7 Signs Your Dog Has an Ear Infection

Lindsay Butzer, DVM / ZYMOX®
By Lindsay Butzer, DVM / ZYMOX® on Mar. 5, 2024
veterinarian cleaning a dog's ears with a wipe

Kerkez/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Ear infections are some of the most common infections that affect our furry family members. Sometimes floppy and usually hairy, a dog’s ears can be the perfect breeding ground for the bacteria, viruses, and yeast that cause ear infections.

While it’s true that some breeds—especially Basset Hounds, Labradoodles, Beagles, Shar-Pei, and Cockapoos—are at higher risk for ear infections, any dog can get an ear infection. Infections rarely clear up on their own, so an ear infection usually means a trip to the vet and a prescription for medication to clear it up. Untreated ear infections can become clogged with pus or blood, cause a fever, and even cause your dog to stop eating and get sick.

The good news is there are things you can do at home to both prevent and manage ear infections, beginning with regular ear cleaning and hygiene. ZYMOX® ear health products, including a maintenance cleanser and a solution that targets the underlying cause of ear infections, can help keep your pets out of the vet’s office. 

Why Do Dogs Get Ear Infections?

The most common type of ear infection is known as otitis externa, meaning an infection of the outer ear. Ear infections of the outer ear can be sudden (acute) or chronic (meaning the infection can last a long time—three months or longer—or come back repeatedly after treatment). They can occur in one or both ears. Dogs with ear infections may have any of the following seven symptoms:

  • Red and inflamed skin

  • Pawing or itching at the ears

  • A yeasty odor coming from the ears

  • Pain

  • Head shaking

  • Discharge from the ear

  • Crusty skin or scabs

Ear infections happen when conditions inside the ear are ripe for the overgrowth of microorganisms that are commonly present on the ear and fur, including bacteria, fungi, and yeast. The risk of infection increases when foreign material like grass or dirt gets into the ear, if your dog has ear mites, when moisture becomes trapped in the ear from bathing or swimming, or in dogs with environmental allergies.

In most cases, an ear infection will not go away on its own. Untreated ear infections are not only painful, but they can also cause hearing damage and progress to loss of balance if the microorganisms travel into your dog’s bloodstream.

If you see your dog showing signs of an ear infection, it’s a good idea to begin treatment as soon as possible. Your vet can help you diagnose the infection by testing the debris with cytology or a culture. A CT scan may be needed for more serious infections.

Common treatments include topical antibiotics, oral antibiotics, antifungals, and steroid medications. If you’re prescribed antibiotics, it’s especially important to give your dog the full course of medication, even if the symptoms resolve. Quitting early can lead to antibiotic resistance and an increased risk of recurrent ear infections.

Ear cleaning solutions are also frequently prescribed to help reduce symptoms and keep your dog’s ears clear.

ZYMOX® Helps Prevent and Manage Canine Ear Infections

ZYMOX® is a popular ear solution that relies on a special blend of enzymes to help break down and remove debris and discharge from the ear. While some other ear cleaning products rely on antiseptics like chlorhexidine, which can be harsh to the tender skin of the ear, ZYMOX®’s proprietary enzyme-based formula was developed more than 25 years ago. It’s very gentle on the skin, does not dry out the ear, and has no side effects.

ZYMOX®’s enzyme formula, called the LP3 Enzyme System, combines three naturally derived enzymes that target troublesome microorganisms. When applied correctly, enzymes pass through the cell walls of bacteria and yeast and kill the organism, without killing the good bacteria that help maintain balance in the ear canal.

For symptomatic dogs, try a seven-day course of ZYMOX® Ear Solution. Don’t pre-clean your dog’s ears before using. The product works best when it has plenty of gunky material to interact with. You can use it twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.

If symptoms don’t improve after seven days, schedule a visit to the vet so they can take a closer look. In severe cases, they might have to take a culture from the ear to create a tailored treatment plan.

To help prevent future infections in healthy ears, you can use ZYMOX® Ear Cleanser. This gentle product was designed to target debris and build-up in the ear and can be used once or twice a week or after swimming. It is equally effective in dogs and cats and provides relief from itchy, irritated ears.

ZYMOX®’s proprietary enzyme-based formula was developed more than 25 years ago. It’s very gentle on the skin, does not dry out the ear, and has no side effects.

ZYMOX® Ear Solution is also best used on dog ears that haven’t been pre-cleaned. A version with 0.5% hydrocortisone is available for pets with especially itchy years. If you recently used the ear solution, wait 24 hours before switching to the cleaning product for maintenance, allowing time for wax and other debris to build up.

If the idea of putting drops in your dog’s ears doesn’t sound attractive, newer ZYMOX® Ear Wipes are designed for daily use. The wipes are easy to use, hypoallergenic, and contain non-irritating ingredients like aloe vera to moisturize the skin. To use a wipe, simply tent it around your finger and gently wipe the visible areas of the outer ear. Both the Ear Cleanser and wipes can be used on dogs and cats.

ZYMOX® also offers a veterinary line, ZYMOX® Otic, that has 1% hydrocortisone or is hydrocortisone-free. It should be used with the recommendation of a vet. These products are based on the same LP3 Enzyme System, but have a few added enzymatic ingredients that target the cell walls of viruses, fungi, and bacteria.

Preventing Future Canine Ear Infections

In most cases, dogs will fully recover from an ear infection after treatment. Once the symptoms are gone, consistent grooming and regular ear cleaning can help prevent future infections. This is especially true for dogs with floppy ears that cover their ear openings, and for dogs that swim frequently.


What’s the right way to clean my dog’s ears?

Cleaning your dog’s ears is an important part of their grooming and can help prevent ear infections. When using an ear-cleaning product, always first check the label for instructions or ask your vet. To use a cleaner like the ZYMOX® Ear Solution or ZYMOX® Ear Cleanser, fill the ear cavity with fluid. Don’t clean the canal first—the products will work better if they have gunk to interact with.

After the canal is filled, gently massage the base of the ear to work the product into the ear canal. Carefully wipe away any excess with a cotton ball or soft, clean cloth. It’s fine if your pet shakes his head after applying the ear product, but make sure to wipe away any new material that comes out. 

This sponsored article was paid for by Zymox. All opinions within belong to Zymox.

Lindsay Butzer, DVM / ZYMOX®


Lindsay Butzer, DVM / ZYMOX®

Sponsored Content Author

Dr. Lindsay Butzer is a veterinarian who takes pride in her YouTube and social media career. She completed her bachelor’s in science at Colorado State University and her veterinary studies at Ross University with a clinical year at Tufts in Massachusetts. Dr. Lindsay battled leukemia in 2020 and is now cancer-free and continues to work at her father’s small animal practice in Boca Raton, Florida. Dr. Butzer also runs her family’s animal medical rescue Clint Moore Rescue LLC, where she collects donations to save over 20 pets per year who need veterinary care in her area.

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