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My Dog’s Ears: Yeast Infection or Ear Mites?

Keep your dog's ears healthy

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Anxious Dog

As pet owners, we want our dogs to be healthy from head to toe.

But one area that often gets overlooked is the ears. In fact, according to the American Kennel Club, a whopping 20% of dogs will develop an ear infection at some point in their lives. That’s a huge number!

Ear yeast infections and ear mites can be itchy, painful, and costly. Left untreated, both conditions could potentially worsen, resulting in high veterinary bills for you and prolonged discomfort for your pooch.

Thankfully, with a little education, all dog owners can learn how to prevent, spot, and treat dog ear yeast infections and ear mites.

Is Your Dog More Likely to Have an Ear Yeast Infection or Ear Mites?

If you are not sure between the two, chances are that your dog has an ear yeast infection as they are much more common. Our veterinarian Dr. Sara Ochoa stated, “Ear mites are not a common ear issues in dogs. I see maybe 2 dogs a year with ear mites. These are usually puppies that come from a shelter. Bacterial and yeast infections in dogs ears are much more common. I see at least 5 dogs a day with an ear infection that is bacteria, yeast and many times both.”

How Do You Know For Sure: Symptoms of Ear Yeast Infections and Ear Mites

Your pet’s veterinarian will be able to officially diagnose an ear problem. When in doubt, always seek out the advice of an animal medical professional.

But what happens if you suspect an ear issue, but aren’t 100% sure? To start, assess the symptoms. Common ear infections can be due to allergies, injuries, diseases, and water/hair/dirt/debris getting trapped inside the flap of a dog’s ear.

How To Tell The Difference Between a Yeast Infection and Ear Mites

Yeast infections have specific “giveaway” symptoms. These include:

  • Itching / Scratching
  • Head Tilt
  • Red, yellow or brown wax discharge
  • Loss of Balance
  • Red skin around the ear
  • A distinctly “cheesy” smell
dog yeast infection picture

On the other hand, ear mites appear differently. These tiny parasites go by the scientific name Otodectes cynotis. They are 1-2 millimeters in size, just large enough to be seen with a microscope and look somewhat like a tick. And just like a tick, they feed on your dog’s blood, ear wax, and oils…Gross! 

Ear mite symptoms include:

  • Itching / Scratching
  • Head Tilt
  • Scabs
  • Skin inflammation
  • Black crusty debris in the ears
dog ear mite infection closeup

Is there a Way to Tell the Difference Between Ear Yeast Infections and Ear Mites?

As you can see, both dog ear yeast infections and ear mites have many similar symptoms. But there are major differences! Did you catch them while reading the two lists of signs to be on the lookout for?

Let’s review.

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A dog ear yeast infection is a fungus. In contrast, ear mites are parasites. Generally speaking, ear mites are itchier than yeast infections.

Furthermore, with an ear yeast infection, a truly horrible odor will be noticeable whereas with mites, your nose might not be able to smell anything at all.

But the #1 way to tell the difference is this: ear mites produce dark red, brown, or black crumbly substances. Sort of like coffee grounds. See dark matter falling out of their ears? Chances are, it’s mites.

This discharge is a combination of dried blood (from all that scratching), wax, debris, and those nasty little mites. Yeast infections in your dog’s ear can also look black or brown but will have a creamier texture.

The only way to definitively tell if your dog has ear mites or a yeast infection is to look at an ear swab under the microscope. While many people do not have a microscope at their house, this is where your vet will come in to help. They can easily see ear mites under the microscope and be able to tell you the cause of your dog’s ear issues.

How to Help a Dog with an Ear Yeast Infection

To treat your dog, there are several options. Dogs with a yeast infection in their ears will need an antifungal ear cleaner. This is typically topical, meaning it’s applied directly onto the affected skin area. This Pet MD ear cleaner is an excellent choice that contains an antifungal agent.

How to Help a Dog with Ear Mites 

Ear mite solutions work a bit differently. Some over-the-counter ear mite treatments (such as this Adams Ear Mite Treatment) can provide fast relief. Over the course of a few days to weeks, these drops kill the mites.

Learn more on our page about dog ear infections.

Final Thoughts

In summary, both dog ear yeast infections and ear mites are relatively common conditions that can affect your pup. To minimize the likelihood of either, clean your dog’s ear canals and inner flaps regularly using a safe and non-toxic ear cleaner. And remember, always consult your veterinarian before giving your dog any treatment. Doing so will ensure your pup’s ears stay clean and healthy!

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  • Jason is a pet specialized writer who works with our veterinarian team ( to write in-depth articles about pet health and behaviors.

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Disclaimer: This website's content is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action. Read More.

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