Chronic otitis is a long-term ear infection that can affect any dog and cause itchy, painful, and smelly ears. Today, our Stroudsburg vets will discuss chronic otitis in a dog's ear, the signs, and how it is treated.

An Overview of Chronic Otitis in Dogs

Chronic otitis is a common disease of the dog's ear canal. It can be externa (of the outer ear canal only), media (involving the middle ear), or interna (involving the inner ear and associated structures).

Causes of Chronic Otitis in Dogs

An ear infection is typically caused by irritation to the skin lining the ear canal. This causes inflammation and yeast and bacteria overgrowth. This leads to itching and inflammation, which leads to self-trauma.

Any dog, regardless of ear shape, can develop an ear infection. Environmental allergies and food allergies can also cause an allergic skin reaction.

Other less common causes of otitis externa in dogs include:

  • Polyps or other growths in the ear canal
  • Foreign bodies in the ears, including dirt, sand, or plant material (foxtails and grass awns)
  • External parasites (like ear mites)

Chronic otitis is a painful condition caused by inflammation, infection, and thickening of the ear canal tissues. This causes ear canal narrowing, ruptured eardrums, debris and infection in the ear. This prevents the natural sloughing of skin cells, sebum (wax), and hair from the canal.

Chronic otitis is a frustrating disease for both owners and vets. But it is far more frustrating for patients due to the pain and nagging itchiness that these ear infections cause.

Signs of Chronic Otitis in Dogs

The clinical signs of otitis depend on the severity of the inflammation, but may include:

  • Shaking the head or rubbing the head and ears on the floor or furniture
  • Scratching at the ears
  • Discharge from the ears, which can sometimes have a foul odor
  • Redness of the ear canal and earflap (the ears may also feel warm when touched)
  • Ear hematoma, evidenced by a grossly swollen earflap
  • Aggression whenever the head is approached

Progression of this infection into the middle and inner ear can result in even more severe clinical symptoms. These can include a head tilt, incoordination, inability to stand or walk, hearing loss, and severe, unrelenting pain. If the otitis is severe or chronic, the outer ear canal can thicken and become deformed. This makes it difficult to clean the ears.

When diagnosing an ear infection, a vet uses a medical history and physical exam. The medical history can help determine how your dog's history has influenced its current condition. The results of a physical exam may reveal evidence of an underlying illness.

Redness, inflammation, discharge, and other changes in the ear will confirm the presence of an ear infection. The difficult part will be determining what is causing the inflammation in the first place. In these cases, vets will recommend specialized diagnostic testing, like otic cytology.

Treatment for Chronic Otitis in Dogs

Chronic otitis treatment addresses the bacterial and fungal components with antibiotics.

The treatment steps are usually as follows:

  • Cleaning the ear canal is always advised to remove accumulated debris. If the otitis is painful and/or a lengthy process, cleaning should ideally be done while the pet is sedated or anesthetized. Otoscopy is frequently recommended as a tool in this process.
  • Typically, topical medication tailored to treat the specific bacteria, yeast, or mites present is used (these are usually available as ear drops or ointments). Antibiotics, antifungals (to kill yeast), anti-inflammatory drugs (such as cortisone), and topical anesthetics are examples of these.
  • In some cases, such as when the eardrum is ruptured, systemic antimicrobials (antibiotics administered by mouth or injection) are indicated. Antibiotic therapy should ideally be based on the results of culture and sensitivity testing.
  • To alleviate pain, redness, and swelling, systemic anti-inflammatory medications such as corticosteroids are sometimes used. Antihistamines may be prescribed as well.

To stop this disease, the underlying illness must be treated. Treatment can range from mass removal and mite killers to diet changes and allergy injections. In difficult cases, surgical intervention may be required.

How to Prevent Chronic Otitis in Dogs

Fortunately, a simple regimen of preventative care with your dogs’ ears will help you deal with infection: 

  • Have a reliable ear cleansing solution 
  • Clean your dog's ear once every 1-2 weeks 
  • Any time your dog's ears get wet, clean them
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Does your dog seem to be suffering from an ear infection? Contact our Stroudsburg veterinarians today to book an appointment and make sure everything is good with your pup!