Ear Infections in Dogs

Infections of the external ear canal, outer ear, are common in dogs.  Breeds with hairy or large ears are more prone to ear infections, but they can occur in any breed.  Clean, odor-free, pale pink color and a minimal accumulation of wax are indications of healthy ears.  Ear infections can be very bothersome and painful.  The ears often become red, inflamed and may produce an offensive odor.  A black or yellow discharge is usually present.  Many dogs will shake their head and scratch at their ears trying to get the debris and fluid out.

Ear infections can be caused by ear mites, yeast and or bacteria.  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.

First, the ear canal is examined with an otoscope, an instrument that provides magnification and light. This examination allows us to determine whether the eardrum is intact and if there is any foreign material in the canal. When a dog is in extreme pain and refuses to allow the examination, it may be necessary to sedate or anesthetize the dog for a thorough examination.

The next step is to examine a sample of the material from the ear canal under a microscope to determine the type of organism causing the infection. Microscopic examination is important in helping the veterinarian choose the right medication to treat the inflamed ear canal. 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 (i.e., a bacterium and a fungus, or two kinds of bacteria). This situation usually requires the use of multiple medications or a broad-spectrum medication. Culture and sensitivity tests are often used in severe or chronic ear infections. The results of the otoscopic and microscopic examination usually determine the diagnosis and course of treatment.

An important part of the evaluation of the patient is the identification of underlying disease. Many dogs with chronic or recurrent ear infections have allergies or low thyroid function (hypothyroidism). If underlying disease is suspected, it must be diagnosed and treated or the pet will continue to experience chronic ear problems.

Dogs that have very inflamed and painful ears will not allow the owners touch their ears.  This is a problem, since the application of topical ear medication is essential for the resolution of the infection.  Luckily, we can use our Class 4 therapeutic laser to decrease the pain, inflammation and swelling associated with the ear infection.  After just one laser session, most owners notice a significant decrease in the pain and inflammation of their pet’s ear.  This allows for the proper in home care and a better treatment outcome. To schedule an appointment, you may contact our vet clinic in Tampa at 813-961-1222 or @


This client information is based on material written by Ernest E. Ward Jr., DVM. © Copyright 2002 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license November 7, 2013.

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