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Otitis externa - ear infections in dogs

Ear inflammation (otitis externa) in dogs is very common and dogs can get an ear infections for lots of reasons. It's important to regularly look and smell your dog's ears.

Your dog's ears

Dog's ears consist of the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. The outer ear includes the ear lobe and the ear canal. The dog's ear canal is strongly curved, unlike humans, who have a fairly straight ear canal.

Symptoms of ear infection

  • Head shaking (more than usual)
  • Your dog's head is tilted
  • Clawing or scratching at the ear
  • Bad smell coming from their ear
  • Fluid coming out of their ear
  • Sore, red or swollen ears

Causes of ear infections

Some breeds can get ear infections more easily than others. The risk of otitis is greater in dogs with drooping ears, narrow ears and in dogs that enjoy playing in water. Another factor can be too much unnecessary cleaning.

Bacteria and fungi thrive in warm, moist ears and can easily cause inflammation. Allergies, parasites, injuries, wounds or foreign objects in the ear can also cause inflammation

Smell and look in the dog's ears

Look and, above all, smell your dog's ears regularly. If your dog has, or is about to get, an ear infection, it usually smells bad. There may also be secretion in the ears which can be discoloured.

Clean your dog's ears when necessary to prevent ear infections. But remember not to overdo the cleaning as it can have the opposite effect.

How ear infections are diagnosed

Your vet will inspect the ear canal and eardrum. Usually they'll take samples to see what caused the inflammation.

Treatment of ear infections

Ear infections are treated with ear cleaners to remove secretions, bacteria and yeast. Cleaning is usually combined with prescription ear drops.

If your dog has a lot of pain in their ear, they can be given painkillers and anti-inflammatory agents. If your dog gets recurring ear infections, the underlying causes should be investigated.

Can ear infections in dogs be contagious?

Ear infections in dogs are very rarely contagious. If the inflammation is caused by parasites, it can become contagious.

Inflammation in the middle ear and inner ear

In advanced cases, infection in the ear can spread into the middle ear (otitis media) and from there also into the inner ear (otitis interna). Symptoms of inflammation in the middle ear are similar to "regular" ear infections, but due to swelling in the area, other symptoms can also be seen. There may be pain from the nearby jaw joint and neurological symptoms such as facial paralysis as nerves pass through the area. If the inflammation has spread to the inner ear (otitis interna), the symptoms can be deafness and balance problems.

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