Otitis externa is an infection of the external ear canal (outer ear infection) and one of the most common types of infections seen in dogs. Ear infections can affect any type of dog, but breeds most prone to ear problems are those with large, floppy or hairy ears like Spaniels, Bassets, etc.
Ear infections are painful and distressing and dogs will often shake their head and scratch their ears to try and get some relief from pain and discomfort. Ears commonly are red and inflamed and develop an odour. A black or yellowish discharge often occurs and, in chronic cases, the ears appear crusty or thickened and the ear canals become narrowed due to chronic inflammation.
Dogs with untreated chronic ear infections will be in constant pain and because they frequently scratch and shake their head, a condition called an “aural hematoma” can occur, where blood vessels in the ear-flap break, causing a painful swelling that usually requires surgical treatment.
Deep ear infections can damage or rupture the eardrum, causing an internal ear infection and even permanent hearing loss.
Ear mites can cause several of these symptoms, including a black discharge, scratching, and head shaking. However, ear mite infections are more common in puppies bred in a kennel environment. Adult dogs may contract ear mites from puppies or cats that are infected. Ear mites create an environment within the ear canal that often leads to a secondary bacterial or yeast (fungal) infection.
Grass seeds can also cause serious problems. For example, dry Foxtail grass seeds resemble tiny arrowheads enabling them to easily attach themselves to an animal’s fur and burrow into the skin of the victim’s body part (in this case down the ear canal, coming to rest up against the delicate ear drum).
Over the counter ear drops or solutions should NEVER be used without first consulting a qualified vet. This is because there are several kinds of bacteria and at least one type of fungus that commonly cause ear infections so, without knowing the specific kind of infection a dog has, more harm than good can be done without veterinary examination.
Treatment alone will not always resolve the problem and it is very important that a dog is examined by a vet to ensure the eardrum is intact. Without consultation, the administration of appropriate medications can result in loss of hearing if the eardrum is ruptured.