Dogs are prone to various ear problems, and, while certain breeds, such as cocker spaniels, bulldogs, and Labradors, are more likely to suffer from otic conditions than other breeds, any dog can experience ear issues. Regardless of whether your dog has floppy or pointed ears, learning how to identify your four-legged friend’s ear problems can help minimize pain, inflammation, and infection. Read our Cupertino Animal Hospital team’s seven otic conditions commonly seen in dogs.

#1: Ear infections in dogs

While your dog’s ears normally have yeast and bacteria present, either pathogen’s overabundance can lead to an infection. Dogs with ear infections exhibit reddened, inflamed ears that often have a foul odor, and you may also notice yellow or brown debris. Ear infections are painful, so your dog may shake their head or scratch at their ear to try to alleviate the discomfort. If an ear infection advances from the outer ear to the middle or inner ear, treatment becomes more complex and the signs more severe.

#2: Allergies in dogs

Environmental and food allergies generally manifest as skin and ear irritation and inflammation. If your dog is hypersensitive to pollen, mold, or certain protein sources, they can develop red, itchy ears but have no debris. However, secondary ear infections can occur in conjunction with otic inflammation caused by allergies. Dogs with allergies often suffer from chronic ear problems that will not resolve unless their allergies are well-managed.

#3: Ear mites in dogs

While ear mites are more common in cats, dogs—especially puppies—can also contract ear mite infections. These parasites can spread among pets in close contact and cause intense itching and secondary ear infections. Dogs infected with ear mites typically have a copious amount of black, crumbly debris in their ears that looks similar to coffee grounds. In severe cases, you may be able to spot the mites as tiny white dots moving in the ears. Fortunately, many parasite preventives treat and prevent ear mite infections, so keeping your dog on year-round parasite prevention helps protect against ear mites.

#4: Otic foreign objects in dogs

Dogs who venture into thick brush and vegetation are at risk of getting foreign objects lodged in their ears. A common foreign object found in dogs’ ears is a foxtail or grass awn. These spiky seeds can work their way deep into a dog’s ear canal, causing them extreme pain and injuring their ear if not removed.

Dogs who live with young children may also experience foreign objects if their tiny housemates stick a small toy into their ears. When your child and dog are playing together, always closely supervise the pair to ensure accidents do not occur.

#5: Ear tumors in dogs

Often triggered by chronic inflammation, benign or malignant growths can develop within your dog’s ear canal, causing drainage and recurring infections. If your dog develops one-sided, recurring ear infections, a polyp or tumor may be to blame. Growths within the ear can also become ulcerated and invasive, causing bleeding or discharge, in addition to a foul odor, irritation, or neurologic signs such as a head tilt, circling, and inability to blink.

#6: Ear hematomas in dogs

An ear hematoma appears as a swelling within the ear flap that may progress and encompass the entire flap. This swelling is caused by blood and fluid accumulation between tissue layers within the ear flap, typically spurred by excessive head shaking or ear scratching. If your dog has an ear infection, ear mites, allergies, or other itchy conditions, they may ultimately develop an ear hematoma as they try to shake or scratch to ease their discomfort.

Ear hematomas are treated medically or surgically, depending on the size, severity, and underlying cause. Untreated ear hematomas eventually scar down, but will leave the ear flap disfigured, which may cause further problems. 

#7: Chronic ear inflammation in dogs

Chronic ear infections or other inflammatory conditions can lead to ear canal scarring and calcification. As the ear canals harden into bone-like structures, they trap debris, wax, and skin cells within the middle ear, creating chronic middle ear infections that are difficult to treat. In many cases, the best way to resolve chronic ear issues is to perform a total ear canal ablation (TECA), a procedure in which the horizontal and vertical ear canals are surgically removed. 

Ear problems in dogs can be frustrating for pets and their owners, as treatment of the underlying cause can be challenging, resulting in recurring issues. If your dog suffers from ear problems, visit our Pet Ear Care Center to help your pet find relief. Call our Cupertino Animal Hospital team to schedule your dog’s appointment.