Symptoms of Ear Infections in Dogs

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015
Ear Infections

Effects of Ear Infection – From the Dog’s Point of View

Hearing is one of the most important senses in dogs. Most canines rely upon hearing and smell to navigate their way through the world much more so than they rely upon sight, taste or touch. Ear problems are extremely common and, if left untreated, can cause affected animals to become miserable from itchiness and pain. There is no effective way for dogs to relieve their discomfort, other than rubbing, scratching and shaking their ears, which only makes their symptoms worse.

Symptoms of Ear Infection – What the Owner Sees

The signs of ear irritation are not difficult to detect. Although many ear problems start with few or no observable signs. Eventually, dogs with ear disorders will develop one or more classic symptoms, which can come on slowly (chronic) or suddenly (acute). Owners of affected dogs typically will notice some of the following signs:

  • Head/face/ear rubbing
  • Scratching at the ears (usually intense and vigorous)
  • Head shaking
  • Abnormal discharge from one or both ear canals (can be yellow, green, brown; can contain pus; can be granular, dry, crumbly and dark, resembling coffee grounds)
  • Waxy build-up in the outer ear canal
  • Abnormal smell coming from the ear canal
  • Swollen, hot ear flaps
  • Head tilt; may include upper lip and ear droopiness if the middle and inner ear are affected (facial asymmetry)
  • Hearing deficit or loss (not responding to normal sounds; severe inner ear infection can cause deafness)
  • Redness (erythema) on, in or around the ear flaps
  • Ulcers or skin erosions on, in or around the ears (weeping, scabbed or crusty sores)
  • Hair loss on, in or around the ears (alopecia)
  • Thickening of the ear flaps (hyperplasia)
  • Pain when the ears are touched or manipulated (drawing away from the source of contact; yelping or whining)
  • Pain when the mouth is opened
  • Abnormal discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Dizziness (labyrinthitis; usually a medical emergency reflecting disease of the inner ear)
  • Loss of coordination (ataxia)
  • Loss of balance
  • Circling towards the affected side

Dogs at Increased Risk

There is no particular age, breed or gender predisposition for canine ear problems. However, dogs with long, low-set, pendulous ears are prone to developing ear disorders. These include Bulldogs, Chow Chows, Chinese Shar-Peis, Cocker Spaniels, Springer Spaniels, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Bloodhounds and Basset Hounds, among others. These breeds tend to have narrow or tight (stenotic) ear canals, which raises the risk of ear problems. Dogs that have chronically wet ears, such as those that are used for hunting or retrieving in wet conditions and those that swim or are frequently bathed, have an increased risk ear infections. Dogs that have their ear hair plucked are also predisposed to developing ear problems, because when the hairs are pulled out, serum oozes out of the hair follicles, providing an excellent environment for bacterial overgrowth. Poodles, Schnauzers, Cocker Spaniels and some other breeds (especially Terriers) have an increased incidence of ear infections for this reason. Genetics may also play a part in a dog’s predisposition to developing ear problems.

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