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How to deal with a dog ear yeast infection

by Dr. Pippa Elliott December 11, 2020 4 min read

Perky dog ears from the back

Adog ear yeast infection is the doggy equivalent of athlete's foot in people—both infections are the result of yeast overgrowth on the skin. But what many owners don't know is that yeast ear infections in dogs happen as a result of less than paw-fect ear health. Actually, this is great news when it comes todog ear yeast infection treatments because it gives extra ways for owners to correct the problem. 

What are dog ear yeast infections?

Skin is not a sterile place and it's normal to have a healthy population of bacteria and yeast living on the surface. This is mirrored by the ear canal, which is lined with skin. With adog ear yeast infection that the yeast (a species calledMalassezia) grows unchecked, which results in a brown waxy discharge and an itch that keeps a dog awake at night.

Causes of yeast infections

A good question to ask is "Why do the yeast take over?" 

Much like with athlete's foot, adog ear yeast infection happens when something damages the skin (e.g., it gets damp). For our fur friends, the equivalent is going swimming and getting water in the ear. But this isn't the only reason. Heavy earflaps make the ear canal a warm, damp place—or 'Love Island for yeast.’ Also, some dogs naturally produce a lot of earwax. Yeast adore this, which makes overgrowth likely. 

But here's a thing: there are also health reasons whydog ear yeast infections happen. The most common is skin or food allergies. Both of these conditions weaken the skin's ability to stay in a healthy shape, which then allows yeast to grow unchecked. Other problems such as underactive thyroid glands or Cushing's disease have a similar effect, and seeking treatment for the dog's general health is the answer to tamping down those pesky yeasts.

Common symptoms of ear yeast infections in dogs

A pet parent does right by their best buddy to recognize the signs of an ear problem and then seek veterinary help. 

Signs of an ear infection include: 

  • Head shaking:  This is the dog's way of saying "someone please check my ears."
  • Scratching the ears more than normal: All dogs have an occasional itch—no problem. We're talking about constant scratching, day and night.
  • A bad smell from the ears: The ol' sniff test is useful when it comes to ears. Take a sniff and if the results are unbearable, chances are there is an infection.
  • A discharge from the ear canal: A bit of ear wax is ok, but if there's enough to grow potatoes in then something isn't right. This is doubly so if the discharge is unusual or different to that from the opposite ear. 
  • Red, inflamed, or swollen skin: Lift the ear flap—what does it look like? Anything other than pale pink skin (depending on the normal pigment of the dog's coat) is a giveaway. 
  • Pain: Ear infections can be painful. If the dog is acting out of sorts, check out those ears.

Pet parents: don't get over anxious about working out what type of ear infection a dog has (leave this to the vet). But some clues do point towards yeast as the culprit. Dog ear yeast infections often result in a dark, almost earthy discharge. And since it often affects both ears, this can be the exception to the "does one ear look different to the other?" check for infection. 

Yeast infection treatment

The first step indog yeast ear infection treatment is to clean the ear. This reduces the amount of wax and robs the yeast of protection and food. Cleaning can be done at home using an ear cleaner designed for dogs. Don't use any old ear cleaner, because the product must be the right pH for dog skin. Likewise, don't go putting water down the ear canal, as this makes matters worse not better. If the pet stores are closed, then try a few drops of warmed olive oil dropped down into the ear canal. Massage gently then use cotton wool to wipe away the dirt. Repeat this daily. 

Dog yeast ear infection treatment vinegar is a popular home remedy. This involves diluting apple cider vinegar with water. But be careful! This should only ever be used to wipe the outside of the ear, since putting water into the ear canal over-softens the skin (and vinegar is too harsh to use undiluted). 

If regular ear cleaning doesn't do the trick or the dog's ears are painful, then a vet trip is essential. The vet checks the ears, assess the dog's health, and where necessary supply an ear drop effective against yeast. 

7 things you can do to prevent yeast infections

Dog ear yeast infections are often secondary infections due to bodily imbalance. These top tips should help reduce the risk of a yeast infection getting a grip: 

  1. Routinely check that the ears look healthy. Any redness, heat, or discharge is a clue to infection. Early treatment is usually very effective. 
  2. Clean waxy ears once a week. Whether or not to ear clean is a hot topic, as not every dog needs it. In a nutshell, a dog that has waxy ears benefits from a once weekly clean with a good product. 
  3. Don't get water in the dog's ears. When bathing the dog (or they go swimming), put cotton wool plugs in the ear canal.
  4. Improve air circulation: For dogs with hairy ear flaps, clip the underside so more air can circulate in the canal. Likewise, flip those earflaps back while the dog is snoozing to expose the ear canal.
  5. A healthy diet: A diet rich in essential fatty acids goes a long way to nourishing the skin and improving its ability to fight infection.
  6. Treat skin allergies: Many dogs with allergies are martyrs to ear infections. They are lots of great allergy treatments that also benefit the ears. 
  7. Don't ignore poor health: Don't turn a blind eye to a dog that's down in the dumps. If their body is run down due to a health problem, then yeasts take advantage. Get that pet pal checked by a vet.

The article was written by Pippa Elliot, BVMS, MRCVS on December 11, 2020.
Dr. Pippa Elliott
Dr. Pippa Elliott

Dr. Elliott graduated from the University of Glasgow, UK, with a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery. She has over three decades of experience working in companion animal practice and is the designated veterinarian for the Cats Protection rescue center, Harrow. In addition to hands-on work in the clinic, Dr. Elliott is an editor for small animal, veterinary textbooks from Improve International. She also writes a regular newsletter piece for the Webinar Vet and contributed to The Veterinary Times. Dr. Elliott is also qualified as an Official Veterinarian to oversee the export of animal products abroad.