Back to Stories & News

July 24, 2023 – If you’ve seen your veterinary care team because of an ear issue in your pup, you’re not alone. Reports suggest 7% to 10% of cases seen at primary care hospitals are ear problems – usually otitis externa – and that’s a lot of dogs affected each year!

Otitis externa can be tough to treat, and sometimes a simple case turns into a big problem. Knowing the facts about ear issues can help keep dogs healthy and out of the veterinary clinic.


Otitis simply means inflammation - not infection - affecting the pinna and ear canal. It’s important for dog owners to understand that almost all ear infections are secondary to inflammation in the outer ear - not the other way around. Inflammation causes irritation and predisposes the ear to infection. Once an infection begins, many dogs develop recurrent cycles of otitis externa, which can have long-term consequences for a dog’s comfort and hearing.

Infection can move from the outer ear to the middle ear if the ear drum is compromised, requiring oral antibiotic use. Many veterinary scientists point to the recurrent use of antibiotics to treat ear infections as an important source of multidrug-resistant bacteria.

The treatment for otitis externa consists of immediate steps to alleviate discomfort and eliminate infection, followed (if necessary) by long-term therapy to prevent recurrence.


  • Ear cleaning
  • Topical antibiotics
  • Steroid therapy (topical or oral)


Dog ears come in many shapes and sizes, but they all share the same basic, three-part structure:

  • Outer ear – pinna (ear flap) and ear canal
  • Middle ear – ear drum (and associated bones)
  • Inner ear – structures involved in hearing and balance

Problems can arise in any of these locations, but most issues begin in, and are confined to, the outer ear.

Unlike the straight ear canal in humans, the dog ear canal is “L” shaped. This bend in the canal helps protect the ear drum from puncture, but also creates an opportunity for material to accumulate.


Identifying non-antibiotic treatments for ear infections in dogs is the subject of several new Foundation-funded studies. Two studies are testing unique therapies and a third is evaluating the use of a new ear flush as a preventive measure. With continued investment in innovative research and the ongoing support of our donors, we can help more dogs suffering from the effects of otitis externa.