Dog having his ears cleaned with wipes for a dog ear yeast infection

Did you catch a stinky smell emanating from your dog’s ears? A yeast infection in dogs’ ears can cause a variety of symptoms, including foul odor, which will require quick intervention from you to avoid further discomfort and ear-itation! If you suspect something is amiss in your dog’s ears, keep reading to learn more about yeast infections in dogs’ ears.

What is a yeast infection in a dog’s ear?

A yeast infection in dogs’ ears, scientifically known as otomycosis, is a fungal overgrowth that commonly affects the ear canal. This condition is often caused by the Malassezia species of yeast, which naturally resides in small quantities in a dog's ears. However, when the balance is disrupted, it can lead to an overgrowth, causing irritation and infection.

Symptoms of a yeast ear infection in dogs

When it comes to a dog yeast infection, ears are the most vulnerable targets. The following conditions can trigger the most common signs and symptoms of a yeast infection in a dog’s ear:

too much moisture

Dogs with floppy ears or those living in humid environments are prone to excessive moisture in their ear canals. This creates an ideal breeding ground for a yeast infection in dogs’ ears, leading to symptoms such as persistent itching, redness, and an unpleasant odor emanating from the ears.

Frequently swimming

Canine water enthusiasts are not immune to yeast infections. Water trapped in the ears after a swim provides the perfect environment for yeast to thrive. Watch out for signs like head shaking, rubbing ears against surfaces, and a waxy discharge.

Not cleaning your dog’s ears frequently enough

Insufficient ear cleaning can contribute to yeast infections. Neglecting routine ear hygiene allows signs like excess dirt, wax, and debris in or around the ear, fostering a favorable environment for yeast growth. Regular cleaning is crucial to prevent a dog yeast infection inside the ear. 

Your dog’s ears should be cleaned with an appropriate ear cleanser after every bath and every time swimming. This will help to not only remove debris from the ear canal, but will also dry out any excess moisture that will contribute to an ear infection forming!

Yeast allergy or seasonal allergies

Some dogs may be predisposed to yeast ear infections due to allergies. Whether it's a specific sensitivity to yeast or a broader seasonal allergy, the immune system's response can lead to increased yeast production in the ears. Look for signs like swelling, excessive scratching, and ear inflammation.

Causes of yeast ear infection in dogs

What causes yeast infections in dogs' ears? Understanding the multifaceted causes of yeast infections in dogs’ ears is crucial for addressing the root issues that can lead to this uncomfortable condition. Several factors contribute to the development of yeast infections–some of which we touched on in the last section-each requiring specific attention and care.

1. Compromised immunity

A dog's immune system plays a pivotal role in maintaining a healthy balance of microorganisms, including yeast, in the body. When a dog's immune defenses are compromised, it opens the door for opportunistic pathogens like the Malassezia yeast to flourish. Conditions such as autoimmune diseases, chronic illnesses, or even age-related immune system decline can weaken the body's ability to keep yeast levels in check.

2. Hormonal imbalances

Hormones act as messengers in a dog's body, regulating various physiological processes, including the immune system and skin health. Hormonal imbalances, often linked to conditions like hypothyroidism or Cushing's disease, can disrupt the delicate equilibrium within the ear canal. This imbalance may create an environment conducive to yeast overgrowth, amplifying the risk of infection.

3. Underlying health issues

Certain underlying health issues can pave the way for yeast infections in a dog's ears. Allergies, whether environmental or food-related, can trigger inflammatory responses that compromise the ear's natural defenses. Additionally, chronic conditions such as diabetes create an environment where yeast can thrive due to elevated sugar levels in the body.

4. ear anatomy

Dog breeds with specific ear anatomies, such as those with floppy or long ears, are more susceptible to yeast infections. The shape of the ear can hinder proper air circulation, leading to increased moisture retention. This trapped moisture becomes a breeding ground for yeast, especially in breeds like Cocker Spaniels and Basset Hounds.

5. Environmental factors

Environmental conditions also play a pivotal role in developing yeast infections in dogs’ ears. Dogs living in humid climates face a higher risk due to increased moisture in the air. Likewise, frequent exposure to water–whether through swimming, bathing, or walks in the rain or snow–can create an environment conducive to yeast growth if not properly addressed.

Old Basset Hound dog with floppy ears walking on a rainy day

6. Medication and antibiotic use

The use of certain medications, particularly antibiotics, can disrupt the natural balance of microorganisms in a dog's body. Antibiotics, while essential for treating bacterial infections, can inadvertently eliminate beneficial bacteria, allowing yeast to proliferate unchecked––leading to a dog yeast infection in the ears or elsewhere. This imbalance, known as dysbiosis, can extend to the ears, leading to infections.

