Ear Problems In Dogs: What Are The Symptoms, Causes And Treatments?

Ear Problems In Dogs

Ear Problems In Dogs: What Are The Symptoms Causes And Treatments?


Ear issues are extremely common in dogs, and while some of these issues can be resolved with relative ease, others could be very difficult to deal with and may require management for the rest of the dog’s life.

If chronic ear disorders are not treated, they can cause scarring and a narrowing of the ear canals, further increasing the risk of future health complications.

In this piece, I will discuss various ear disorders commonly seen by owners and veterinary surgeons, as well as the symptoms, causes, and treatments for those disorders.

The Inner Workings Of The Ear

Dogs have extraordinarily sensitive hearing, allowing them to detect sounds of a much lower intensity and higher frequency than we humans can.

ear problems in dogs

Our canine and feline companions have eighteen different muscles attached to their ears, allowing them to rotate and lift their ears to track and locate sounds with remarkable precision.

Due to the dense network of nerves that line a dog’s ear canal, canine ears are acutely sensitive to sound and pressure, making them part of the most sensitive areas of the animal’s body.

Pinna is the correct term for the external ear flap, which is part of the ear and is known as the pinna. There is a large amount of variation between the breeds concerning the form and placement of the pinna.

For example, the pinna of a Cairn Terrier is relatively small and held high, whereas the pinna of an English Springer Spaniel is rounded and hangs down.

The ear canal is a tubular structure made of cartilage. It consists of two parts: the vertical canal, which runs from the entrance inside the pinna directly downwards, and the horizontal canal, which meets at a point close to a right angle.

The pinna helps direct sounds into the ear canal, a structure that helps funnel sounds into the ear canal. The horizontal canal continues to run directly toward the skull, which eventually comes into contact with the tympanum.

This thin membrane is more commonly referred to as the eardrum. The tympanum is the structure that divides the middle ear from the external ear.

The middle ear is a bony chamber containing the nerves and associated structures responsible for sensing motion and sound.

This ear area is located in the middle third of the head. The part of the body that is responsible for detecting motion is referred to as the vestibular apparatus.

Warning Signs Of Ear Disorders

Because the ear is a sensitive organ, the first indication that something might be wrong is typically some pain or discomfort.

Dogs will itch and paw at the affected ear, or they may vigorously and repeatedly shake their heads to expel the irritating foreign body. Some people find that rubbing the side of their face against an abrasive surface, such as a carpet, is the most effective method.

If the discomfort is severe, the dog may detest having the ear handled and yell or attempt to attack anyone who lifts the pinna or touches the side of their head. If the pain is mild, the dog will not react negatively to having the ear handled.

The ear can generate pus or excessive wax in response to many of the issues we regularly observe. This defense mechanism is utilized to clear foreign items out of the ear canal.

The canal and the underside of the pinna are noticeably wet, or a putrid odor may be present. When the condition is serious, blood may ooze out of the canal.

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Otitis externa is the medical word for inflammatory conditions affecting the ear canal. If an ear condition becomes a persistent issue, it can spread into the middle ear.

This could result in a rupture of the eardrum, or it could not, but you will be in a lot of pain either way. In addition, inflammation will frequently result in dysfunction of the vestibular apparatus, a component of the system responsible for maintaining balance.

Dogs who suffer from middle ear disease, also known as otitis media, may display symptoms such as a tilted head carriage or unique, rhythmic to-and-fro movements of their eyes.

These movements are comparable to those of a toddler after engaging in rapid spinning in circles.

Breed Predispositions

Several purebred breeds are unfortunately more likely to suffer from otitis externa than others. This could occur for several reasons, including the shape of the ear canal or an individual’s propensity to produce excessive wax.

The Shar Pei is a good example of the former since it has extremely small ears bent inward and tends to sit pretty close to the opening of the ear canal.

Because of this configuration, aeration of the canal is hindered, resulting in creating a warm and wet environment that might encourage the overgrowth of bacteria and fungi.

Several breeds of dogs produce a significant amount of wax, such as spaniels and labrador retrievers.

This could be an adaptation to their working beginnings, giving protection from seeds and other things that could become lodged in the ear or assisting in evacuating water after a swim.

However, it can also serve as a medium for yeast growth in some dogs, and regular removal of excess wax can be helpful in the management of otitis in some of these dogs.

It’s important to note that certain breeds have a higher risk of developing skin allergies. These allergens, which will be detailed further below, are the primary factor in the development of chronic ear illness.


It has been discovered that the ear canals of many dogs who have suddenly developed ear discomfort are home to various parasites.

Ear mites of the Otodectes cyanotis, which resemble microscopic spiders with a bluish tint, spend their entire lives living in the ears of dogs and cats, where they hunt for dead cells and other waste to consume as food.

