Dog ear problems are common and make up the majority of vet visits. Ear problems are fairly easy to identify and treat if caught early enough. Dogs with floppy ears and hunting dogs are most prone to ear problems, although they can occur in any dog at any age.
The symptoms of dog ear problems include the following:
- Rubbing the face or head
- Tilt of the head
- Intense ear scratching
- Head shaking
- Discharge from the ears
- Wax in the ears
- Inflammation in the ears
- Hearing loss
- Loss of hair around the ears
- Pain around the ears
- Red skin or crusty sores in or around the ears
Types of ear problems
There are many types of dog ear problems, with the following the most common:
- Ear infections – Dogs with floppy ears are prone to ear infections because of the moist environment inside the ear flap. The moisture causes bacteria and yeast to grow. The ears may feel warm, and the dog may tilt her head to the side.
- Allergies – Allergies in dogs are common causes of ear problems. Dust, pollen and food can all contribute to inflammation and itchiness in the ears. Switching to a better-quality dog food will typically alleviate the symptoms.
- Parasites – Fleas, ticks and mites can bite the dog’s ear and cause itchiness, swelling and crusty sores.
- Debris – Foxtails and small plants can get stuck inside a dog’s ear. Look deep inside the ear and see if you can find anything that could cause them to show signs of infection. Be careful not to insert anything inside the ears, as it can puncture something and cause pain or further damage.
- Trauma – Any injury to the ear, such as a bite or puncture, can cause fluid to accumulate. Trauma to the ear should be looked at by a veterinarian. Without proper treatment, the ear may become disfigured.
- Hormonal disorders – Hypothyroidism and adrenal diseases are hormonal disorders that can affect the ears. The skin around them may become red and itchy.
- Cancer – Melanomas or carcinomas can affect the ears. Symptoms include hairless skin with dark patches.
Diagnosis and treatment
The vet will perform a thorough evaluation of the dog’s entire body. The dog’s ears will then be inspected for any signs of growths, cysts, pus, inflammation and foreign objects. The vet will take a sample of ear wax and test it for mites and infections.
When a dog has frequent infections, the vet may recommend that you switch dog food. The vet will recommend a high-quality brand for the dog.
If the dog is diagnosed with ear mites, he may be treated with ivermectin and given flea and tick treatment (such as Frontline or Revolution) to prevent future outbreaks.
If the dog has a minor ear infection, the vet will send you home with an ear cleaner and have you clean the ears daily. You will also be given a topical ointment or drops to apply to the ears. If the infection is severe, antibiotics may be prescribed. Prednisone or Benadryl may also be given to alleviate the pain.
The Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s website has an informational page that includes tips and photos showing how to examine a dog’s ears and administer medication.