Otitis is the name for inflammation of the ear (an ear infection), and is very common in dogs. Ear disease
rarely goes unnoticed when it is severe. Dogs with ear problems will generally shake their head from side
to side, and may be forever stopping to sit down and scratch their ears or rub the side of their head on the
ground. In many types of infection there is a smelly discharge or the ear canal may be full of black wax.
Sometimes, dogs with sore ears will just sit with their head tilted to one side.
You should never put anything into a dog’s ear unless you have been instructed to do so by your vet.
Poking cotton wool buds or other cleaning devices into the ear canal can push debris or foreign bodies
further down where they can cause serious damage.
Sometimes a dog with ear disease will shake their head so much that they burst a blood vessel and
develop a swelling in their ear flap – a haematoma. If this happens your dog will probably need an operation
to drain the swelling.
A dog’s ear is quite a different shape to ours. Humans simply have a horizontal tube that runs straight from
the side of the head into the inner ear (auditory canal). In the dog however, the outside opening of the ear
canal is high on the side of the head. The canal runs vertically down the side of the head and makes a
sharp right angle into the inner ear. Additionally, some dogs have an ear flap which can partially cover the
canal opening. As a result, the ear canal can become very hot and sweaty.
There are a variety of things which may irritate your dog’s ear. Foreign bodies (usually grass seeds) can
get stuck in the ear canal and infections may develop. There is even a type of mite which lives inside the
ear canal. Infection can be secondary to these, or may be a primary cause of sore ears.
Unfortunately some animals are just more prone to ear problems than others. Dogs with long dangly ears
like spaniels seem to have particular problems. Dogs which spend a lot of time in water may also get
regular ear infections. Also, dogs with allergies frequently have recurring ear problems. The lining of the ear
is like the skin on the rest of the body and can become itchy and inflamed in an allergic dog.
Never put anything into your dogs ear without first consulting your vet. The longer you leave it before
starting treatment the harder it becomes to clear up the irritation. Each time ear disease develops, more
damage is done and eventually the walls of the ear canal may become thickened. This makes further
infections more likely.
Ear problems in dogs and cats are painful. Any person who has had ear infections in the past will know how debilitating they
can be, so if you suspect there is a problem then your best friend will thank you for bringing them in sooner rather than later!