How to Identify and Treat Ear Fungus in Dogs

a yellow lab puppy sitting outside

Nobody wants to see their dogs in pain-- especially in a sensitive area like their ears. Most dog owners know something is wrong when their dog starts to whine and scratch their ears. You may at first think it’s fleas-- which is whole other issue entirely-- but it may be an ear infection instead. Dogs’ ears are the perfect environment for fungus or bacteria to grow. They’re warm, moist-- and in most cases-- have plenty of crevices for the unwanted invaders to multiply. But there are some telltale signs for dog owners to watch for, and in this article we’ll cover:

  • Types of infection
  • How to identify the symptoms
  • Causes of ear fungus and infection
  • Treatment
  • Prevention

Types of infection

When your dog starts to whine and itch their ears constantly this could be signs that they are starting to develop an ear infection. Unfortunately, this is all too common in dogs-- it is estimated around 20% of some form of ear disease. Depending on the size and shape of their ear, some breeds are more prone to it than others-- such as basset hounds and cocker spaniels. Regardless of breed, these infections all can be broken down into three categories:

  • Otitis externa. This is an infection of the outer part of your pup’s ear. This is the part that you can see and easily access. When your dog first displays the symptoms that something is wrong, it is usually because there is some inflammation in this area and the beginning of an infection
  • Otitis media. The middle part of your dog’s ear and one that you cannot see or readily access. If the inflammation is allowed to continue from the otitis externa, it will continue to spread into this area of the ear
  • Otitis internal. If an infection remains untreated, it can reach the otitis internal-- the inner ear-- and can be a very serious problem. Due to the seriousness of this stage, there is a possibility that your dog could sustain some permanent damage such as deafness or even facial paralysis

This lays out a very steady progression of how easy it is for something that starts off small to escalate into something much larger. That is why it is very important that all dog owners realize how serious an ear infection can be.

Two puppies
Keep your pup infection free by learning to read the signs.

Learn to identify the symptoms

  • Now that you are aware of how serious ear infections can be, it’s time to identify the symptoms of them-- so when it happens to your dog, you’re ready to act quickly. Head shaking. We all know our dogs love a good head-- and whole body-- shake. But there is is a difference between those shakes, and ones that happen too often. If you notice your dog is shaking their head profusely-- or maybe just at strange times-- this might be a sign of something else. If you notice the frequency begins to increase, it’s time to take a closer look.
  • Odors. This symptom is most like the result of some kind of ear fungus that is just starting its growth in your dog’s ear. You know how your dog’s ears smell normally, and if you start to notice a yeasty, stinky smell permeating from them-- this is the sign of an infection.
  • Pawing at the ear. You know how your dog acts better than anyone, and if they seem to be excessively pawing their ear and rubbing it then you want to check on their ears. Sometimes dogs will whine while they do this, trying to let you know that something is wrong. They may also try and rub their head on the carpet or furniture to get some relief from the pain they’re experiencing.
  • Redness and swelling. This goes hand in hand with the smell test-- if the ear appears to be red or have a dark brown discharge-- this is a sign your dog should see the vet.

Make sure to take note if your dog experiences any of the symptoms above-- especially for a prolonged period of time. You do not want to allow the infection to have the time to spread further inward from the outer ear.

Help keep your dog safe from ear infections by inspecting their ears often.

Causes of ear fungus and infection

There are multiple ways that your dog can develop an ear infection. Due to the shape of their ear canal, dogs’ ears tend to hold more fluid. This means that they’re particularly susceptible to ear infections throughout their lifetimes. The most common causes of these inflammations are:

