Understanding common ear problems

Ears are a vital part of the body – they not only help in hearing, they also maintain the balance. Hence, it is very important to take care of your
pooch’s ears.

Kritika Manchanda

Kritika Manchanda

The canine ear is divided into three parts – the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The most common ear problems in dogs are caused by parasites, foreign bodies, climatic conditions and allergies.
Causes of ear problems…
Parasites cause extreme irritation and itching in dogs. Fleas are havoc for pets and indirectly for pet parents. Some fleas live on the outside of a dog’s ear flap and cause tissue erosion, in addition to intense itchiness, which leads to scratching and self-inflicted wounds.
Mites, such as otodectic, demodectic and/or sarcoptic mange mites, have a special fondness for the ear of your pet. They thrive in the warm moist area where the air flow is restricted, usually in the ear canals. They feed on epidermal debris and ear wax. In most cases, these are visible to the naked eye in the form of dark reddish brown or black debris throughout the ear canal. Ear mite infections can be serious, if left untreated, resulting in damage to the ear canals and eardrums. In extreme conditions, it can lead to deformity of the ears and even deafness.
Some ear problems occur due to excessively high temperature and high level of humidity. The inside area of the ear proves to be a perfect setting for the growth of yeast and bacteria. This can cause a number of adverse symptoms, including ears that are itchy, swollen, smelly, sore and painful.
Other causes of canine ear inflammation/infection can be fly or other insect bites, wounds from animal fights, ticks, polyps, tumours of the wax-producing glands in the ear canal or other forms of cancer of the ear. Ear tissues can also be damaged by a dog’s nails, as they try to relieve itching by vigorous scratching. The main symptom of any kind of ear infection is frequent head shaking and constant itching.

Dr. Aradhana

Dr. Aradhana

Breed-specific ear problems…
Dogs with long, low-set and low-hanging ears such as the Cocker Spaniel, Bassett Hound and Bloodhound tend to develop various types of ear infections. Dr Aradhana Pandey, a specialist in canine clinical medicine, pet grooming, pet nutrition and behaviour, adds that ear infections and inflammations are also common in dogs with narrow ear canal like Pugs. For breeds who have erect ears like German Shepherd, getting water in their ears while bathing is a common problem which can later lead to discomfort.
While, Dr Pavan Kumar from Cessna Lifeline Veterinary Hospital, Bengaluru, adds that German Shepherd has a higher risk of ‘otitis externa’ as compared to other breeds; Basset Hound and Cocker Spaniel have higher risk of ear haematoma, whereas White Boxer and Dalmatian
are seen in a large number of incidences of deafness.
Ear problems…
Apart from these parasitic and allergic infections, the other ear problems include: canine vestibular syndrome, masses within the ear, haematoma
and otitis.
Canine Vestibular Syndrome: This disorder usually occurs in old dogs, but there can be cases where

Dr Neelima

Dr Neelima

even the young and middle-aged dogs can get affected by it. Canine Vestibular Syndrome (CVS) is a condition which develops due to inflammation of the nerves connecting the cerebellum (part of the brain) to the inner ear. According to Dr Aradhana, the dogs suffering from this disorder tilt their head in one direction that may vary from a slight tilt to complete head bending that can lead to sudden loss of balance. The main symptoms include balance problems, vomiting and difficulty in eating or drinking.
As cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls balance, some dogs are unable to stand properly due to loss of balance. Nausea and Nystagmus (rhythmic eye motion) are also common symptoms. Some dogs can also face problem in eating and drinking from their bowls because of balancing problems.
Dr Neelima Paranjpe, surgeon, and leading vet consultant from Mumbai, adds that CVS can occur in two ways. First being the peripheral way, which is more common and the second being the central. Since this problem affects a nerve, the effect can be seen at either ends of the nerve. If it is peripheral, it affects the inner and the middle ear and if it is central then the effect is mainly seen at the other end of the nerve. Talking about the detection procedure, Dr Neelima suggested that MRI (Magnetic Resonant Imaging) is the best way to detect this problem as it gives effective results and the accuracy
is also high.
On asking upon how severely does it affect the canine and what are the chances of a dog to fully recover from CVS, Dr Aradhana replies that the recovery totally depends on the severity of the damage that has been done to the brain. If the damage to the brain is minimal then recovery may occur quickly. If the damage is severe, recovery may not occur at all. In cases when dogs do not recover fully from vestibular syndrome, they normally have a good life. They adjust to residual problems like head tilts and do not seem to be bothered at all by them. She also says that in her practice she has most commonly encountered CVS in Pugs.
Masses Within the Ear: This disorder can be caused by a benign or cancerous growth within the ear. The cause of the development of the mass is generally not known. Often these masses can lead to impaired hearing, irritation, infection, or neurological problems.
Haematoma: It usually occurs when a dog continually shakes his ears to try to get rid of the itching and irritation caused by mites. Due to excessive head shaking, sometimes the tissues get damaged, blood leaks into the tissues and a haematoma type bubble appears on the ear. Speaking to Dr Neelima Paranjpe, we found that Haematoma is nothing but collection of blood within the ear. She explained that there is a layer of cartilage which is made up of a number of capillaries, between the external layer of the skin and the internal layer. Due to extensive shaking of head or constant rigorous movement these capillaries break and as a result blood starts oozing out. The blood starts collecting between the skin and the cartilage, which cannot be seen by the pet parent. In simple words it can also be termed as haemorrhage.
Dr Neelima suggests two ways to treat the problem of Haematoma. The first one being surgery, wherein the internal wound is cut open in a surgical process. The healing takes about 10 to 15 days. The problem with the surgery is that the pet parent has to take extra care of the pet post surgery. Dogs tend to shake their head and get irritated with the stitches and as a result keep itching or scratching their ears. The second option is homeopathy treatment. The treatment takes up to two months to completely heal the ear but the best part is that this method of treatment is totally pain free. The patients who adjust to the extra weight in the ear due to collection of blood are given this form of treatment whereas the ones who tend to become uncomfortable with the added weight are treated surgically.
Otitis: Otitis means inflammation of ear (redness, pain, swelling, heat and loss of function). It causes the ear to become inflamed as a result of a food allergy, plant allergy or an allergic reaction to a parasite such as an ear mite or sarcoptic mange mite. The most common causes of Otitis inflammation are allergies, yeast/bacterial/fungal infections, parasites and stenosis. Depending on which part of the ear is affected it is referred as Otitis Externa (external ear), Otitis Media (middle ear) and Otitis Interna (internal ear).