The presence of adult mites, responsible for laying eggs within the ear canal wall, is the root cause of the acute irritation some dogs experience. Other dogs, however, seem to be bothered by these creatures much less.

It is not uncommon for Vets to see two dogs from the same household enter his clinic, with one of the dogs exhibiting extreme pain and distress while the other dog gives no indication whatsoever that the mites are present.

Infested ears typically have a dry and scaly appearance to the skin of the ear, and they produce excessive amounts of dark brown or black wax as a defense mechanism against the mites.

Treating all animals that come into contact with one another is necessary to eliminate the mites.

In the situation described above, treating simply the dog that is experiencing pain is a waste of time and money because mites are highly contagious and will quickly reinfest the dog that has been treated for them within a few weeks.

Because Otodectes can also infect cats, it is essential to remember that all of the feline members of the family should be treated simultaneously. This is because Otodectes can infect cats.


It has been found that an underlying skin allergy is the cause of ear infections in a significant number of dogs that have been diagnosed with the condition.

According to some studies, as many as ninety percent of dogs that present to a veterinary clinic with bilateral otitis externa will ultimately be proven to be sensitive to one or more allergens.

When examined with an otoscope, the majority of the remaining 10% will have bilateral ear mite infestation, in my experience. This can be determined by looking inside the ear (the instrument for looking down the ear canal).

Unfortunately, an allergy diagnosis can only be made after all other possible causes have been ruled out. This can be an expensive and time-consuming process, which can be disappointing for many pet owners.

Establishing The Root Of The Allergic Reaction

When these dogs are first inspected, they most frequently have active bacterial or yeast infections (which will be covered further below).

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As a result, they typically show improvement after the first round of therapy. Despite this, likely, this improvement will not last for very long.

The initial steps in the work-up consist of a careful examination, the delivery of microbiology samples to an independent laboratory, and the microscopic examination of ear swabs.

Blood or intradermal tests to identify allergens may eventually follow, depending on the severity of the patient’s symptoms.

A food trial is also required, which is a phase that requires feeding the dog nothing but a hypoallergenic diet for a period equaling two months to evaluate the dog’s reaction to the diet.

Food Allergies

Even though dietary slip-ups are unavoidable and sporadic medical treatment may be required, managing a dog’s food allergy is primarily a matter of providing the animal with the appropriate diet.

Food is the allergen trigger that presents the least difficulty to manage out of all the potential allergen sources. Dogs that suffer from allergies to environmental factors (like pollen, for example) are more challenging to train.

On the other hand, due to recent developments in the treatment of allergies, a variety of effective drugs are now accessible, but at a great cost, particularly for larger dogs.

Holistic Treatments for Allergies

When it comes to treating otitis externa, most veterinary surgeons will try alternative treatments first since they believe a holistic approach is the most effective way to cure the condition.

For instance, omega-3 oil supplements have been shown to be useful in treating skin conditions in some dogs. This is because omega-3 is metabolized in the body to produce anti-inflammatory chemicals in the skin.

Reducing the number of microorganisms in the ear can be achieved by performing routine ear cleaning using an appropriate antiseptic solution. This will also assist in preventing subsequent infections.

Immunologic vaccines may be developed in certain circumstances to desensitize the patient to allergens that have been identified through testing.

The most important aspect of effective management of chronic otitis externa is an understanding and acceptance that the condition could last for an extended period.

Rather than looking for a cure, you and your veterinarian should focus on developing a long-term management strategy to control the issue.

Infections Caused By Bacteria

In almost all cases of otitis, bacterial infections arise. This is true regardless of the underlying cause, which may be an allergy, a mite infestation, or a foreign body.

When the skin of the ear canal gets inflamed, it becomes porous and begins to ooze fluids that are ideal environments for the growth of bacteria.

This opens the door for germs to colonize the surface of the ear canal. In most instances, the bacteria in question are known as commensals, indicating that they regularly reside within a healthy ear canal without creating any issues.

When the familiar environment of the canal is disrupted, the number of bacteria in the canal increases, leading to an active infection.

The truly pathogenic bacteria, which frequently have their origin in feces and can cause bacterial otitis, are a greater cause for concern.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Enterococcus, and E. coli are the most common pathogens, along with Pseudomonas mirabilis and Proteus mirabilis, typically found in water that has become stagnant.

These bacteria are capable of causing severe otitis even in the absence of an underlying disorder; the condition, characterized by a putrid odor and the production of a significant quantity of pus, can be brought on by the bacteria alone.

Because these bacteria can rapidly and effectively develop antibiotic resistance, they present a challenge. In veterinary medicine, a challenging scenario can arise in which a patient has an active and problematic ear infection resistant to all available medications.

If a veterinarian is confronted with a dog with otitis externa, they are required to take a swab sample from the affected ear (or ears) to conduct laboratory sensitivity testing.

