients in dog food. If your dog struggles with allergies, you might want to consider switching to a brand that specializes in food for dogs with allergies. Just be sure that you consult with your veterinarian first before switching your dog over to a new diet.

Excessive Cleaning

While it’s very important to keep your dog’s ears clean (which reduces the chances of developing an ear infection), too much of a good thing can have the opposite effect. Cleaning your dog’s ears too frequently, or too aggressively, can lead to irritation within the dog’s ear canal, which could lead to the development of an ear infection. It is possible for some dogs that have very healthy, clean ears to never need to have their ears cleaned, as long as things are in good shape.

If your dog’s ears don’t need to be cleaned and you clean them anyway, this could cause irritation and inflammation within the ear. It is only recommended that you clean your dog’s ears when you notice something like discharge, odor, or a wax buildup in your dog’s ears. Cleaning when these things aren’t present can do more harm than good.

What Do I Do if My Dog Has an Ear Infection?

If you suspect that your dog has an ear infection, the first thing you’ll want to do is make an appointment to see your vet. It is crucial that you don’t wait or try to treat the ear infection on your own. And it’s also not a good idea to assume that the infection will clear itself up on its own. Dogs that have ear infections need to be seen by a veterinarian so that the infection can be treated properly from the start.

Without proper treatment, an ear infection can worsen and reach further into the ear canal. Otitis media and interna can both be more serious cases of ear infections than the more common otitis externa, so it’s always best to get it taken care of quickly.

To determine the best way to treat the ear infection, a veterinarian will examine your dog’s ears and give them a thorough clean using an ear cleanser that is medicated. Then, the vet will usually prescribe an ear cleanser or a topical medication that you can apply to your dog’s ear infection at home to help it heal. If the ear infection is more severe, the vet may prescribe your dog oral antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications that can be taken to help clear up the infection and prevent further damage.

Up Next:

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

Ready to discover the top 10 cutest dog breeds in the entire world?

How about the fastest dogs, the largest dogs and those that are -- quite frankly -- just the kindest dogs on the planet? Each day, AZ Animals sends out lists just like this to our thousands of email subscribers. And the best part? It's FREE. Join today by entering your email below.

What's the right dog for you?

Dogs are our best friends but which breed is your perfect match?


If you have kids or existing dogs select:

Other Dogs

Should they be Hypoallergenic?

How important is health?
Which dog groups do you like?
How much exercise should your dog require?
What climate?
How much seperation anxiety?
How much yappiness/barking?

How much energy should they have?

The lower energy the better.
I want a cuddle buddy!
About average energy.
I want a dog that I have to chase after constantly!
All energy levels are great -- I just love dogs!
How much should they shed?
How trainable/obedient does the dog need to be?
How intelligent does the dog need to be?
How much chewing will allow?

Share on:
About the Author

Freelance writer specializing in natural health and wellness.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

  1. American Kennel Club, Available here:
  2. NexGard, Available here:
  3. VCA Animal Hospitals, Available here: