Ear infection (otitis externa)

  • Ear infections are generally caused by bacterial or yeast infections. 

  • Ear infections are more common in animals with an anatomical predisposition such as narrow ear canals

  • Ear infections can be painful for dogs, they will often scratch at their ears and you may see head shaking 


The ear is made up of both the outer and inner ear. Outer ear infections can differ from inner ear infections in a number of ways. If there is an inner ear infection your dog may also look wobbly, have a slightly drunken gait and have a head tilt. This is because the mechanism for the inner ear lives in the inner ear. 


It is important to see your vet if you notice any of these symptoms. 


If your vet diagnoses an ear infection, they may take a swab which they can look at under the microscope. This will give them an idea whether the ear infection is caused by bacteria or yeast. 


Having looked at the sample the vet may prescribe ear drops, may advise on cleaning your dog’s ears or may provide anti-inflammatory medication.  


If a dog has regular ear infections, it is likely that there may be an underlying cause, such as allergic skin disease or hairy ear canals. This will need to be addressed. 


If your pet requires antibiotic treatment on multiple occasions, they may become resistant to this treatment. Your vet may advise swabs being taken from the affected ear to be sent to the laboratory. This will inform your vet which specific medications are best for treating the ear infection. 


Cats get ear infections less commonly than dogs, often if a cat has an ear infection there is usually an underlying cause such as ear mites, a foreign body, or an anatomical abnormality.

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This advice is for UK pets only.Written by vets. Please always seek advice from your own veterinary surgeon if you have concerns about your animal, never try to treat an animal yourself or give any medication without veterinary supervision.