This process will determine the antibiotic best suited to treat that specific infection; using it will hasten the dog’s recovery while limiting the development of resistance to the medication.

Infections Caused By Fungi

Like commensal bacteria can cause issues within the ear canal, fungal species can also cause issues within the ear canal.

These organisms generally live within the canal in modest numbers but can multiply rapidly when the ear’s microenvironment is disrupted.

The most prevalent variety of Malassezia implication is Malassezia pachydermatis, which is the cause of the pungent “canker” smell that is occasionally detected from particularly waxy ears.

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Ear washes, wipes, or medication can treat yeast infections caused by Malassezia. However, yeast infections are typically a symptom of another primary issue affecting the ear.

Foreign Bodies

Sometimes, things like grass seeds and other bits of plant life can make their way into the ear canal. This is not a common occurrence, but it does happen.

Dogs with otic foreign bodies are typically in a great deal of misery and agony, and they will feverishly paw and scrape at their ears while showing a great deal of resistance to having their ears inspected.

Although these methods may be able to dislodge some foreign bodies, most of them will need to be extracted during a veterinary procedure. At the same time, the patient is sedated or under anesthesia.

Treatment Of Conditions Affecting The Ear

Identifying the root cause of an ear condition is essential to developing the best effective treatment strategy.

Nevertheless, a few things are consistent across all of these issues. Pet parents must consult a veterinarian before applying home treatments to their dog’s ears.

Veterinarians have seen bizarre mixtures utilized, but olive oil and cider vinegar continue to be the most common choices.

Many dogs who have been diagnosed with otitis will have perforated ear drums, which means that anything that is poured into the dog’s outer ear has the potential to make its way into the delicate tissues of the middle ear.

In the same vein, veterinary products such as antibiotics, antifungal medications, steroid creams, and cleaning solutions should never be used in an inflamed ear unless your veterinarian specifically instructed you to do so.

Should any of these products find their way into the middle ear, there is a possibility that the user will experience a sudden and complete loss of hearing.

This is also true of the home remedies that were discussed earlier. Misusing prescription medications is the leading cause of deafness in younger dogs.

When used incorrectly, certain antibiotic preparations can potentially cause systemic toxicity and severe kidney disease. This happens much less frequently.

Suppose your pet is prescribed a course of topical treatment for an episode of otitis.

In that case, the unused portion of the product should be thrown away after the treatment course to avoid the complications described above.



Questions People Also Ask: (FAQs)


What Are Some Frequent Ears Problems In Dogs?

Otitis externa is the name given to the most frequent form of ear canal disease that affects dogs. Inflammation of the layer of cells that lines the external auditory canal is what causes this illness to manifest itself.

Indicators of the condition include shaking of the head, a smell, redness of the skin, swelling, itching, increased discharge, and scaly skin.

How Can I Treat The Ear Infection That My Dog Has Without Taking Him To The Veterinarian?

Itching and discomfort caused by ear infections can be alleviated using apple cider vinegar. Combine equal parts vinegar and filtered or spring water in a mixing container.

Use a cotton ball dipped in the solution to clean the external auditory canal and any other visible areas of the ear. Holding your dog’s ear steady will allow you to ensure that the liquid goes all the way into the ear canal.

What Kind Of Medication Could I Give My Dog To Help His Ear Problems?

They might administer a topical treatment or use an ear cleaner containing the medication. When the condition is more serious, the veterinarian may recommend anti-inflammatory drugs or oral antibiotics for your pet. Your dog will most likely receive a prescription for a topical medicine from the veterinarian.

What Signs And Symptoms Do Dogs Exhibit When They Have Ear Mites?

A dog may have ear mites if it scratches around its ears, head, and neck; has skin irritation; shakes its head; has a discharge from its ears that is dark and waxy (like coffee grounds), and has an unpleasant odor coming from its ears.

Is It Possible For Ear Infections In Dogs To Heal On Their Own?

In most cases, an ear infection in a dog will not clear up. To make matters even worse, if you put off treating the ear infection for too long, it may become much more challenging to bring it under control.

If an ear infection is not treated, it can result in chronic problems, including hearing loss and, in some cases, the need for expensive surgery.

How Much Does It Cost To Treat An Infection In A Dog’s Ear?

Otitis externa treatments, which typically include the exam, ear cleaning, and medication, typically cost between $100 and $175. The cost of ear infection treatment can vary depending on your location and the veterinary practice that you visit; however, these treatments typically cost between $100 and $175.

What Are The Potential Outcomes Of Failing To Treat An Ear Infection In A Dog?

Ear infections in dogs can rapidly progress if they are not treated, leading to discomfort, problems with balance and coordination, and even facial paralysis in extreme cases if the infection is not treated.

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