Easy ear care tips…

  • Make sure you take extra care while cleaning your dog’s ears and do not insert any foreign body or any sharp object into their ears.
  • Do not pour any solution into the ear canal without consulting the vet.
  • If you want to clean the ears at home, always use a cotton ball and the solution suggested by the vet.
  • Be very patient and gentle, because even a little carelessness can lead to serious damage to your pet’s ears.
  • It is a good option to get some help if your pet is really active and is not cooperating.
  • You can also get your pooch’s ears cleaned by a professional.
  • Keep the sessions short so as not to stress out the pet.
  • Treat your pet after he cooperates with you in the cleaning session.
  • If the ear drops are prescribed, learn the technique to put them from your vet.
  • After you give ear drops you should always give some treats to your pet, so that he does not fear the next session and cooperates with you.

(With inputs from Dr Aradhana Pandey, Doggy World, New Delhi; Dr Pavan Kumar, Cessna Lifeline Veterinary Hospital, Bengaluru and Dr Neelima Paranjpe, Pluto Pet Clinic, Mumbai.)

Dog Health

FAQs about ear infections in dogs

Ear infection is one of the most common infections in dogs and is a matter of concern for all pet parents. Here are some of the common queries about this disease.

Q: What are the common ear infections in dogs?Dog health

A: The ‘Otitis Externa’ or the infection on the external ear canal is the most common type of infection seen in dogs. And when the middle ear is affected, it is called ‘Otitis Media.’

Q: Which breeds are more prone to ear infections?

A: Ear infections can be commonly found in breeds like Cocker Spaniel, Poodle and German Shepherd.

Q: Is it seasonal?

A: It may occur all round the year but are more common in humid seasons. Many a times, dogs show signs of infection after a bath or after getting soaked in the rain.

Q: What are the causative factors?

A: Ear infections are caused by a variety of bacteria and/or fungi. Infestation of ear canal with ticks or mites may also lead to infections. Foreign bodies or tumors or hardened earwax may also cause ear infections. Allergy is another important factor.

Q: How can an infected dog be recognized?

A: Discomfort is the first symptom. When the infection is severe, the dog shakes his head strongly and tries to scratch his ears with paws. The inside of his ear often becomes red and infl amed and sometimes a black or yellowish liquid may also ooze out of the ears. An offensive odour may be smelt as well and the dog keeps on whining in pain.

Q: What to do in such cases?

A: As soon as you notice these symptoms, consult your vet immediately. He will give some tablets to reduce the pain. Rush him to the vet as early as possible and get him treated.

Q: What are the treatments for ear infections?

A: To treat ear infections effectively, fi rst the causative factor has to be identifi ed. The ear canal has to be examined thoroughly, preferably with an Otoscope to rule out the presence of foreign bodies or ticks inside. Bacterial or fungal infections have to be treated with suitable antimicrobials. To choose the right medication, it is better to examine a sample of the secretions from ear canal by doing culture and sensitivity test. As per your vet’s advice, the dog has to be dosed with tablets and/or eardrops. Sometimes antiseptic lotions may have to be applied inside the ear.

In some complicated cases, maggots may develop inside the ear canal. Such dogs have to be sedated and treated fi rst for the maggots and then for the ear infection.

Another important part of the treatment is the identifi cation of underlying disease. For example, if it is due to allergy or low thyroid function, it has to be diagnosed and treated. If this is not done, the dog may respond temporarily to treatment but the infection will relapse later.

Q: How far the treatment will be effective?

A: Ear infections will subside completely, when detected early and treated promptly. But in some dogs, they tend to recur. As said earlier, this may be due to an underlying disease, which also needs to be tackled along with the primary treatment. Besides, when the dog is not much co-operative to treatment, ear problems may recur frequently.

Q: How to prevent ear infections?

A : The golden adage “prevention is better than cure” holds good here also.

  • Preventive measures include regular cleaning of the ear has to be practiced since puppyhood.
  • The ears have to be cleaned once or twice a week preferably with dry cotton using fingers.
  • Never use ear buds because they may push the wax deep inside the ear.
  • If the earwax is hard, it may be softened using some medication as per your vet’s advice.
  • While giving bath, always take care that water never enters the ear canal.
  • Use cotton swabs inside your dog’s ears before giving him a bath and remember to promptly remove them afterwards.
  • Do not allow your dog to get soaked in rain or under a tap.


(Dr. C. S. Arun has been providing health care services in and around Mysore City. He runs 4 pet shops cum clinics to cater to the needs of pet parents. )