Knowing more about these diverse factors can help pet parents take a proactive approach to their dog's ear health. Regular veterinary check-ups, addressing underlying health issues, and maintaining a clean and dry ear environment are crucial steps in preventing yeast infections and ensuring the overall well-being of our canine companions.

Dog itching his yeast infection in ears with a back paw

Common signs that your dog may have a yeast ear infection

Recognizing the subtle indicators of a yeast ear infection in your furry friend is paramount to early intervention and effective treatment. Dogs, being masters at masking discomfort, may exhibit signs that are easy to overlook. 

If your canine companion is experiencing a yeast ear infection, you might observe a shift in behavior or notice certain physical manifestations. Keep a keen eye on these signals to ensure prompt veterinary attention and a swift resolution to your dog's ear health concerns. 

If you’re worried about a yeast infection dog ears should be monitored for the following symptoms:

  • Persistent Head Shaking: If your dog is shaking its head more frequently than usual, it could indicate discomfort or irritation in the ear canal.

  • Excessive Scratching: Persistent scratching at the ears, often accompanied by pawing, is a common sign of irritation. Dogs may attempt to alleviate the discomfort by scratching the affected ear.

  • Foul Odor: A distinct, unpleasant odor emanating from the ears is a telltale sign of a yeast infection. The odor may resemble a musty or yeasty smell.

  • Redness and Inflammation: Visual cues such as redness, swelling, or inflammation around the ear can indicate an ongoing infection.

  • Unusual Ear Discharge: Keep an eye out for any abnormal discharge from the ears. Yeast infections may produce a dark, waxy substance with a distinctive odor.

  • Changes in Behavior: Dogs experiencing ear discomfort may exhibit changes in behavior. This could include increased irritability, reluctance to be touched around the ears, or a general unease.

  • Tilting of the Head: A noticeable tilt of the head, especially if it seems persistent or more pronounced, might be a sign of ear discomfort.

  • Rubbing Ears Against Surfaces: Dogs may try to alleviate the itching or discomfort by rubbing their ears against furniture, carpets, or other surfaces.

  • Ear Sensitivity: A sudden sensitivity to touch around the ears or a reluctance to have the ears handled may indicate pain or discomfort.

  • Changes in Balance or Coordination: In severe cases, where the infection affects the inner ear, you might observe changes in your dog's balance or coordination.

Being attuned to these signs enables pet owners to act promptly, seeking professional veterinary guidance for an accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment plan. Early intervention not only alleviates your dog's discomfort but also prevents the infection from progressing to more severe stages. 

Severe complications of ear infections, such as an aural hematoma, could require surgical intervention to fully treat or repair. A veterinary visit early on in the instance of an ear infection can help avoid possible surgery.

How to treat a yeast infection in dogs' ear

Once you have a diagnosis of a yeast infection in dogs’ ears, ask your veterinarian which treatments they recommend, whether it be home remedies or prescribed medications. Wondering how to treat yeast infection in dogs’ ears? A combination of the following can be helpful when you’re supporting your pet at home:

Cleaning the ears

Initiate treatment by cleaning your dog's ears with a veterinarian-approved solution. Gently remove excess wax and debris, providing a clean canvas for further treatment.

Antifungal medications

Topical antifungal medications prescribed by your vet are effective in combating yeast infections. These may include antifungal ear drops or ointments tailored to address the specific strain of yeast causing the infection.

Oral medications

In severe cases, your vet may recommend oral antifungal medications. These are designed to target the systemic aspects of the infection, providing comprehensive relief.

Preventing yeast infections in dog’s ears

How can you prevent a dog yeast infection in the ears? Check out the basics below.

Regular ear checks

Frequent monitoring of your dog's ears helps catch potential issues early on. Check for redness, swelling, or any unusual odor, and consult your vet if you notice anything abnormal in or around the ears.

Consistent ear cleaning

Establish a regular ear cleaning routine to remove excess moisture, wax, and debris. Use vet-approved ear cleaning solutions and follow proper techniques to prevent the accumulation of substances that promote yeast growth. A variety of ear flushes, dog ear drops, and ear-cleaning wipes are available over the counter for home use.

Dietary considerations

A well-balanced diet contributes to overall canine health, including a robust immune system. Consult with your vet to ensure your dog's diet supports their immune function, minimizing the risk of recurrent yeast infections.

The difference between a dog yeast ear infection vs. bacterial infection

In a dog ear infection yeast vs. bacterial can be difficult to determine. While bacterial and yeast infections in dogs’ ears share some symptoms, such as redness and discomfort, their underlying causes and treatments differ. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.


  • Ear Discharge: Both yeast and bacterial infections can manifest with abnormal ear discharge. However, the characteristics of the discharge may differ.

  • Odor: Unpleasant smells are common in both types of infections. Yeast infections may produce a musty or yeasty odor, while bacterial infections might result in a foul or putrid smell.

