German Shepherd Ear Infections: A Complete Care Guide


german shepherd puppy with ears up

The shape of dogs’ ears makes them more likely to get infected than human ears. In fact, nearly 20% of dogsOpens in a new tab. have some kind of ear problem. If you’re a German Shepherd owner, you may wonder if your best pal is susceptible to these irritating infections.

German Shepherds are not especially prone to ear infections. Dogs with upright ears are less likely to suffer from this problem. But that isn’t, of course, to say that they don’t ever get ear infections – all dogs are at risk of developing this common issue. 

Keep reading to learn how to recognize the symptoms of an ear infection and what to do if you suspect that your German Shepherd may have one. You can also find out what causes ear infections and how to help prevent them.

Symptoms of Ear Infection

Is your German Shepherd scratching at its ears and shaking its head? Both are common symptoms of ear infection.

You may also notice swelling, redness, or crustiness of the ear, and the ear may smell bad.

Sometimes dogs don’t show any symptoms at all, or sometimes they just seem to be in pain, but it’s not clear where the pain is coming from.

There are actually three different places in your dog’s ear canalOpens in a new tab. that can be infected. Symptoms may vary according to the location of the infection.

  • Otitis externaOpens in a new tab.: Otitis externa is an infection of the outer ear, and this is the most frequently seen ear infection in dogs. Otitis externa will often cause visible signs of infection.
  • Otitis mediaOpens in a new tab.: Otitis media, infection of the middle ear, happens when outer ear infection spreads into the ear. There may be no outward signs of infection with otitis media, but you’ll likely see scratching, head shaking, and signs of pain.
  • Otitis internaOpens in a new tab.: If an infection makes it into the inner ear canal, it’s called otitis interna. As with a middle ear infection, otitis interna is unlikely to be visible from the outside, and so you’ll need to watch your dog’s behavior for clues to this infection.

For a visual demonstration of how to identify an ear infection, have a look at this video: 

Treatment of Ear Infection

Not only do ear infections make your dog uncomfortable, but they can actually have serious complications: untreated ear infections can cause deafness and other problems.

Make a vet appointment whenever you suspect an ear infection.

Your vet will ask you questions about how long your dog has been showing symptoms and will want to know about its medical history and your grooming routine.

Next, your vet will examine your German Shepherd’s ear with an otoscopeOpens in a new tab. and will take a sample from the ear for testing. The staff may also x-ray your dog’s ear.

If the vet finds that your dog’s ears have a serious issue, a surgical procedure called Total Ear Canal AblationOpens in a new tab. (TECA) may be recommended.

What is more likely, though, is a mild-to-moderate condition. In this case, the vet will do professional cleaning of your dog’s ears, using a catheterOpens in a new tab. that delivers a medicated cleanser. If necessary, your dog will be given an anestheticOpens in a new tab. during the procedure.

You may be given a cleanser and possibly medications to use at home. It’s very important to follow your vet’s instructions exactly so that you don’t risk reinfection. 

Causes of Ear Infection

Dogs have an “L-shaped” ear canal. Because of this shape, dogs are more prone to ear infections than are animals with straighter ear canals.

In adult dogs, bacteria and yeast are the usual causes of ear infection. In puppies, ear mitesOpens in a new tab. are a common cause, as well. 

There are some factors that make ear infection more likely:

  • Moisture: Damp ears are a perfect environment for bacteria and yeast to grow.
  • Wax buildup: Letting wax build up in your dog’s ears can create a breeding ground for bacteria and yeast.
  • Excessive cleaning: Cleaning the ear too often or too vigorously can irritate the ear and lead to infection.
  • Foreign bodies or injury to the ear canal: Getting something stuck in the ear can create the conditions for yeast or bacteria overgrowth.
  • Autoimmune disorders: When the lining of the ear canal swells, it can allow yeast and bacteria to grow out of control, causing infection.
  • Endocrine disorders, such as thyroid disease: These illnesses can lower the body’s immune response and allow ear infections to develop.
  • Allergies: 50-80% of dogs with allergies also develop ear infections.
  • Ear shape: Breeds with floppy ears are more likely to get ear infections because air can’t circulate freely inside the ear.

Preventing Ear Infection

It’s clear that ear infections are just a fact of life for dogs: ears that aren’t cleaned enough, ears that are cleaned too much, overactive immune response, and underactive immune response can all contribute to the occurrence of ear infections.

It might seem like nature designed the dog just to get ear infections.But the good news is that there are some things you can do to lower the risk of ear issues:

  • Keep your German Shepherd’s ears dry. After swimming or bathing, dry your dog right away, paying special attention to the ears.
  • Clean your dog’s ears once a month, using a method that is approved by your vet. Never use cotton swabs to clean a dog’s ears, because this can compact wax and debris deeper into the ear.

    A simple way to clean your dog’s ears is with some wipes such as these from Pet MDOpens in a new tab.. They are alcohol-free and help to reduce odor and prevent infections.

  • If your dog has allergies, take steps to control them—feed a food that your dog tolerates well, and make sure to use any allergy medications your vet recommends.

There are three steps in cleaning your dog’s ears:

  1. Fill the ear canal with ear cleanerOpens in a new tab., holding the dog’s head still so that the solution stays put. You can also put some mineral oil on a gauze pad and use that to clean the dog’s ears.
  1. Use your fingers to gently massage the ear from bottom to top. This helps bring wax and debris up and out of the ear.
  1. Wipe out the ear with absorbent gauze. Using cotton, paper towel, or other materials, is not recommended, as these can leave lint in your dog’s ear.

    Never go deeper into the ear than your first knuckle – you could rupture your dog’s eardrum.

For some help with keeping your Shepherd’s ears clean, check out these useful products:

  • VetWELL Cat and Dog Ear CleanerOpens in a new tab.: This veterinarian-formulated ear cleaner not only helps you keep your dog’s ears clean, it comes in two pleasant scents.

Or, watch this video to learn how to clean your dog’s ears with common household products: 

Final Thoughts

Although your German Shepherd isn’t more likely than other dogs to get an ear infection, these bothersome complaints are common enough that your Shepherd may still develop one.

Scratching and head shaking are two of the most obvious signs of an ear infection.

If the infection is on the outer ear, there may be visible signs of the infection, such as crustiness, redness, and swelling. 

If you suspect that your dog has an ear infection, see your veterinarian. They will be able to advise you if it’s a simple infection, treatable with a medicated ear wash, or if your dog needs more serious intervention.

Be sure to follow the vet’s home-care instructions, as ear infections can come back if not treated properly. 

Ear infections may be common, but keeping your German Shepherd’s ears dry and clean will give you the best chance of avoiding this malady completely.

Hunter Reed

I've owned and trained German Shepherds for over 18 years now. I'm originally from Indiana, though I've lived in many different states and traveled extensively. The places change, my dogs don't. German Shepherds have been my constant companions. I love every aspect of training them and simply just having them around. I also enjoy sharing my knowledge about German Shepherds with the world, and I encourage all future dog owners to consider one as a companion as well. Read my story here.

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