Dog Ear Infections: Common Causes and Treatment

dog ear

Does your dog have itchy, smelly, gunky, or painful ears? Dog ear infections are quite common. Moreover, certain breeds are specifically prone. Sometimes, the owners miss the signs and do not realize until there are severe symptoms. Fortunately, there are specific steps that you can follow to decrease your frequency of visits to a vet. 

Types and causes of ear infection 

There are primarily two kinds of infections: outer and inner ear infection. Outer ear infections are pretty common. They result due to excessive wax buildup, damp environment, trauma to ears, and due to allergies. 

The outer dog ear gets infected due to rod bacteria, cocci bacteria, and yeast. An inner ear infection occurs whenever a pathogen infects the tympanic membrane. Fungi, yeast, and bacteria can result in chronic ear infections. If care is not taken, then there can be severe damage to the membrane on exposure to pathogens.  

Symptoms of ear infection 

You need to keep an eye on the symptoms. Never ignore them. Instead, try to address the situation right away. Here are the common symptoms seen in dogs with an ear infection. 

  • Scratching ears with bag leg 
  • Shaking of the head
  • Rubbing the head on a carpet or couch 
  • Redness on the ear flap 
  • Odor and discharge 
  • A hot spot on the cheek due to excessive scratching 

The signs mentioned above show up when the infection is still acute. The infected canal can be red and may have small bumps. There can be a yellow or thick discharge that is usually foul-smelling. If you find your dog mildly lazy or find it resting its head to one side, then it can signify inflammation of the outer ear canal.   

Signs of inner ear infections are quite serious. These signs require immediate medical intervention. 

  • Head tilt
  • Anorexia
  • Waling in circles 
  • Inability to chew 
  • Nausea
  • Excessive drooling 
  • Rapid eye movements 

Diagnosis and treatment of dog ear infection 

Acute outer ear infections are quite easy to diagnose. These resolve quickly as soon as the treatment commences. The most common treatment prescribed is the cleaning and the use of ear drops. If the infection is mild, then mild cleaning with over-the-counter cleaner would do the trick. You can use Zymox drops to resolve the symptoms. 

Severe inflammation demands an extended course of treatment. The vet may prescribe an oral steroid. If the infection is due to allergies, then allergies need to be addressed first. Both environmental and food allergies are associated with ear infections. Inner ear infections require the use of anti-fungal or broad-spectrum oral antibiotic medication. 

Prevention of ear infection 

Prevention of any condition is always the best thing you can do for your dog. Cleaning the ears occasionally can keep dog ear infections away. If your dog is prone to outer ear infections, then you need to clean the ear regularly. This will lessen the relapse of the infection. 

If you have the habit of cleaning your dog’s ears weekly, then you will be able to deal with it at an early stage. Certain breeds such as poodles, retrievers, cocker spaniels, and hounds that have large ears are prone to infection. If you own these breeds, then make it a habit to clean the ears regularly.   

Make sure to clean and dry the ears after swimming. Use a cotton plug at the entrance of the ear canal before bathing. This will keep the ear canal dry and will also prevent ear infection. You need to remember that your dog cannot tell what is wrong with it. Here are some effective tips that you can follow. 

  • Keep an eye for discharge, swelling or redness 
  • Feel the ear for thickening and heat 
  • Smell the ear for a foul or sour smell 
  • Check if there is scratching or head shaking

Causes of brown discharge in dogs 

Have you ever wondered why your dog’s ears are brown from the inside? The brown gunk that you see can be due to several reasons.   

Excessive ear wax 

It is the main contributor to brown gunk in your dog. Ear wax production is entirely normal. You do not have to be concerned about it. However, too much wax can result in an infection. If your dog is scratching its ears or is shaking its head frequently, then you need to take it seriously. 

Fungal infection 

A pungent dark brown discharge having a musty odor indicates yeast or fungal infection, which is caused due to excessive moisture buildup in the ears. 

Ear mites 

The blackish-brown crusty buildup that resembles coffee grounds in your dog’s ears is a clear indication of ear mites. Tiny insects can turn your dog’s ears into their home. If you leave this untreated, then ear mites can cause your pet to go deaf. 

Outer ear infection 

A reddish-brown, waxy discharge characterizes an outer ear infection. These infections are due to polyps and allergies.  

If you notice any buildup in the ears of your dogs, then schedule an appointment with your vet right away. You can also try any dog ear discharge home remedy.  

Home remedy for ear infections 

An ear infection can leave your dog feeling uncomfortable. You can use natural soothing solutions. Dr. Michael Dym recommends using the following remedies for soothing your dog’s ears. Doing some of these remedies will also work wonders for stinky dog ears with no infection. If there is an infection, then make sure to address the situation right away with proper medications. Home remedies should always be used for mild concerns that are usually harmless. 

