Understanding Ear Disease in Dogs

Picture of Riaz Rhemu

Riaz Rhemu

Veterinary Surgeon and co-founder of Tatton Veterinary Practice

Dog Ear Infections

Ear disease is one of the most common reasons we see dogs at our practice. It can be a very frustrating disease for both owners and our beloved pets. In this post we will try to explain a bit more about the why’s and how’s with ear disease to help raise the curtain on why they occur and how we treat them.

The Anatomy of a Dog’s Ear

Before delving into ear diseases, it’s essential to understand the structure of a dog’s ear. Dog ears are divided into three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Ear diseases typically occur in the outer ear, which includes the ear flap (pinna) and the ear canal (external auditory meatus). These areas are susceptible to infections, inflammation, and other issues.

Otitis externa is one of the most common ear diseases in dogs. It’s an inflammation or infection of the external ear canal, often linked to allergies. Allergic skin disease can affect your dog’s ear canals, leading to redness, itching, and discomfort.

Connection Between Ear Disease and Allergic Skin Disease

Allergic skin disease, including atopic dermatitis, can contribute to ear problems in dogs. When a dog has allergies, their immune system overreacts to normal environmental stimuli, leading to skin inflammation and itchiness. This can extend to the ears, causing the ear canal to become inflamed and more susceptible to infections. Common allergens could be found in the environment or the dogs food.

Signs of Ear Disease

Recognising the signs of ear disease is crucial for early diagnosis and treatment. Common symptoms include:

  1. Ear Scratching or Head Shaking: Frequent scratching or head shaking can indicate discomfort or itchiness in the ears.
  2. Redness and Swelling: Inflamed ear canals are often red and swollen.
  3. Foul Odour: An unpleasant smell coming from your dog’s ears may suggest an infection.
  4. Discharge: Discharge from the ears can be a sign of infection or inflammation.
  5. Pain and Sensitivity: Dogs with ear disease may exhibit discomfort when their ears are touched.

Diagnostics and Treatments:

When signs of ear disease are noticed, we will often recommend either initial diagnostics or medications depending on our findings during your pet’s consultation.

  1. Ear Cytology: This diagnostic procedure involves taking a sample from the ear canal to identify the underlying cause of the problem, such as bacteria, yeast, or mites. Ear cytology helps us choose the most appropriate treatment.
  2. Antibiotic Ear Drops: In cases where a bacterial infection is present, antibiotic ear drops are often prescribed. These drops are designed to combat and eliminate the bacteria causing the infection, promoting healing and relief from pain.
  3. Steroid Ear Drops: Steroid ear drops may be used to reduce inflammation and alleviate itching and discomfort. These drops are especially effective when allergic skin disease is a contributing factor and there is minimal or no bacteria involved.
  4. Ear Flushes: In some instances, ear flushes may be required to remove stubborn debris, excess wax, or pus from the ear canal. This procedure is typically performed under sedation to ensure the dog’s comfort and safety. When there is a large amount of discharge or debris, antibiotic drops won’t be able to work until the debris has been removed.
  5. Oral Medications: In severe cases, we may prescribe oral treatments such as steroids or pain relief to help alongside the drops into your pet’s ears. Oral antibiotics often don’t work very well for ear disease.
  6. Ear Cleaning and Maintenance: Depending on the type of infection or disease process, we may recommend a specific type of ear cleaner or maintenance drop to help prevent future recurrences.
  7. Lifestyle Adjustments: If your dog has allergies contributing to ear disease, we may recommend lifestyle adjustments, such as changing their diet or avoiding certain allergies.


Ear disease in dogs can be a painful and persistent issue, especially when it’s related to allergic skin disease. Recurrence can be common but with regular check-ups, proper ear care and allergy management we can effectively treat the ear disease and help prevent future flare-ups.


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