How common are ear infections in dogs?

Infection of the external ear canal is one of the most common types of infections seen in dogs. It is called otitis externa. Some breeds, particularly those with large, floppy or hairy ears, are more prone to ear infections, but ear infections may occur in any breed.

What are the symptoms of an ear infection?

Ear infections are painful. Many dogs will shake their head and scratch their ears trying to get the debris and fluid out. The ears often become red and inflamed and develop an offensive odor. A black or yellowish discharge commonly occurs.

Since these symptoms usually mean an infection, why can’t I just get some ear medication?

There are several kinds of bacteria and at least one type of fungus which commonly cause ear infections. Without knowing the kind of infection present, we do not know which medication to use. In some cases, the ear infection may be caused by a foreign body or tumor in the ear canal. Treatment with medication alone will not resolve these problems. It is important that your dog be examined to ensure that the eardrum is intact. Administration of certain medications can result in loss of hearing if the eardrum is ruptured. This can only be detected by a thorough ear examination by your veterinarian.

How are ear infections treated?

The results of the otoscopic and microscopic examination usually determine the diagnosis and course of treatment. Cytologic study of debris from the ear canal determines which drug to use. Many dogs will have more than one type of ear infection present (e.g., a bacterium and a fungus, or two kinds of bacteria). This situation usually requires the use of multiple medications or a broad-spectrum medication.

How important is it to treat an ear infection?

Dogs with ear infections are miserable. Their ears are a source of constant pain resulting in head shaking and scratching. Head shaking and scratching can also cause broken blood vessels in the ear flap called an ear hematoma, which requires surgical treatment. Chronic ear infections can penetrate the eardrum and result in an internal ear infection and permanent hearing loss.

Make sure to speak to your veterinarian if you think your dog is exhibiting signs of an ear infection.