Otitis Externa

Otitis Externa

Ear disease or Otitis Externa means inflammation of the external ear canal. It is a very common condition in dogs and cats and is a complex disease which is often due to a number of causes.

Unfortunately our pets can’t tell us when they have a problem, so it is the responsibility of us, the owners to recognise signs of ill health. Ear disease can manifest itself in many ways:

  • Excessive scratching and pawing of the ear and head
  • Rubbing the head on the floor or sofa
  • Unpleasant odour
  • Sensitivity to the touch – may cry out when ear touched
  • Shaking of the head or tilting head to one side
  • Black or yellow discharge in the ear
  • Accumulation of dark brown wax
  • Redness or swelling of the ear flap
  • Changes in behaviour such as lethargy, depression or irritability
  • Loss of hearing or balance and disorientation
  • Bleeding from the ear

If you notice any of these signs then you should contact the practice to make an appointment with one of the vets. It is very important that a vet examines inside your pet’s ears to check the canal thoroughly. Putting drops into the ears without them having been checked by a vet can cause further complications if for example the ear drum has ruptured.


What causes Ear Disease?

The ear canal provides an ideal environment for the growth of bacteria and yeasts. However these organisms in their own right do not actually cause ear disease. They are what we term opportunists and they make the most of the situation created by other factors.

  • There are many causes of ear disease:
  • Anatomy of the Ear – especially droopy “spaniel type” ears
  • Foreign bodies – grass seeds in the summer
  • Ear mites – especially in cats
  • Tumours
  • Atopy – an allergic condition which makes the skin itchy
  • Swimming

The shape of our pets’ ears makes them prone to developing ear disease. Unlike the human ear, your pet’s ear canal is an L shape – deep and curved. This means the dirt and wax can accumulate and moisture becomes trapped. This is further complicated by heavy droopy ears – such as those seen in Springer Spaniels, as it is difficult for air to circulate. This provides an ideal environment for the growth of bacteria and yeasts.

Atopy is the most common cause of ear disease. It is an allergic condition seen in dogs which makes the skin itchy. As the external ear canals are lined with skin this also results in itchy ears. It is also common for the skin between the toes to be affected. Atopy is particularly common in the summer months but it can occur all year round.

Grass seeds can be troublesome in the summer months. They can easily work their way down the ear canal and become trapped. They cause your pet considerable pain and discomfort as well as allowing bacteria and yeasts to invade. This then causes further pain and distress and the cycle continues.

Other factors include ear mites which are found in the external ear canal, especially in cats, and causeconsiderable irritation and itching. Tumours can block the canal allowing wax and debris to accumulate. Swimming dogs get dirty water in their ears which results in a bacteria rich moist environment.

How is Ear Disease Treated?

Ear disease is treated in a number of ways – dependant on the underlying cause. Your vet will recommend an appropriate regime that will best suit your pet. This may include an ear cleaner as well as a topical medication to use at home.

Your pet may also need supportive treatment which may involve tablets for you to give at home. Your vet may take a swab of the material in the ears to identify the bacteria or yeasts that are present, in order to treat the condition in the most effective way.

If the condition is serious then surgery may be required. If ear disease is not treated correctly and promptly then this can cause secondary changes to occur in the external ear canal which may only be able to be corrected surgically. This is why it is important to recognise and treat ear disease early.

If you are concerned that your pet may be suffering from ear disease please contact the practice to make an appointment with one of our vets.


01332 873 357


M A Aldridge Ltd
60 Derby Rd
DE72 3NJ

How to find us

Opening Times

Monday - Saturday: 9:00am - 10:00am

Monday - Friday: 5:30pm - 6:30pm

Other times by appointment

24 hour emergency cover

Open surgeries - no appointment necessary

Social Media

Get in touch

10 + 3 =