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Ear Problems Leading to Otitis in Dogs

Posted April 11, 2014 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Ear problems are one of the most common reasons that dog owners seek veterinary care. Inflammation or infection of the ear, called otitis, can be a particularly frustrating problem for you and a painful ordeal for your dog. 

Why are ear problems so common in dogs?
To understand why you’ve never had an ear infection and yet your dog suffers constantly with one episode after another, just look at his ears. Does he have cute, floppy ear flaps that hang down and cover the openings to his ear canals? They may make him look adorable, but they also obstruct air flow and contribute to the creation of a cozy, warm, moist environment underneath. What about hair? Try to look down inside the ear canal. Do you see a nice, smooth, accessible tunnel or an opening that is obliterated by a mass of fuzzy hairs that can trap even more moisture and debris?

While you’re looking into his ear canal, what else do you notice? When your doctor looks into your ear, the view is straight in horizontally through the canal to the ear drum. Not so for a dog. From the visible opening your dog’s ear canal heads straight down vertically and then makes a right-angle turn before finally proceeding horizontally to reach the eardrum. The shape of the canal means even less air flow, more trapped moisture and a more difficult path for anything (wax, debris, foreign objects or infectious agents) to work up and out of the canal. It also means anything good (like cleansers and medications) have a more difficult path to travel.

How does the environment affect ear problems in dogs?
We’ve already touched on why some dogs (like those with floppy ears or hairy ears) might be more prone to ear problems, but why don’t all Basset Hounds have bad ears and why do some German Shepherds battle chronic ear infections? Sometimes, it has to do with environment—living in a warm, wet environment or swimming a lot causes inflammation and moisture in the canals. 

What else may cause ear problems in dogs?
Allergies in dogs often manifest as red, itchy, inflamed ears that become infected. In fact, sometimes, ear problems are the only symptom you will see in an allergic dog. The same is true for dogs that have underactive thyroid glands; dogs that have oily hair coats or excessive dandruff can have those same problems

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.