Is your dog plagued by chronic ear problems?

Are frequent trips to the vet for ear cleaning or applications of medications required to keep your dog’s ears free from uncomfortable inflammation and infection? If so, you are not alone, as ailments affecting the ears are some of the most common reasons owners present their pets to their veterinarian for evaluation and treatment.

Causes of Dog Ear Problems

There are many causes capable of contributing to skin and ear problems including:


A variety of microscopic organisms can take up residence in your dog’s ear, including bacteria, yeast, mites. Increased ear discharge is associated with all such causes, so cytology (microscopic examination) of the discharge is crucial in establishing a diagnosis so the most appropriate treatment can be prescribed.


As the ear canal is simply an extension of the skin into the skull, any irritants that affect the skin elsewhere on the body can also impact the ears. Hairs growing inside or broken hairs that fall into the ear canal or environmental materials (plant awns, dirt, dust, etc.) can also create inflammation. When the ear canal becomes inflamed an associated reduction in the canal’s diameter occurs, which makes it more difficult to perform an otoscopic examination and thoroughly cleanse or medicate the canal.

Endocrine Disorders:

Hypothyroidism (under-functioning thyroid), hyperthyroidism (over-functioning thyroid), Cushing’s disease (overproduction of steroids from the adrenal glands), and others endocrine (glandular) disorders negatively impact the immune system and therefore the health of the skin and ears.

Mass Like Skin Lesions and Cancer:

Polyps, viral papillomas, and benign and malignant tumors all take up space in the pinna or ear canal.

Clinical Signs of Ear Problems

Nearly all ear problems cause discomfort, which leads to the clinical signs your canine companion can show:

  • Head shaking
  • Scratching on or around the ear
  • Discharge or bad smell coming from the ear
  • Head tilt to the affected side
  • Behavior changes- Lethargy, withdrawal from socialization, aggression, vocalizing, etc.
  • Anorexia (decreased appetite)

5 Tips to Promote Your Dog’s Best Ear Health

  1. Provide Regular Ear Cleaning:

    Flushing your dog’s ears with a pet-appropriate ear cleaning solution is a great way to promote optimal ear health. Ask your veterinarian for a product recommendation and the frequency that best suits your pup’s needs. After swimming, bathing, or on any occasion when your pet’s head gets wet are good times for an ear cleaning.

  2. Keeping Ear Hair Plucked or Trimmed:

    Since hair overgrowth in the ear canal permits environmental irritants to collect, I recommend frequently plucking or carefully trimming hair from my patients’ ears. If a thorough enough job cannot be done at home, then seek the guidance of a veterinarian or professional groomer.

  3. Feed a Whole Food Diet:

    My canine patients that eat diets containing minimally-processed, whole-food ingredients commonly have healthier skin and ears than patients eating commercially-available kibble and canned diets.

  4. Supplement Your Dog’s Ear Health:

    Providing omega fatty acid supplement in addition to the fatty acids found in commercially-available or home-prepared diets can greatly benefit skin and ear health. Consult with your veterinarian about the best product (fish, flax, coconut, etc.) to provide an appropriate balance of omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids for your dog’s needs.

  5. Perform Annual Laboratory Tests

    Baseline blood, fecal, urine, and other diagnostic tests are crucial components of an annual wellness examination. Such tests allow your veterinarian to detect of endocrine abnormalities that cause or contribute to skin problems.

Some pets must be sedated or anesthetized to address ear problems due to the level of discomfort they experience. Therefore, taking everyday steps to promote ear health is one of the best means of reducing the likelihood your canine companion will have to go under for treatment.

Regular cleaning, whole-food feeding, and supplement-providing strategies help maintain healthy ears so fewer courses of medication are needed and a pet has a better quality of life. Additionally, recognition of the clinical signs of ear ailments and immediately addressing problems is crucial to ensure timely diagnosis and treatment.

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Patrick MahaneyPatrick Mahaney

Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ is a veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist providing services to Los Angeles-based clients both on a house call and in-clinic basis. Dr. Mahaney’s unique approach integrating eastern and western medical perspectives has evolved into a concierge house call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Additionally, Dr. Mahaney offers holistic treatment for canine and feline cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group (Culver City, CA).