  • Redness and Inflammation: Inflammation and redness around the ear are general indicators of ear infections, regardless of the causative agent.


  • Consistency of Discharge: Yeast infections often produce a dark, waxy discharge with a distinctive odor. In contrast, bacterial infections may result in a more pus-like or purulent discharge.

  • Appearance of Ear Discharge: Yeast infections typically generate a brown or black, crumbly discharge, resembling coffee grounds. Bacterial infections may present with a yellow or greenish discharge.

  • Itching and Scratching: While both types of infections can cause itching, yeast infections are often associated with more intense and persistent scratching, as yeast tends to provoke greater irritation.

  • Response to Medication: Yeast and bacterial infections respond differently to medications. Antifungal medications are typically effective for yeast infections, while bacterial infections may require antibiotics.

  • Underlying Causes: Yeast infections are often linked to environmental factors, allergies, or underlying health issues. Bacterial infections may result from foreign objects, trauma, or secondary to other skin conditions.

When considering how to treat dog yeast ear infection symptoms, knowing what kind of microbes you’re targeting–yeast or bacteria–will be important for getting your pup feeling better faster.

Dog at the vet getting ears examined for yeast infection during an otoscopy

Contact your vet to treat your dog's yeast ear infection

If you suspect your dog has a yeast ear infection or if symptoms persist despite home care, it's imperative to seek professional veterinary assistance. Your vet can conduct a thorough examination, identify the specific strain of yeast, and prescribe a tailored treatment plan for your furry friend's speedy recovery.

During a veterinary examination to determine if your dog has a yeast ear infection, your veterinarian will perform a thorough assessment to identify the specific cause of the symptoms. 

Here's what you can expect during such an examination:

Medical History Review – Your vet will begin by discussing your dog's medical history, including any previous ear issues, allergies, recent activities (such as swimming), and overall health.

Symptom Analysis – Detailed observation of the symptoms your dog is exhibiting, such as head shaking, scratching, changes in behavior, and any noticeable odor or discharge from the ears.

Visual Inspection – A visual examination of the external ear canal and the ear flap to check for signs of redness, swelling, or inflammation. Your vet will also look for the presence of discharge and assess the overall condition of the ear.

Ear Cytology – To determine the specific type of infection, your vet may perform an ear cytology. This involves collecting a sample of ear discharge and examining it under a microscope. This process helps identify the presence of yeast, bacteria, or other microorganisms. The importance of an ear cytology cannot be stressed enough, as identification of organisms on the microscope helps your veterinarian pick the most appropriate treatment.

Smear or Culture Tests – In some cases, a smear or culture test may be conducted to obtain a more comprehensive analysis of the microorganisms causing the infection. This helps in tailoring the treatment to the specific strain of yeast or bacteria.

Otoscopy – An otoscope may be used to inspect the deeper parts of the ear canal. This allows your vet to assess for any abnormalities, foreign objects, or signs of inflammation that may not be visible during a standard visual inspection.

Rule Out Other Conditions – Your vet may also rule out other potential causes of ear issues, such as ear mites, tumors, or foreign bodies, through additional diagnostic tests if necessary.

Assessment of Underlying Causes – If your vet suspects an underlying health issue contributing to recurrent ear infections, they may recommend additional tests to assess factors like hormonal imbalances, allergies, or compromised immune function.

Treatment Plan – Based on the findings, your veterinarian will create a tailored treatment plan. For yeast infections, this may involve antifungal medications, while bacterial infections may require antibiotics. Your vet will also guide the cleaning of the ears and manage any underlying conditions.

Follow-Up Recommendations – Your vet will discuss follow-up care, including any necessary medication schedules, changes in diet, and regular ear-cleaning routines to prevent future infections.

By conducting a comprehensive examination and utilizing diagnostic tools, veterinarians can accurately diagnose yeast ear infections in dogs and provide appropriate, effective treatment to ensure the well-being of your canine companion. Remember, dog ear yeast infection medicines can only come from a veterinary professional, meaning chronic or severe yeast infections can only be treated by a veterinarian. 

This blog exists to provide general information and education about veterinary health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, website, or in any linked materials is not intended as and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We cannot diagnose conditions, provide second opinions, or make specific treatment recommendations through this blog or website.

If you suspect that your pet has a medical concern, you should consult with your veterinary health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read on this blog, website, or in any linked materials.

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Written by a Vetnique Vet

Vetnique veterinarian author Dr. Chandler Bruening

Dr. Chandler Bruening, DVM

Dr. Chandler Bruening is a small animal general practitioner in Florence, SC. She loves building relationships with her patients and their families and has a soft spot for her senior "grey-muzzled" patients. Because she’s “seen them work firsthand,” Dr. Bruening has been recommending Vetnique products to patients for years.


Florence, SC

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