  • Fungus. Sometimes after bathing, swimming, or grooming your dog’s ear canal can become moist. If this moisture is allowed to fester-- and the moisture is not removed-- your dog may develop a fungal ear infection. Because dogs’ ears are moisture prone already, this creates an environment for the microorganisms to grow and multiply. With this type of infection also comes a distinct, yeasty smell as well.
  • Bacteria. The most common cause of ear infections in dogs is harmful bacteria. They can get this in any number of places. It could be the result of an insect bite that left bacteria behind-- or it could be the result of bacteria in water that got in your dog’s ear.
  • Viruses. When your dog gets sick with a virus, the symptoms could manifest in places such as the ears. If you dog picks up a virus and comes down sick, make sure to examine their ears too. Even though you may be treating your dogs’ other symptoms, don’t overlook the ears.
  • Allergies/drug reactions. Some dogs are more susceptible than others to allergies.
  • If your dog has allergies to pollen-- from grasses and weeds-- they may be more susceptible to ear infections. Dogs are always in and around grass, trees, and all types of pollen producing flowers. If your dog has allergies, you can try and limit their exposure-- but there won’t be a complete elimination.
  • If your dog has allergies to food-- such as beef, fish, or soy-- they can be more prone to ear infections as well. Allergies to either food or environmental surroundings are a microscopic inflammation of the skin that allows the overgrowth of normal levels of bacteria. This can also happen if your dog is on medications and they have an allergic reaction to it.
  • Wax buildup. Sometimes the normal wax present in dogs’ ears can overproduce. If this is the case, you can normally just removed with a wet, warm cloth. However if the wax changes color drastically-- from a light yellowish color to something much more dark-- you may want to be on the lookout for other signs associated with a growing ear infection.
  • Injury. If you dog has recently gotten into a fight with another dog, be sure to check out their ears afterwards. Sometimes this is overlooked when owners focus on the more visible injuries that can occur after a scuffle. If your dog is outdoors
  • Symptom of something more serious. Most of the time an ear infection is just that-- an infection of the ear canal. However, sometimes it can be a sign of something more serious. Just as a virus can sometimes manifest as an infection of the ear-- more serious conditions such as meningitis and encephalitis-- can also begin as an ear problem.

Dog Ear Fungus Treatment

Once you’ve analyzed the symptoms your dog has been demonstrating-- and you believe it may be an ear infection-- make sure to call your vet immediately. Come prepared to discuss how long this has been going on, and what symptoms you witnessed. Let them know if you’ve cleaned their ears recently-- as doing this incorrectly can cause infection as well. If your dog has gone swimming or been to a kennel or groomer in the past couple of days would also be helpful information for your vet.

Discuss with them if this is your dog’s first ear infection-- or if they have had a couple in the past. All dogs get them from time to time-- but if you pup seems to have had a lot-- that may lead the vet to consider something else might be wrong.

After an exam to confirm an infection, your vet will give you some cream to help treat the area and give some relief to your dog’s painful ear and reduce the swelling. They will most likely also prescribe a pain medication and possibly an antibiotic just in case the infection had a chance to spread to other areas of your dog.

You will have to bring you pup in for a follow up just to check and be sure that the medications are working and the infection is clearing up. You will need to continue administering the medication, but the infection should be gone within 10-30 days.

Beagle puppy
Make sure to visit your vet promptly after notice an ear problem.

Alternative Treatment

An infection is occurs when the bacteria and fungi that occur naturally in your dog’s ear get out of control. It can be for any one of the reasons listed above. If you would rather try an alternative way to restore the balance of microbes that live in your dog’s ear, consider some of these options.

  • Apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar has great antibacterial properties, and can be used this to clean the outer part of your dog’s ear. It will easily removed dirt and debris and cleanse the ear. Avoid this if your dog has red or swollen ears, however, as that may cause further discomfort.
  • Mullelin. This is a great plant that also has antibacterial properties, and is less stinging than vinegar. You can make an infused oil of this by putting mullelin flowers and leaves in a jar and fill with olive oil. Let sit for 2-3 weeks and then apply the infused oil with a cotton ball to your dog’s ear. Since it takes a while to infuse, it’s best to make this in advance and have it ready.
  • Coconut oil. This powerful oil is both antibacterial and antifungal, and is readily available in most grocery stores. Since it is a solid at room temperature, you’ll need to melt it down on the stove. Allow it to cool and then apply to your dog’s ear with a cotton ball, or use a dropper to get further into the ear canal.

Canine Ear Fungus Prevention

The best way to treat ear infections is with proper prevention methods. Learn to properly clean your dog’s ears every so often, and be aware of any signs or symptoms mentioned above. Dog’s ears do not need to be cleaned very often, but it’s best to give them a look every once in a while.

Also, if they’ve been to the groomer, been swimming, or come in contact with a wild animal-- it can’t hurt to check their ears just in case. Because ear infections can spread quickly and sometimes be quite serious-- it’s best to do all you can to prevent them.

Make sure your dog also has good diet. Sometimes when their digestive system and immune system are not functioning properly, it can manifest in recurring ear infections. Your dog should have a good diet that is full of meat and protein that will keep them healthy and happy.

Ear infections are sometimes unavoidable. Owners should be educated and informed how to read the symptoms of an oncoming ear infection in their dog. But prevention is still the best method, as the saying goes-- an ounce of prevention is with a pound of cure.

If your dog is healing from an injury-- or perhaps just has a skin irritation-- give them some relief with Fauna Care Silver Spray. It is sure to get rid of any fungi or bacteria as well as leave a layer of protection.

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