What do ear infections in dogs look like?

If you notice your dog acting unusually – exhibiting ear sensitivity or head shaking ­– they may have an ear infection or ear inflammation, (also known as canine otitis externa). 

This inflammation, which affects the ear canal, can be painful for dogs and in most cases will not improve without medical treatment. Plus, dogs that have had it once may be prone to having recurring ear infections

Untreated or recurring ear infections can lead to permanent changes in the ear canal.

Ear infection symptoms can include:

  • Ear infections in dogs cause dogs to scratch
    Itching & scratching ear

  • Ear infections in dogs cause dogs to shake their head
    Shaking head

  • Ear infections in dogs cause dogs' ears to smell bad
    Ear smelling bad

  • Ear infections in dogs cause reddened sore ears
    Reddened, sore ear

  • Ear infections in dogs cause dogs to be reluctant to have ears scratched
    Reluctance to have ears touched

  • Ear infections in dogs cause dogs to have discharge from ears
    Discharge from ear

What should you do if you think your dog has an ear infection?

Book an appointment with your vet
Book a vet appointment

If you think your pet is suffering from an ear infection, making an appointment with your vet is essential for your dog's recovery. 

Visit your vet
Visit your vet

During your visit, your vet will examine inside your dog's ear to understand what is causing the pain. They might also take a sample from the ear to identify the type of infection.

Ask about treatment options for ear infections in dogs
Ask about treatment options

Your vet may recommend anti-inflammatories to reduce the pain & swelling, ear cleaning or medicated ear drops which can either be given at home or applied by your vet.

What are the treatment options?

Treatment options for ear infections may include:

  • Ear cleaners to remove dirt & debris from the ear
  • Anti-inflammatories to reduce pain & swelling      
  • Antibiotics & antifungals, when these are needed

Ear treatments vary in how they are administered:

  • One dose ear treatments applied by your vet
  • Multi-dose ear treatments applied by your vet
  • Once daily ear treatments applied at home
  • Twice daily ear treatments applied at home

Want to know more?

Vet giving collie dog an ear infection exam

Ear infections in dogs

What you need to know about otitis externa and ear infections in dogs.

Lab dog having ear examined by vet

Four reasons dog keep shaking their heads

Learn more about four common medical reasons your dog might be shaking their head frequently.

Dog lying down with ear infection

Why does my dog keep getting ear infections?

Repeat ear infections, or chronic otitis externa, can be sore and itchy for your dog.

* Ear infections are very common, and affect up to one in five dogs - Paterson S et al. Companion Animal 2021 26:Sup3, S1-S16

Breed related statistics - O’Neill DG, McMillan KM, Church DB, Brodbelt DC (2023). PLoS ONE 18(7): e0288081.Link: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0288081#sec007

Over half of UK dog owners struggle to administer daily ear drops for otitis externa - Dog Owner Compliance Evaluation, June 2019