Dog Ear Problems

Common Ear Problems in Dogs

Ear problems in dogs are a common cause of scratching and head shaking. Causes can include bacterial or fungal infection, skin allergies, and parasites (ear mites).Continue reading to learn about the common symptoms, treatments, and prevention of ear problems in your dog.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

Did you know that FirstVet offers video calls with experienced vets? You can get a consultation within 30 minutes by downloading the FirstVet app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

Symptoms of Ear Problems in Dogs

  • Shaking their head
  • Scratching their ears
  • Rubbing their ears or face on furniture, the floor, etc.
  • Painful, hot, red, or swollen ears
  • Vocalizing or whining when the ears are scratched or rubbed
  • Increased production of wax in the ear canals
  • Smelly ears
  • Discharge from the ear canal that is typically dark brown or rust-colored
  • Scabs and crusting on the ears or the face
  • A fluid-filled swelling within the ear flap (aural hematoma)
  • Deafness or hearing loss

Causes of Ear Problems in Dogs

  • Parasites: Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) can be common in puppies and can also spread to other animals in the household.
  • Allergic Skin Disease: Dogs with allergic dermatitis will often have secondary ear infections
  • Waxy/Dirty Ears: A build-up of wax can create the perfect environment for bacteria and yeast to grow. This is often worse in breeds with narrow ear canals.
  • Trapped Water After Bathing or Swimming: This also creates a warm, damp environment for bacteria and yeast to grow.
  • Excessive Cleaning or Plucking of Hair in the Ear Canal: Be careful not to cause sores or irritate the skin of the ear when removing excess hair.
  • Foreign Bodies: Occasionally a grass seed or other debris can get lodged in the ear canal, causing pain and irritation
  • Ear Shape: Some dogs will be more prone to ear disease than others, such as breeds with ‘floppy’ ears or narrow ear canals.
  • Growths Within the Ear: Sometimes non-cancerous (polyps) or cancerous masses grow in the ear canal.
  • Inner or Middle Ear Infection (with or without vestibular disease): Infection in the inner or middle ear often causes pain, a head tilt, and/or loss of balance.

How can you help your dog?

  • Regularly check your dog’s ears. Get them used to a daily check-up by following our simple guide.
  • Keep your dog’s ears clean. Your vet can suggest suitable ear cleaners for your dog.
  • Cleaning your dog’s ears after swimming helps to remove water and debris from the ear canal.
  • If your dog suffers from allergic skin disease, talk to your vet, or make an appointment with one of our FirstVet vets, to see if there’s anything else that you can do to help your dog at home.
  • If you live in an area where ear mites are common, use appropriate parasite preventatives for your dog. Not all treatments are effective against mites, so please speak to one of the FirstVet vets or make an appointment with your vet to discuss the best treatment choice for your dog.

Treatment of Ear Problems in Dogs

Treatment depends on the cause of the problem. An ear cleaner is often recommended as the mainstay of treatment if the ears have an obvious build-up of wax. Medicated ear drops may be prescribed to reduce inflammation, treat an infection, or kill certain mites. Ear infections are usually painful so your vet will also make sure that the appropriate pain relief is provided. If your dog doesn’t tolerate their ears being examined or if extensive cleaning is needed, your vet might recommend giving your dog a mild sedative to help keep him comfortable.

  • If parasites are the main cause, your vet will prescribe antiparasitic medications. A swab may be taken to sample any discharge from the ear canal and identify the parasite.
  • A swab may be sent to a lab for bacterial and fungal culture if infection is suspected. If an organism is identified, the lab will be able to identify the correct antibiotic to use. Treating with the correct antibiotics is important to avoid antibiotic resistance, which can be common in bacterial ear disease.
  • If your dog has a foreign body in the ear, light sedation may be recommended to assess the ear canal and safely remove the material without causing damage to the eardrum.
  • Biopsies, performed under general anesthesia, may be recommended if your dog has a mass or polyp in the ear. This will help to determine the cause and the most appropriate treatment. In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove the mass.
  • Dogs who suffer from allergic skin disease require treatments that control allergic flare-ups and secondary bacterial and fungal infections.

When to Visit Your Veterinarian

  • If your dog is showing any of the signs listed above.
  • To discuss ear cleaners or parasite treatment for your dog please make an appointment with your regular vet or one of the FirstVet vets.
  • If your dog has a head tilt or is off-balance, make an appointment with your vet right away.

For more information, check out these great resources:

American Kennel Club website

Merck Veterinary Manual website

Still worried?

Schedule a video appointment to speak with one of our vets.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

Did you know that FirstVet offers video calls with experienced vets? You can get a consultation within 30 minutes by downloading the FirstVet app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

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