Green Tea

  • Boil water and add two bags of green tea 
  • Let the tea steep for a couple of minutes
  • Let it cool down 
  • Use a syringe or a sponge to add some drops into the ear canal 

Calendula tincture 

  • Use herbal calendula in tincture form
  • Add 5 to 10 drops to a cup of lukewarm water 
  • Insert into the dog ear with a dropper 


  • Use unsweetened yogurt 
  • Put the yogurt in the ear with a syringe 

Grapefruit seed extract 

  • Grapefruit extract is a natural antioxidant 
  • It is also anti-fungal, antiviral and anti-bacterial 
  • Mix 10 drops of the extract with pure aloe vera juice for cleaning the ears 
  • You can also add extract supplements to your dog’s food  

Oil of oregano 

  • Oil of oregano is a natural antibiotic 
  • Add a drop of oil to warm aloe vera juice. 
  • Use this mixture topically 
  • You can also add the oil to your dog’s food

The above-mentioned soothing solutions will help ease the itching and pain in your dog in case of an infection. Also, if your dog’s ears smell sour, then these remedies can prove to be extremely beneficial. 

Dirty ears in dogs 

Dr. Christine Cain, the section chief at the School of Veterinary Medicine, Pennsylvania shares that dead cells and ear wax can create an odor in your pet’s ear. It doesn’t have to be an infection. It is normal, even if the scent might not be pleasant. Also, she shared that the smell dissipates on its own. 

Dogs have a self-cleaning mechanism that pushes wax out of the canal regularly. Sometimes, the smell becomes more noticeable. This is because of numerous factors. Bathing or regular swimming makes it difficult for the body to push the wax out of the canal. Very long and narrow canals also add to the problem. It is the buildup that results in potent smell. 

You can use any of the above-mentioned smelly dog ears home remedies for dealing with the issue. The smell will subside if you clean your dog’s ears with green tea or chamomile. If the dog’s ears look normal and if there are no other symptoms apart from the odor, then you can just do a little cleaning. 

Dog ear dermatitis 

Dog ear dermatitis can be due to mange, mites, fissures, injury, allergy, and seborrhea. Even though these conditions seem to be no big deal, your pet wouldn’t quite agree with you. Intense itching and pain can constantly be annoying them. 

Different kinds of skin conditions can irritate the outside of your dog’s ears. Mites are believed to be the common reasons for ear dermatitis. Check if the dog ear is crusty inside. Scabs on the edge of the dog’s ears are also a sign of mite infestation. It is essential to eliminate mites as soon as possible. 


The first thing vets do while examining the ear canal is to look for mites. It is not hard to spot them. The next step would be to do a thorough cleaning. This step is followed by the application of products that have been approved for the treatment of ear mites. Moxidectin and selamectin are commonly used against a range of parasites. 

Prevention is the best remedy. Make sure to spend some time and apply topical anti-parasite medication for keeping your dog’s ears clean. If the dog ear scab won’t heal, then head to the vet right away. There may be an underlying condition preventing healing. No matter what the case is, never ignore any sign. It can prove to be disastrous if left untreated. 

Your dog obviously cannot convey what is wrong with it. You will have to keep an eye on the signs. If you do a thorough cleaning once in 15 days, then your dog’s ears wouldn’t be infested with mites. Your dog wouldn’t feel itchy as well. Use soothing home remedies to prevent infections.  

Medications for preventing ear infections in dogs

There are a few solutions that can be used to prevent ear infection in your pet. Below, we are going to talk about one of them:  

Zymox Ear Treatment 

Zymox ear solution assists in managing common ear problems noted in cats and dogs. This patented solution promises comfort without any need for traumatic pre-cleaning or application. It will maintain healthy and clean ears in your pet. You just need to use it once in 7 to 14 days. 

Zymox enzymatic solution is highly effective in managing chronic and acute otitis due to yeast, fungal, and bacterial infections. It disinfects ears while destroying most of the microbes. You can use it on pets of any age. So, if your pup is showing signs of an infection, then use this solution to make him comfortable.  


  • Proven effective against pseudomonas, candida albicans, staphylococcus aureus, escericha coli, and other microbes. 
  • No pre-cleaning required 
  • Gently fill the ear canal and then wipe to remove excess 
  • Effective solution for problematic ears in dogs and cats 
  • Safe and gentle 
  • Get rids of buildup and controls irritation 
  • Starts working instantly 
  • Ideal for treating inflammation of external ear due to yeasts, viruses, and bacteria 
  • Does not contain any antibiotics  


  • Is bit sticky while handling 

Now that you have gone through this article, you should know the reasons behind dog ear infection, how to prevent them and treat them in case your pet gets infected.