Open Your Ears: How an Ear Infection Develops in Dogs

In this way, you help dog owners to recognize possible signs in good time and to better understand the disease.

Inflammation in the ear is not only uncomfortable and painful. It is also usually very long-lasting and tends to recur unless the underlying condition is treated.

What is an ear infection?

There are different forms of ear infections. In dogs, this usually means an inflammation of the external auditory canal. The vet then speaks of a so-called otitis externa. The auricle is often also affected.

The ear consists of the outer ear (auricle and external auditory canal), the middle ear (with the auditory ossicles), and the inner ear (which contains the actual organ of hearing and the organ of balance). The external auditory canal is formed by the tubular auditory canal, which varies in width and length depending on the breed of dog and extends to the eardrum. The auditory canal is significantly longer in dogs than in humans and is L-shaped. Exact knowledge of the anatomy of the dog’s ear is very important for examination and treatment.

In the case of otitis externa, the entire skin of the external auditory canal is inflamed and initially reacts to the constant stimulus with increased production of earwax. As a result, bacteria and fungi, some of which are also found in the healthy ear, can multiply and continue to inflame.

This disrupts the self-cleaning mechanism that normally expels earwax to the outside. If otitis externa is not treated early, the inflammation worsens and the ear can be permanently damaged.

What causes otitis externa?

There are many causes of inflammation of the external auditory canal, which is why it is referred to as a “multi-factor disease”. There are four different triggers:

The primary causes include allergic diseases, parasites (ear mites), foreign bodies (awns, sand), hormonal disorders, autoimmune diseases, and tumors. These can cause inflammation directly in the healthy ear.

Secondary causes are bacterial and/or yeast infections. They only cause otitis externa in an already damaged ear or combination with other triggers.

Predisposing factors (= factors predisposing to the disease) increase the risk of otitis, but only lead to disease in combination with other causes. Examples are an unfavorable structure of the ear (very narrow auditory canal, excessive hair growth), increased moisture (in lop-eared dogs or in dogs that swim a lot or have many earwax glands), and also excessive or incorrect ear care.

Perpetuating (= the disease maintaining) factors are changes that occur as a result of protracted or recurring ear infections and that make it difficult or prevent the healing of the otitis. These include an inflammatory narrowing of the auditory canal, ossified auditory canals, altered eardrums, a middle ear infection, and enlarged earwax glands.

How do I recognize an ear infection?

At the beginning of the inflammation, the outer ear is usually red, sometimes swollen, and itchy. The dogs then shake their heads, scratch their ears, drop one or both ears, and tilt their heads. An unpleasant odor is also often noticeable. Depending on the cause, dry or greasy, black-brown, or yellowish deposits are visible. Both ears are not always affected. But even if only one side is inflamed, both ears should always be examined.

If the dog enjoys scratching its ears more than usual, this can also be a sign of an incipient infection. In severe cases, touching the ears is often very painful – some dogs become head-shy and no longer allow their heads to be touched.

The changes described are more difficult to detect in dogs with hanging or floppy ears. The ears should therefore be checked regularly by the owner or by the veterinarian.

Are there dog breeds that are particularly affected?

Breeds most likely to develop otitis externa include Basset Hound, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Cocker Spaniel, French Bulldog, Labrador Retriever, Pug, Poodle, Shar Pei, German Shepherd, Shi Tzu, and West Highland White Terrier.

Breeding-related changes in the ear and certain breed predispositions (= predisposing factors) are discussed as causes: narrow ear canals, lots of hair in the ear canal, increased cerumen glands, floppy ears, and a general tendency to allergies. A preference for swimming and use as a working or hunting dog (foreign bodies!) can also promote ear infections.

Can an ear infection also be caused by allergies?

Yes, allergic skin diseases (e.g. atopy, food intolerance, contact allergy) are the most common primary causes of otitis externa.

A typical symptom of an allergic trigger is the reddening of the auricle and the external auditory canal. Sometimes otitis is the only clinical indication of an allergy.

The underlying allergy must be recognized and treated. Otherwise, chronic otitis can result, which in turn promotes bacterial and yeast infection. For example, the vet can B. identify potential allergy triggers with a skin test or an elimination diet and initiate a targeted therapy. At the beginning of allergy therapy, local treatment of the ears is usually also necessary.

Frequently Asked Question

What does an inflamed ear look like in a dog?

With an ear infection, a brownish secretion can often be seen on the inside of the ears. In most cases, this is caused by a disturbance in the intestinal flora and digestion. An ear infection must always be treated: go to the vet if you suspect it!

How does a dog react to an earache?

Some dogs may shake their heads for no reason more often than normal, or tilt their heads to one side, or pop their ears off. They may be restless or feel itching or pain when their head is touched. You can also recognize it by the fact that the auricle of the dog’s ear shows reddening.

What does dog pain sound like?

Dogs only cry out at the first pain; rarely do dogs “whine” or “cry” in pain. All the dog owner usually hears is a low moan. That’s why it’s so important to know what your dog’s normal behavior is.

Is an ear infection dangerous in dogs?

Not only because otitis can be very painful for the dog, but it should also always be treated. If left untreated, it can persist for a long time and become so severe that it can pose a serious threat to the dog’s health.

What to do about inflamed ears in dogs?

There are several ways to treat an ear infection in dogs. In the case of rather mild inflammation of the outer ear (otitis externa), home remedies such as tinctures of calendula, chamomile, coconut oil, echinacea, or apple cider vinegar can help. There are many different recipes on the web.

How long does an ear infection in dogs last?

The duration of an ear infection in dogs depends on the underlying cause and which part of the ear is affected. In the case of otitis externa, treatment can be successful after three weeks. Middle or inner ear infections often require therapy for up to two months.

How often should you clean dog ears?

In the case of long-haired dog breeds and dogs with hanging and crooked ears, ideally, check them daily after going for a walk. This is particularly advisable in areas with grain fields. For all other dog breeds, a guide value of 1-2 times a month is recommended.

What is the best ear cleaner for dogs?

Canosept is a remedy that you can put in your dog’s ears to clean and condition the ear canal. Cleaning the ears is recommended, otherwise, inflammation and parasite infestation can occur. The solution will loosen the earwax and dirt.

What food for dogs with ear infections?

Since an ear infection in dogs is often caused by a food allergy, a high-quality dog diet is the best precaution. When buying dog food, make sure that it consists mostly of meat.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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