Red, Inflamed Ears? Your Pooch May Have Otitis Externa
Thu, February 2, 2023

Red, Inflamed Ears? Your Pooch May Have Otitis Externa


Otitis externa refers to the inflammation of your dog’s external ear canal and it is also one of the most common types of infections among canines, said Karen A. Moriello, DVM, DACVD, of animal health platform Merck Veterinary Manual and Ernest Ward, DVM, of VCA Hospitals, an outlet of over 1,000 animal hospitals in the US and Canada.

Otitis externa can be acute or chronic and unilateral or bilateral. Some breeds like Cocker Spaniels or Old English Sheepdogs are more predisposed to developing otitis externa, though it may occur in other breeds. There is also otitis media and interna that occur in the middle and inner ear canal, respectively, explained Elizabeth Racine, DVM, of American Kennel Club (AKC), a recognized and trusted expert in dogs. These two types of infection occur due to the infection spreading from the external ear.  

Prevalence of Otitis Externa In Dogs In Jammu (2014)

273 dogs were analyzed for the study to analyze the prevalence of otitis externa from August to December 2011, stated Sandeep Kumar and colleagues of journal portal Research Gate. The dogs were presented at the Teaching Clinical Complex and Referral Hospital R.S Pura, Central Veterinary Hospital Talab Tillo and private pet clinics in Jammu. Age-wise, the prevalence of otitis externa was higher for dogs aged three years and above (55%) than those in the 1-3 year (25%) and less than one year age groups (20%).

As for breeds, the prevalence of otitis externa was highest among German Shepherds (30%), followed by Labrador (18.34%), Cocker Spaniel (15%), Dalmatian (10%), Doberman (8.34%), and Crossbred (8.34%). The breeds with the lowest prevalence were Spitz (3.34%), Great Dane (1.66%), Lhasa Apso (1.66%), Boxer (1.66%), and Bakherwal (1.66%). With regard to the sex of the dogs, the prevalence of otitis externa was higher among male dogs (61.67%) than females (38.33%).  

Bacterial otitis externa was present in 66.66% of dogs aged over three years, followed by those aged 1-3 years (33.33%) and less than one year (11.11%). Male dogs (61.11%) were more susceptible to bacterial otitis externa than females (38.88%). Canines over the age of three were observed to have fungal otitis externa compared to other age groups (versus 22.22% and 33.33%). Males (66.66%) were shown to be more susceptible to fungal otitis externa than females (33.33%).

Dogs aged over three years (50%) showed a higher prevalence of parasitic otitis externa compared to other age groups (versus 21.42% for dogs aged 1-3 years and 28.57% for those less than one year). Males were more vulnerable (66.66%) than females (42.86%).

Mixed otitis externa prevalence was 57.89% for dogs aged over three years, 26.31% for those aged 1-3 years, and 15.78% for canines aged less than one year. Male canines (61.67%) were more affected than females (38.33%). The researchers found that higher incidences of otitis externa were recorded during the month of August (28.33%) than cases documented in October (26.66%) and December (10%).



What Are the Symptoms of Otitis Externa?

Various factors such as parasites, allergies, or foreign objects can cause otitis externa, said Moriello. But certain yeasts, bacteria, or a middle ear infection can further escalate the infection. For dogs, ear infections are painful, so many of them will shake their head and scratch their ears to relieve the pain. The ears oftentimes become inflamed and develop a malodorous odor.

It is common to see a black or yellowish discharge when your dog is suffering from otitis externa. In chronic cases, your dog’s ears may appear crusty or thickened and its ear canals can become narrow or stenotic because of the inflammation.

But do these symptoms indicate ear mites? They can cause several of the aforementioned signs, but ear mite infections are more prevalent in puppies and kittens. If you own an adult pet dog, it may occasionally contract ear mites from infected puppies or cats. Further, ear mites create an environment within the ear canal that usually results in secondary bacterial or yeast infection.



How Is Otitis Externa Diagnosed?

A smear taken using a cotton-tipped applicator can be done to provide a quick diagnosis. Examining the smear extracted from the external ear canal can help determine if there is an overgrowth of harmless microorganisms. 

Your vet can also use an otoscope to identify any foreign objects in the ear, ruptured/abnormal eardrums, impacted debris, and low-grade infections with parasites. However, your pet may need to be sedated or anesthetized if it is in extreme pain and refuses to allow the checkup.  

Tissues for culture are also taken during this time to identify infection-causing microbes. If your dog has discharge, your vet can examine it for signs of egg or larvae of ear mites, as well as adult ear mites. Additional tests are conducted to rule out any factors that may have caused the inflammation. In this case, allergy testing or hair samples for ringworm tests may be recommended.



How Is Otitis Externa Treated?

The results of your dog’s otoscopic and microscopic examination often determine the diagnosis and treatment plan. Foreign bodies, wax plug, or a parasite in the ear canal will be removed. Some dogs must be sedated for this process or have a thorough ear flushing and cleaning. Many canines will have more than one type of infection present, which usually requires multiple usages of medications or a broad-spectrum medication.

Most dogs with chronic or recurrent ear infections are afflicted with allergies or hypothyroidism. If an underlying disease is present in your dog, it must be diagnosed and treated immediately to prevent it from enduring chronic ear problems. 

Treatment should continue until your dog’s infection is gone. If your pet has bacterial and yeast infections, expect a weekly or bi-weekly physical examinations and tests until your vet does not see signs of infection. This can take about two to four weeks, at least most of the time. Long-term cases of otitis externa may take months to resolve and in some cases, treatment must be halted indefinitely.

There also several surgical procedures to treat otitis externa. The most common procedure is lateral ear resection. The objective of this procedure is to remove the vertical part of the ear canal to get rid of swollen tissue from the horizontal canal. Removing large amounts of tissue from the canal is harder than removing the vertical part of the ear canal. There are cases when your vet has to remove your dog’s entire ear canal, which may lead to permanent hearing impairment.

Consult your vet as soon as you detect signs of otitis externa in your dog. Follow your vet’s treatment plan strictly and carefully. Be sure to exercise caution when administering medication in your dog’s ear.