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Otitis Externa in Dogs

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Otitis externa, commonly referred to as an "ear infection", is an ear condition characterized by inflammation of the external ear canal. It is particularly prevalent in dogs with long, floppy ears. According to Embrace Pet Insurance, ear infections represent one of the top 10 reasons dogs present to veterinarians and may affect up to 20 percent of dogs.

Infections are caused by fungus, bacteria or parasites. Laboratory tests can help to determine the underlying cause of the infection. Ear mites can cause 5-10% of ear infections in dogs.

Several factors may predispose dogs to ear infections, including:

  • Long floppy ears
  • Abnormal ear conformation or anatomy
  • Water or hair in the ears
  • Allergies
  • Trauma
  • Tumors
  • Foreign material in the ears
  • Parasites
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Generalized skin disease

    Ear infections can occur in dogs of any age breed or sex. Dogs predisposed to otitis externa include those with genetic predispositions to abnormal ear canals, such as the Chinese shar-pei chow chows and English bulldogs; breeds with hair in the ears like poodles and terriers; dogs with pendulous pinnae such as the cocker spaniel, Brittany spaniels, basset hounds, beagles and Springer spaniels; or outside and working dogs that are exposed to water or foreign bodies. Infections are most common in humid environments or during the summer months.

    What to Watch For

    Common signs of an infection include:

  • Scratching or rubbing the ears
  • Head shaking
  • An abnormal odor or discharge from the ear
  • Pain when you manipulate the ear
  • Redness and swelling of the external ear canal
  • Hearing deficits

    Dogs at risks include dog that frequently swim, dogs with excessive ear care such as ear plugging or excessive cleaning and dogs with underlying allergies. Ear infections are more common in the summer months when swimming, increased humidity and seasonal allergies increase. Excessive cleaning with cleansers can keep the ear canal moist and skin susceptible to infection. Ear infections can affect any age, breed or sex of dogs.

    Generalized skin problems may suggest underlying allergies.

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