Common Ear Problems in Dogs

Common Ear Problems in Dogs
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There are a number of ear problems that can affect dogs. Ear infections are especially common, but other problems like injuries or deafness may also occur.

As a dog owner, you can help prevent major problems with your dog's ears by learning how to detect problems early. Regular ear cleaning is one recommended measure. Visiting your veterinarian for routine wellness exams can also help to identify problems before they become severe.

Most ear problems cause itching and pain in the ears. There may also be redness, odor, and/or discharge. Some dog will shake their heads and/or hold their heads at a tilt when they have problems with their ears. It's important to contact your vet at the first sign of ear problems in your dog.

  • 01 of 06

    Ear Infections

    ear infections in dogs
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    Infections are by far the most common ear problems seen in dogs, especially in breeds with long ears. An ear infection is called otitis externa, a term that means inflammation of the external ear canal (outside the eardrum).

    Ear infections are typically caused by an overgrowth of yeast and/or bacteria. This overgrowth may occur secondarily to inflammation in the ear that begins with allergies or irritation to the ear.

    Ear infections in dogs can affect one or both ears. Signs include itching and scratching, shaking of the head, foul odor, redness of the skin in the ears, and excess debris or discharge in the ear canal.

    Most ear infections will get worse without medical treatment, leading to permanent tissue damage and even deafness.

  • 02 of 06

    Aural Hematoma

    Dog aural hematoma of the ear flap
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    An aural hematoma is a blood-filled pocket on the ear flap (pinna). Ear hematomas occur when a blood vessel bursts in the pinna and it bleeds until the space under the skin is full. This trauma to the blood vessels is often caused by excessive shaking of the head. Most dogs with aural hematomas first had ear infections that caused them to shake their heads too much. However, other ear injuries can also cause hematomas.

    Many aural hematomas can be easily seen and felt on the ear pinna. The area will be soft, warm, and feel fluid-filled. The area may or may not be painful. Inside the ear, you may see signs of an ear infection.

    Most ear hematomas need to be drained by a veterinarian and treated with medications. Some require surgical intervention. Recurrent ear hematomas can cause excess scar tissue that makes the ear flap heal with an abnormal appearance.

  • 03 of 06

    Ear Mites

    ear mites in dogs
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    Ear mites are microscopic parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts. They are contagious between animals but not to humans. It only takes a few ear mite bites to cause itching and inflammation of the ear canal. In a short time, the ear can become red and produce debris. This can lead to a secondary ear infection.

    If your vet suspects ear mites, the first step is to do an ear swab followed by microscopic analysis to look for the presence of mites or their eggs.

    Ear mites are typically treated with a topical medication or an oral flea/tick medication which is available from your veterinarian. All animals in the home should be checked for ear mites and treated if necessary. Otherwise, the animals may continue to pass the mites between them.

  • 04 of 06

    Ear Trauma

    dog ear injury
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    Injuries of the ear can occur after a dog is hit by a car, gets attacked or fights with another animal, has a fall, or gets scratched or cut by an object. Ear injuries can affect the external ear canal or just the pinna (ear flap).

    It is essential to bring your dog to a veterinarian after any kind of trauma. If your dog has experienced an ear injury, then there may also be head trauma or infection. Your vet will perform a thorough exam and possibly run diagnostic tests to determine the extent of the injures. Surgery may be necessary in some cases.

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  • 05 of 06

    Foreign Object in the Ear

    dog ear foreign body
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    It is possible for a dog to get a foreign object lodged in the ear canal or the skin/hair around the ears. Common culprits include grass awns and other barbed seeds from plants like foxtail and cheatgrass. These objects can attach to the skin as a dog runs through the woods or tall grass. They can eventually burrow under the skin, leading to inflammation and infection. Other plant materials or even small man-made items can become foreign bodies in or around the ears.

    If you find a small item lodged in the fur or skin, use gloves to try and remove it. A brush or comb may help. However, if the skin appears very red, irritated, or wounded, it's best to leave this to a veterinary professional. Surgery or otoscopy may be necessary if the foreign object is lodged in the ear canal or gets embedded under the skin.

  • 06 of 06


    deafness in dogs
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    Some dogs are born deaf due to congenital birth defects or hereditary conditions. Other dogs become gradually deaf as they grow older. However, chronic ear problems that are not properly treated can also lead to hearing damage. This is why it's so important to see your vet at the first sign of an ear problem in your dog.

    Fortunately, it is possible for a deaf dog to live a happy, healthy life. Many owners train their deaf dogs using hand signals and body language. This is an excellent way to communicate with all dogs, even those with good hearing.