Dog Ear Problems Part 1 – symptoms and causes

bassett-hound[tag]Dog ear problems[/tag] are one of the main reasons dogs are taken to the vet.

Inflammation of your dog’s external ear canal is called otitis externa and approximately 20% of the dog population suffers from this disease; the percentage is even higher in tropical countries.

Diagnosing Otitis itself is easy but it can be caused by any one of a number of factors, and determining the root cause is not always straightforward.


Ear inflammation, and associated [tag-tec]dog ear infection[/tag-tec], is painful for your dog and if it is left untreated can spread further into the ear damaging your dog’s eardrum and middle ear.

Chronic dog ear infection is difficult, and costly, to treat – it pays to regularly inspect your dog’s ears and take him to the vet as soon as any of the symptoms of otitis are present.

What are the Signs of Otitis Externa:

Ear problems will usually start with your dog scratching his ears; excessive scratching can cause trauma to the ear resulting in the ear canal swelling and the emission of a discharge. The swelling and discharge in the ear cause a change in the ear’s environment and as a consequence secondary infection by micro-organisms such as yeast and bacteria can develop.

So, if your dog exhibits any of the following symptoms he’s likely to be suffering from Otitis externa and you should take him to the vet as soon as possible:

  • Smelly ears;
  • Yellow, brown or brown/black waxy discharge from the ears;
  • Black crumbly discharge from the ears;
  • Repeated ear scratching and/or rubbing of his ears on the ground;
  • Redness and/or swelling of the ear flap and/or ear canal;
  • Shaking of the head and;
  • Ears painful to the touch.

What are the Causes?

Any one of the following may be the cause of your dog’s ear problems:

  1. Parasites such as ear mites – the symptoms of [tag]dog ear mites[/tag]are similar to many of the other causes of otitis, such as persistent scratching, head shaking, a black crumbly smelly discharge;
  2. Bacteria and yeast infections – a healthy dog’s ear is immune to these micro-organisms, but if conditions in the ear change – for example the ear canal becomes more moist – then bacteria and yeast spores can rapidly multiply and your dog’s normal defense against them breaks down.
    A yellow discharge is usually a sign of a bacterial infection whereas a brown to brown/black waxy discharge can imply a yeast infection; both discharges can have a bad odor;
  3. Allergies – either from food or inhaled from your dog’s environment. Allergies can cause redness and swelling in your dog’s ears and a secondary infection with bacteria or yeast is common;
  4. Foreign bodies – debris in the ear from, for example, plant seeds, foxtails, sand and dried ear medications can cause your dog to repeatedly scratch his ears;
  5. Trauma to the ear – excessive scratching can exacerbate an ear problem, and lead to dog ear infections and/or ear hematomas;
  6. Environment in your dog’s ear – to be healthy your dog’s ear should be clean and dry. Anything that upsets this environment can lead to otitis and certain dogs are predisposed to it.
  7. Other causes – these can include hereditary conditions, tumors, diseases of the immune system and hormonal abnormalities.

Don’t try and treat an ear infection yourself without a correct diagnosis from your vet because you could do your dog’s ears more harm than good. For example if you think your dog has ear mites, but he actually has an ear infection, the anti-mite product you use could exacerbate the ear infection.

In part 2 I shall look at how the cause of otitis externa is diagnosed and in part 3 how to treat and reduce risk of dog ear infections.

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