Ear infections in dogs: Symptoms, causes and treatment options.

Otitis externa, or inflammation of the external ear, is a very common ailment in dogs. Often there is an infection present.

Symptoms may include:

However, some dogs show very few symptoms and will only be diagnosed when a doctor examines the ear with an instrument called an otoscope.

What causes ear infections in dogs?

Otitis has many INITIATING causes. Some examples include:

Yeast or bacterial infections will complicate otitis externa; however, these germs do not start an ear problem.


In order to diagnose and treat an ear problem, we do the following:

The otoscopic examination is very important because the ear canal must be evaluated for swelling, discharge and/or ulcers. The eardrum also needs to be visualized to determine if a middle-ear infection exists.

The cytological exam is very important, as well, because certain bacteria are hard to treat and need long-term therapy. Also, ear mites can be identified from this test.

Other tests that might be recommended include:


After the cause of the otitis has been determined, appropriate medication is prescribed. It is essential to do a follow-up exam in 7 days. Although the symptoms may disappear during the treatment, the problem (disease) may persist. Most infections need medication for at least 7-14 days after the infection has resolved. An otoscopic examination is the only way to be sure the ear problem is gone. If the otitis recurs or becomes chronic, further testing or procedures may be needed (allergy testing, elimination diets, etc.)

If the eardrum is ruptured, the middle ear will need to be flushed out using the video-otoscope and skull radiographs +/- a CT scan. These procedures are done under general anesthesia.

Even though there are many underlying causes of otitis, most cases respond quickly to treatment, especially if the initiating cause is addressed. The sooner the pet with otitis is seen, the easier (and less costly) the treatment may be.

For more information on this subject, speak to the veterinarian who is treating your pet.