Content Reviewed by an Essentials PetCare Veterinarian

A head tilt and an ear scratch can look really cute on dogs, but if you notice your pup doing this too often, you should ask: does my dog have an ear infection?

That’s right, excessive head tilting and ear scratching are just two signs that they may be harboring an infection in their little furry ears. They can be uncomfortable for your furry best friend – or even downright painful!

Want to stop the infection in its tracks? Learn the telltale signs of an ear infection to seek treatment fast! 

Headshaking & Excessive Scratching

We already touched upon these two a bit, but they are worth exploring a bit further so you know exactly what you’re looking for. Specifically, your dog may whine, shake their head as if disturbed, and scratch at their ears frequently and for prolonged periods. This is how they make their distress known. Pay attention to these messages.

Some dogs may even break the skin from scratching. Tend to these wounds with basic antiseptic measures, and use this as an opportunity to look more closely at your pup’s ear.


If you catch a whiff of unpleasant odor next time you go to scratch your dog’s ears, this may be a sign of infection. Gently lift their ear by a corner to peer inside. What are you looking for?

Changes in the Skin

Ear infections present like many other skin infections, displaying redness or swelling in the inner or outer ear canal. If mites are the cause of the irritation, you may notice tiny black dots, although these are typically very difficult to see without magnification. 

You may also notice a dark discharge coming from your dog’s ears, or something that looks like coffee grounds. This is a sure signal that you need to take your dog to the veterinarian, where they can take a closer look.

Predisposition to Ear Infections

Some dog breeds are inclined to get ear infections more often. These tend to be the breeds with floppier ears, like Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels.

This may make you wonder: “If they are scratching their ears, does my dog have an ear infection just because they’re one of these breeds?”

Of course not. Scratching and other signs can indicate all sorts of things, however, it does mean that they are more likely to experience ear infections. So, if your dog has ears that wag as much as their tail, you may want to check them more proactively for ear infections.

Ear Infections in Dogs: Not Fun – But Treatable

Bottom line: If you’re wondering “Does my dog have an ear infection?”, don’t wait to see if it will go away on its own. An outer ear infection can travel inward, affecting more than your pup’s comfort. An inner ear or deeper infection – one that goes to the brain or blood – can threaten your dog’s health or even their life. It will also be more expensive for you to treat a serious infection than a minor one, even if your pup does fully recover.

At the exam, a veterinarian will look into the ear canals with an otoscope. They’ll take a sample of the discharge from the ear canal using a cotton swab. This sample will be examined under a microscope to see what type of infectious organism is causing the infection, usually bacteria or yeast. In some chronic cases, a sample may need to be sent to a reference lab for culture and sensitivity testing.  

The veterinarian may recommend ear cleanser and medication to administer at home. Make sure to give your furry friend plenty of positive reinforcement every time you go through home ear cleaning. 

After resolving the ear infection, and especially if you have a breed that is more prone to infections than others, you should plan to perform regular maintenance cleaning of the ears to keep them in good health. Be sure to ask your veterinarian for a recommendation on the type of ear cleaner to use and the frequency that cleaning should be performed for your dog. Avoid recommendations you may see online for making cleaning solutions at home. These tend to be overly harsh and drying to the skin of the ear canals, which will only lead to further problems and discomfort. 

Dealing with ear infections is not fun, but taking care of them quickly is worth it in the long run.

Essential Tip: Worried about cost? An Ear Package at Essentials PetCare includes a veterinary exam of the ears, diagnostics, and treatment recommendations. It’s only $50 or $30 with vaccines.


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