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How Veterinary Dermatology Can Address Canine Ear Infections

These common conditions often present with skin signs in and around the ear canal.

Common in dogs, ear infections can affect the outer, middle, and inner ear. These conditions (external, median and internal otitis)1 they are a big part of general practice and “a big part of dermatology,” said Meghan Solc, DVM, of Dermatology for Animals in Akron, Ohio, at the 2022 American Veterinary Medical Association Convention.two

A study published in 2021 found that 7.3% of dogs in the UK have an ear infection each year. The researchers also found that dogs 1 year of age and older are at greater risk of these infections than those less than 1 year of age, that males were at 1.21 times the risk of females, and that certain breeds, including Basset Hounds, Chinese Shar Peis and Labradoodles — are more prone to ear infections.3

normal vs abnormal

Although most clients don’t immediately think of dermatologists for ear infection treatment, the organ is “360 degrees of skin,” Solc said.1 Symptoms of ear infection commonly include crusting, crusting, and redness and inflammation of the skin inside the ear, discharge (yellow, brown, or bloody), and a foul odor. Scratching or picking at your ears, rubbing them against furniture, and shaking or tilting your head can also indicate an infection. More severe cases can cause loss of balance or hearing, unusual eye movements, and walking in circles.two

By “knowing what is normal, we can… look for [the] abnormal,” Solc said. An exam should start with the outer ear, he said, adding that “if he can’t even get a Q-tip down there … without an otoscope … that will tell you a lot.”1

Treatment of hearing loss induced by otitis

Hearing loss due to ear infection can be classified as conductive, sensorineural, or a combination of both. The first can occur in the presence of exudates, stenosis or glandular hyperplasia.1.4 In conductive cases, hearing can be restored by cleaning the external ear canal.4

“We have to show the client how to properly clean the ear,” Solc said, explaining that the process in his practice includes filling the ear with fluid, holding it like a cup, and massaging its side; “You’re going to hear that smashing sound.”1 Then wipe off the excess fluid with a piece of gauze, check what’s in it, and allow the animal to shake its head to get rid of any remaining fluid, exudates, and debris.1

Reducing the inflammation with medicated or anti-inflammatory drops and curing the infection with antibiotics will also improve the dog’s hearing.4.5 But animals with more severe infections may need repeated treatments.5

If hearing does not return after treatment for an ear infection, the deafness may be due to underlying conditions such as allergies, thyroid disease, or adrenal disease.4

However, sensorineural hearing loss can result in an inner ear infection when the nerve pathways from the cochlea to the brain are damaged by an infection.4.6 This type of hearing loss is not reversible.6


In the British study, the researchers noted that because many dogs don’t report chronic pain, they were trying to raise awareness of ear infections among pet owners. Veterinary professionals can also educate clients about the frequency of canine ear infections, help them identify their signs, and encourage them to seek early care for their animals if they suspect an ear infection.3


  1. What are the signs of ear infections in dogs? New Ulm Regional Veterinary Center. September 15, 2021. Accessed August 15, 2022. dogs
  2. Solc MK. Ears and butts! Yes, they are part of our dermatological practice. Presented at: American Veterinary Medical Association Convention; July 29 to August 2, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  3. Royal Veterinary College of the University of London. Now Listen Ear: New research from RVC reveals the dog breeds most affected by ear infections. VetCompass. September 7, 2021. Accessed August 11, 2022. most-affected -ear infections
  4. Bajwa J. Canine external otitis -treatment and complications. Can Veterinary J. 2019;60(1):97-99.
  5. Paws and claws animal hospital. 5 causes of hearing loss are dogs. Paws and claws animal hospital. June 13, 2018. Accessed August 12, 2022. 20caused, medication %20(natural%20or%20conventional)
  6. GM strain. deafness in animals. Merck Veterinary Manual. January 2020. Updated October 2020. Accessed August 15, 2022.

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