Canine otitis externa, inflammation of the outer ear canal, is an irritating, painful, and sometimes damaging condition. It’s common and plagues many dogs around the world. Early recognition and treatment are imperative in preventing serious complications. 

The latest Banfield State of Pet Health report lists ear infections as the third most diagnosed canine condition in the United States1. An estimated 63.4 million households in the United States have dogs2. This equates to a lot of dogs out there with ear infections.

An ear infection can happen in any dog, but some dogs are more prone to them than others. Dogs with large, floppy ears or hairy ears tend to suffer from ear infections more often than other canines do. Some examples of prone breeds are cocker spaniels, miniature poodles, and basset hounds 

Physical traits aside, several other factors can cause otitis externa in dogs. Studies show an increasing majority of cases related to or caused by allergies. One study3 attributed their group’s ear infections to allergies, masses (tumor or polyp), endocrine disease (Cushing disease, hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus), and autoimmune disease, respectively.

Other causes of ear infections and inflammation are bacteria or yeast, ear mites, hair deep in ear canal, and foreign bodies such as grass awns. Swimmer’s ear also causes many infections. Water trapped inside the ear canal can grow bacteria. If the body’s immune system fails to attack and kill the bacteria, infection results. 

Symptoms of Canine Otitis are usually straightforward and easy to spot. They include:

  • Pain and discomfort of the ear(s)
  • Head shaking
  • Excessive ear scratching
  • Foul odor from ears
  • Red/inflamed skin
  • Black or yellow discharge from ear

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it’s time to call your veterinarian for a check.

Ear infections aren’t usually difficult to treat unless they’re chronic or recurrent. If infection or inflammation is recurrent, it’s necessary to explore underlying causes and treat those. Treatment begins with an exam and diagnosis. The exam will include a check for foreign bodies, crustiness or scale, mites, or masses and for signs of a ruptured ear drum. A culture and sensitivity test may be necessary if the infection is severe.

If present, excessive wax, debris, or parasites may be removed while the patient is sedated. Often, medication is all that’s needed to clear up an infection. Medication can include antibiotics, antifungals, or a combination. 

Proper administration of medication can determine success or failure in eradicating an infection. Because a dog’s ear is L shaped, it can be a challenge to get medicines to reach the horizontal ear canal. Veterinarians will instruct clients in the correct method of medication administration. 

Treatment as soon as possible after identifying symptoms is vital. Left untreated, dogs will suffer constant discomfort and pain. Scratching in an attempt at relief can cause broken blood vessels in the ear flaps and swelling. Untreated, severe inflammation and infection can damage or rupture the ear drum. It can lead to a deeper internal ear infection and hearing loss. 

Hyperplasia (swollen ear canal) can make it impossible for medication to reach inside the canal. This results in the necessity for surgery to remove part of the ear canal to eliminate swollen tissue, and in most severe case, a total ablation (removal of the entire canal).

Several methods of care can decrease the severity of canine otitis externa and even prevent occurrences. These include the following:

  • Regular wellness exams
  • Treatment of underlying issues that may contribute
  • Maintaining proper ear hygiene
  • Keeping susceptible dogs out of water
  • Watching for and catching symptoms early
  • Diagnosing and treating conditions immediately to prevent chronic problems

Canine otitis externa is uncomfortable in the least and can lead to major damage. It’s a common condition that can happen to any dog, any time of the year. Recognizing symptoms and seeking help from your veterinarian early reduces suffering and damage.   

1“Pet Health In The United States – Common Dog Diseases | Banfield Pet Hospital®”. Banfield.Com, 2020, Accessed 11 July 2020.

2“Pet Industry Market Size & Ownership Statistics”. American Pet Products Association, 2020,

3Paterson, S., and W. Matyskiewicz. A Study To Evaluate The Primary Causes Associated With Pseudomonas Otitis In 60 Dogs. 2020.

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