Look out for scratching, redness and irritation, but behavioral changes as well.

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Credit: James Brokensha Photography / Getty Images

If your pet is scratching near his ears or shaking his head, external parasites may not be the culprit. It could be an ear infection. "There are many possible causes of ear infections in dogs," explains Dr. Jamie Richardson, chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary. "The most common cause is an underlying allergy to either food (chicken, beef, and soy are amongst the most common) or environmental allergens—or both! Genetics can play a large part in the development of allergies including ear infections and other skin conditions such as hotspots and excessive feet licking. [For example], certain breeds of dogs are more prone to ear infections than others such as Labrador and Golden retrievers, Cocker Spaniels and mixes of these breeds."

For breeds that are more prone to ear infections, Dr. Richardson recommends that you regularly inspect and clean your dog's ears. "Not all ear infections are preventable but you can take steps to try to minimize risks and to catch them early," she says. "Your vet can help determine the most appropriate ear cleaner for your dog as many veterinary prescription cleaners contain an antimicrobial to help kill bacteria and yeast that can contribute to these infections before their populations grow excessively." Here, know the signs to look for in your dog that may indicate an ear infection.

Ear Discharge

The discharge could be brown, yellow, or bloody. You should call your veterinarian right away if you notice this kind of buildup in your pet's ear canals.

Foul Odor

Your dog's ears may also give off a very unpleasant smell. It could be subtle, but if you notice a change in the way your dog's ears smell, call the vet.

Redness and Irritation

Because an ear infection often results in swelling inside of the dog's ear, the area could be red and inflamed. It will also look irritated.

Ear Scratching and Pawing

Is your dog scratching at his ears a lot? This can create a secondary infection from any scratch marks that your dog's paws make to the ear. You should get your dog evaluated if he is pawing at his ears.

Swelling on the Ear

The floppy part of your dog's ear could show signs of swelling when he has an ear infection.

Painful Reactions to Touch

When you touch near your dog's ear, does it seem to cause him pain? The area would be very sensitive if there is an ear infection.

Hearing Loss and Behavior Change

If your dog used to obey commands as soon as you said them but no longer does, then it might be because he is having trouble hearing them. An ear infection can cause temporary hearing loss or it can become permanent if left untreated.

"Looking at your dogs ears regularly for signs of infection can help catch these early, before they can escalate and become painful," says Dr. Richardson. Being mindful of your dog's health will go a long way in helping your dog to live a long and comfortable life. And the subtle signs of an ear infection are easy to miss, so make it a habit to look at your dog's ears on a regular basis.

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