Ear Yeast Infections in Dogs

Chihuahua getting an ear exam.
Otoscopes are used to examine the ear canal.

Getty Images/bymuratdeniz

Ear yeast infections are very common in dogs, especially those with floppy ears. This type of infection differs from a bacterial infection but still causes ear discomfort. Ignoring the issue can lead to bigger problems, so it's helpful to know how to spot these infections and what to do if your dog gets one.

What Is an Ear Yeast Infection in Dogs?

An ear yeast infection occurs when yeast over populates the ear of a dog. Malassezia pachydermatis is the species of yeast that is typically seen in dog ears; an infection is referred to as yeast otitis. This type of yeast is different than the yeast that is used to bake bread or that is found in probiotics. It is naturally found on the skin and ears of dogs in very small amounts but if the right conditions are present, it causes an infection. The ear canal and the ear flap itself can both be affected.

Symptoms of Ear Yeast Infections in Dogs

Symptoms of Ear Yeast Infections

  • Shaking head
  • Scratching at ears
  • Painful ears
  • Red or swelling inside ears
  • Odor from the ears
  • Excessive ear debris
  • Thickened ear flaps
  • Ear skin scaling
  • Drooped ear

Similar to a bacterial infection of the ear, a yeast infection usually causes a dog to shake its head and scratch at its ears. This is due to the irritation and discomfort that the infection causes. Your dog may also be reluctant to have its head and ears touched if they are experiencing ear pain or drooped ears as symptoms.

Inside the ear, redness, swelling, and thickening of the skin may be seen in a dog with a yeast infection. Scaling or crusting of the skin on the ear flap is also common, especially in severe or chronic cases. An odor that is often described as smelling like corn chips may be present alongside excessive, oily ear debris.

Dog ear flap with a yeast infection.
Yeast infections in ears can cause redness, swelling, and scaling of the skin.

Getty Images/ThamKC

Causes of Ear Yeast Infections in Dogs

There are several causes of ear yeast infections in dogs. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Allergies - If a dog has an allergy to something in the environment or a food then a yeast overgrowth may occur in the ear. The body reacts to the allergen with inflammation, and this in turn can cause the yeast to proliferate in the ear.
  • Ear mites - Ear mites, which feed off of a dog's ear wax, can cause irritation and inflammation in the ear. This can result in an overgrowth of yeast.
  • Moisture - An ear canal is a warm place, and yeast like to grow in warm, moist environments. If water enters the ear canal and the ears do not properly dry out, yeast will reproduce and cause an infection. This often occurs after a dog gets a bath or goes swimming.
  • Ear deformities - Some dogs are born with abnormal ear canals or excessive ear tissue. Other dogs will develop ear issues over time due to trauma, recurrent infections, or other things. These deformities usually make it difficult for an ear to stay dry and instead trap moisture that helps to create an environment for yeast to grow in.
  • Tumors - Some tumors in the ear block the opening to the ear canal. This causes excessive heat and moisture to build up and encourages an overgrowth of yeast.

Some hormonal changes, antibiotic use, and other skin issues may also cause ear yeast infections in dogs.

Diagnosing Ear Yeast Infections in Dogs

If you suspect your dog has a yeast infection in its ears you should have it examined by a veterinarian. Your vet will use an otoscope to see inside the ear canal and make sure the ear drum isn't ruptured. A cotton swab will then be used to collect some of the ear debris to smear onto a microscope slide. This slide will be examined under the microscope to see if yeast, bacteria, or both are present.

Treatment of Ear Yeast Infections in Dogs

Yeast infections in ears are usually easy enough to clear up. Medicated ear drops and a cleaner are typically sent home to be applied for two weeks. The medications will contain antifungal medications to kill the yeast in addition to other ingredients. If the ear is especially painful, anti-inflammatory medications may also be used. Occasionally an ear yeast infection may be so painful for a dog that it will need to be sedated or anesthetized by your vet in order to have the initial ear cleaning and treatment performed. Your veterinarian may also recommend some at-home remedies depending on the severity of the infection.

How to Prevent Ear Yeast Infections in Dogs

The best way to prevent your dog from developing an ear yeast infection is to keep its ears clean and dry. An ear cleaner with a drying agent should be used after baths and swimming to help dry the ear canal. If your dog has allergies, your veterinarian may recommend certain foods and supplements to help support the skin and decrease inflammation. These products may include ingredients like Omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, beta-glucans, ceramides, hardy kiwi, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), and more.

Risk Factors for Ear Yeast Infections in Dogs

Dogs with floppy ears, allergies, and ear deformities are going to be at a higher risk of developing an ear yeast infection. Dogs that like to play in water are also more likely to get a yeast overgrowth and have an infection. Certain dog breeds that naturally have floppy ears will be at greater risk, too.