Tuesday, 12/20/2022

Otitis externa in dogs is a common inflammatory disease of the external ear canal, including the ear pinna. In 20 percent of dogs, this ailment can be acute or chronic and occurs when the layer of cells of the external ear canal becomes inflamed.

If your dog has been shaking his head excessively and scratching at ears, or if the pet has been rubbing against a rough surface, chances are the canine has an ear infection. 

Ear Infection In Dogs(Otitis Externa) is caused by bacteria and fungus that can infect the ear canal, skin, or both. This infection can be a secondary infection of an underlying disease such as allergies or a foreign body.

Otitis externa also can be caused due to middle ear infection Dogs with long ears or breeds with naturally floppy ears, such as  Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels, are more susceptible to developing this type of ear infection. Read on for more information about Ear Infection In Dogs(Otitis Externa), what are the symptoms, causes, and how to treat it.

What Are the Symptoms of Otitis Externa in Dogs

Acute otitis externa can often be treated successfully, but chronic or recurrent otitis externa is more challenging. Typically, primary underlying factors, as well as predisposing and perpetuating factors, are at play, including secondary otic infection. 

A detailed history and thorough physical examination by the vet can provide clues as to the causes of otitis externa. Also, the pinnae and ear regions of the pet may show evidence of self-trauma from scratching redness of the skin and primary and secondary skin abnormalities. 

Sometimes the suffering dogs may not show symptoms of ear infection apart from the buildup of wax and discharge in the ear canal. However, when the ear infection in the pet causes discomfort, you may witness the following signs: 

  • Head shaking
  • Black or yellowish discharge
  • Odor
  • Redness and swelling of the ear canal
  • Itchiness
  • Crusting or scabs in the ears
  • Depression
  • Whining or signs of pain when given an ear rub
  • Scratching or rubbing of the ears
  • Scaly, flaky skin 

We crafted the infographic with the visual illustration of Canine Otitis Externa to offer a crisp idea. Let’s roll through it.

What is Canine Otitis Externa?

Otitis Externa is the most common disorder of the canine ear canal. This ailment occurs when the cell layer that lines the external ear canal becomes inflamed, and it can affect any dog, regardless of age or breed. Let’s explore a few of the signs of Otitis Externa in dogs:

#1 Head shaking & Itchiness 
Acute otitis externa includes head shaking and scratching of the ears. The ear canal may be increasingly itchy and painful.
#2 Redness and Swelling 
Another clinical sign includes redness and swelling of the ear canal. You also may witness brown, yellow, or black discharges from the ear canal.
#3 Scaly and Flaky Skin
Scaly skin and odor is another common sign of Otitis Externa in dogs. The pet may seem tired or irritable, or whining due to pain.
#4 Anorexia and Depression
Other signs include tilting the head, anorexia, incoordination, and occasional vomiting Symptoms of depression may be exhibited.
#5 Thicken Outer Canal
In chronic otitis externa, the outer ear canal can thicken and increase dark waxy discharge. In a severe situation, the ailment can cause the eardrum rupture, leading to severe pain, and the pet may become deaf.

What Causes Otitis Externa in Dogs?

There are many potential causes of otitis externa in dogs, but the most common cause is bacteria. Bacteria can enter the ear through a break in the canine skin, such as a cut or scrape. Once bacteria are in the ear, they can multiply and cause an infection. 

Other potential causes of otitis externa include allergies, foreign bodies (such as grass seeds), mites, and tumors. In puppies, ear mites are also a source of ear infections. Factors that may predispose your canine to ear infections include:

Endocrine disorders☑️
Autoimmune disorders☑️
Wax buildup☑️
Injury to the ear canal☑️
Excessive cleaning☑️
Flea bites☑️
Excess water☑️
Ear mite infections☑️

How to Treat Otitis Externa in Dogs

If you suspect your pet might have an ear infection, you must take them to see a vet without delay. Ear infections can be painful for dogs and lead to more severe health problems if left untreated.

Quick treatment is necessary to prevent the spread of the infection to the middle and inner ear. While visiting the vet, provide a thorough history of the problem, such as symptoms, pain, swelling, discharge, and odor. Also, share the pet’s recent activities, such as baths, grooming, or swimming.

Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination based on the dog’s history. And the exam may include: a visual assessment, an Examination with an otoscope to evaluate the ear canal and eardrum, a microscopic examination of samples ear swab, a culture of samples from the ear, or the vet also may suggest biopsies or X-rays in the advanced or the chronic stage. 

There are different treatment options for otitis externa, depending on the severity of the infection. In most cases, ear infections can be treated with medical ear cleaning, antibiotic ear drops, or ointments. More severe cases may require oral antibiotics or surgery to clean the infected ear canal.

To treat these conditions, your veterinarian may also recommend the removal of the hair in the ear canals, a painful procedure usually done under anesthesia.

Acute ear infections resolve within 1–2 weeks, but severe infections or the infections underlying conditions may take a few months to cure. 

Topical therapy is the mainstay treatment for otitis externa. In cases of severe chronic disease, the vet may recommend surgery, a Total Ear Canal Ablation (TECA), to remove diseased tissue and prevent the recurrence of infection.

Prevention Of Otitis Externa

There are specific things you should do to prevent otitis externa in your dog:

  • Keep their ears clean and dry. It is especially important if your dog has floppy and long ears. Regularly check their ears and clean them with a gentle, dog-safe ear cleanser if necessary.
  • Avoid getting water in their ears. This can be tricky if your dog loves swimming, but try to keep their head above water as much as possible, and use cotton balls or earplugs to keep water out of their ears when bathing them.
  • If your dog is prone to recurrent ear infections, identifying and managing any underlying causes can help prevent new infections from occurring.


The diagnostic workup for otitis externa requires a detailed history, thorough physical and ear examinations, and cytologic evaluation treatment for an ear infection will vary depending on the cause but may include cleaning the ears, antibiotics, or antifungal medication. If you think your pet may have an ear infection, contact your veterinarian for an evaluation as soon as possible.

The best treatment for inflammation of the outer ear in a dog is prevention. Ensure to inspect your dog’s ears regularly, and if you observe unusual temperature changes, sudden increases in moisture, changes in skin color or condition, or other changes not them. It is time for a prompt checkup when you notice changes or observe the symptoms mentioned.

Disclaimer: The content on the site is for educational purposes only, and it does not provide medical advice. The shared information must not be treated as a substitute for or alternative for medical practitioner advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Regarding any concerns about your pet’s health, seeking veterinary guidance is of utmost necessity. Each pet has specific health, fitness & nutrition needs. Do not disregard, avoid or delay pet health-related advice from veterinarians based on reading the information provided on this site.


  1. What is the primary cause of otitis externa in dogs?

Otitis externa, or external otitis, is an ear canal inflammation. It can be caused by yeast, bacteria, or allergies. Otic parasites such as Otodectes cyanotis, hypersensitivity disease, food allergy, atopic dermatitis, contact hypersensitivity, and endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism and otic neoplasia are also fundamental causes of the disease. Other possible effects of otitis externa which is caused by excess moisture either trapped in tissues or on surfaces close to the infected area.

2. How to know if a dog has otitis externa?

Otitis externa is characterized by pain, head shaking, and often a yellow or brown discharge from the ear canal. Dogs with otitis also exhibit signs such as rubbing their ears against furniture. The early stage of otitis externa has symptoms that are unnoticeable to the owner and may not progress to more noticeable symptoms in some cases. As the infection progresses, skin irritation is due to painful scratching and bacterial infection at the skin level around the ears. Evaluation for otitis is done by ear canal palpation, visual inspection of ears, including otoscopic examination, and cytological analysis of otic contents.

3. How does a vet treat otitis externa in dogs?

Topical therapy is the primary treatment for otitis externa. But vet use of anti-inflammatory therapy and antimicrobial therapy may be indicated based on the disease severity. Also, the vet may recommend surgery, a Total Ear Canal Ablation (TECA) at more advanced stages of the disease. 

4. How long does it take to treat otitis externa?

Depending on the diagnosis, prescription ear drops usually cure a swimmer’s ear or otitis externa in 8–10 days. It also may take 2 to 4 weeks. Long-term cases may take months to cure, and in certain instances, chronic otitis externa treatment must be continued indefinitely. 



Alex Schechter

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