Ear Conditions in Dogs

Ear Conditions in Dogs

Health & Safety

One of the most common reasons dog owners visit the vet is due to their animal displaying an ear problem. Many conditions are easily treatable but some require further work. Below are a selection seen in veterinary practice.

Ear mites (otodectes cynotis)

SymptomsCommon and noticeable by brown deposits (similar to coffee grains) just inside the ear. These mites make the dog shake their head and scratch at the ears.TreatmentEar mite treatment is easy with ear drops (used with an ear cleaner) or some 'spot-on' preparations.

Ear infection

SymptomsBacterial ear infection or otitis externa is the condition seen most in veterinary practice. Often the owner will bring the dog to the vet when they see the dog scratching at its ears and shaking its head a lot. They might also notice a smell from the ears and the dog may not want to let the owner near its head, even showing aggression if touched. Occasionally the owner also might notice a discharge.Diagnosis and treatmentThe diagnosis of otitis externa can be made during a veterinary consultation. The vet can use simple tests to determine whether the dog is suffering from an ear bacterial infection. As with most cases concerning the ears, the vet will:

  • Visually examine the ears externally - to see if there is a reddening of the ear, hair loss or self-trauma from scratching, as well as any noticeable discharge.
  • Visually examine the ears internally - by use of a special instrument called an otoscope, the vet will be able to look inside the ear for inflammation and/or discharge. They can also check the eardrum in intact.
  • Odour examination - the vet might smell the ears to see if there is an odour coming from them. This is normally a yeasty smell and is often the best indicator to an ear infection.

If the dog has suffered from this problem before and it seems to be an on-going issue, the vet might decide to take a swab from inside the ear and have it analysed in the laboratory to determine the best course of treatment for the animal. Like other parts of the body, some bacteria are resistant to certain antibiotics.The treatment of otitis externa is normally antibiotics. These will come in the form of ear drops that need to be applied by the owner. Many vets will also supply an ear cleaner to use at least an hour before the antibiotic drops. Using a cleaner first means that the antibiotic drops will work properly and not just sit on debris.In the vast majority of cases of otitis externa, this treatment is sufficient to achieve a successful outcome. Should the dog's ears appear so bad with debris and infection, then the vet might take the decision to admit the animal and clean and treat the ears fully, whilst the dog is under sedation.

Foreign body in the ear

SymptomsForeign bodies (normally grass seed) in the ears of dogs can be quite common. It tends to be a seasonal issue where the dog may have been through long grass and a grass seed has entered the ear canal. Owners again might see the dog scratching frantically at its ear and shaking its head. Sometimes if the grass seed has inflamed the inside of the ear canal, a little blood may be also seen.Diagnosis and treatmentThe discovery of a foreign body in the ear canal can be achieved by examination with an otoscope, as before. Some vets might try and flush the ears to remove the object, however if it is a grass seed, then due the shape it may need removing surgically. The dog will be either sedated or under general anaesthetic and the vet will remove the grass seed with long crocodile forceps whilst using the otoscope. Following the procedure, the dog will need a course of antibiotics and pain relief.Some dogs seem more prone to picking up grass seeds due to the nature of their ears. Dogs with pendulous ears such as Springer Spaniels fall into this category.

Aural haematoma

SymptomsMost dogs that have underlying ear problems might shake their heads vigorously. Sometimes this can result in a rupturing of blood vessels within the ear flap causing it to fill with blood and swell. This condition is known as an aural haematoma. Diagnosis and treatmentThe diagnosis of an aural haematoma is simply looking at the ear flap to see if it is swollen. There are various ways vets will treat this condition, but the vast majority are done under sedation or general anaesthetic. Some vets may:

  • Drain the ear flap with a syringe and needle - the problem with this is the ear can easily refill with blood, so is not a final solution.
  • Drain the ear flap as above and suture (stitch) it flat - in this way the flap cannot fill with blood and the sutures are removed after about 14 days. Some vets even stitch buttons to the inside of the ear flaps to keep them from refilling!
  • Use a bandage and secure the drained ear to the top of the head. This, in theory, keeps the ear flat, but most dogs hate it and this technique is not used very widely.
  • Use a placement of a temporary drain (called Penrose tubing) inserted into in the ear flap after entry and exit points have been incised with a scalpel. The tube is then sutured in place. Some vets use this technique to allow the flap to drain and the tubing is removed after a few days.

For many of the above conditions the use of an Elizabethan neck collar will help stop the dog from causing further trauma. In some cases the dog may need their feet bandaged to prevent scratching.It is also important that the dog's owner understands any medicine prescribed and can treat the dog at home properly. Only by doing this can a successful outcome and less trips to the vet the achieved.

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