Ear Canker in Dogs

Dr Kate Mornement - Pet Behaviourist profile picture

Dr Kate Mornement - Pet Behaviourist

PhD in Companion Animal Behaviour, BSc(Hons) in Zoology

Dr Kate Mornement is an Applied Animal Behaviourist, Consultant and Educator to pet parents, industry, government and media. She has a PhD which focused on companion animal behaviour from Monash University and a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Zoology (Animal Behaviour) from La Trobe University.

Ear Canker in Dogs

Ear canker is a common problem for many dogs. It can cause pain and discomfort, so prompt treatment is important.

So what exactly is ear canker, and how can it be treated quickly and effectively to ensure your dog is comfortable again?

What is ear canker?

Ear canker simply means an infection, or inflammation in a dog of cat’s ears. It can effect one or both of the ears.

Common signs that indicate your dog may have ear canker include:

  • An unpleasant smell coming from the ears
  • Scratching the ears and head, including rubbing it along the ground or against other objects
  • Head shaking

Looking more closely, you might notice a dark orange, brown or even black discharge in your dog’s ears or that the ears appear sore, red and inflamed. Your dog may also whine or yelp when their ears are touched if their ears are painful, and sometimes canker is accompanied with other skin conditions, as the ear canals are an extension of this protective outer layer.

What causes ear canker and why it can re-occur?

Common causes of canker include a yeast infection and ear mites. Ear infections can also be caused by allergies to things like pollen or specific foods as well as foreign objects, like grass seeds, lodged inside the ear canal. Some dogs are predisposed to ear infections, especially those that swim a lot or individuals that have floppy ears. Certain breeds like Spaniels and Basset- and Blood-hounds are in this category. This is because the ear canal of floppy-eared dogs does not drain and dry out as effectively, making them more prone to staying warm and moist: the perfect environment for yeasts and bacteria to grow.

Ear canker is difficult to manage, so can often reoccur.

This happens when the underlying cause, such as an anatomical issue, excessive swimming or even food allergy, has not been diagnosed and addressed. For this reason it’s important to seek veterinary treatment should your dog’s canker reoccur. Your vet may need to investigate whether a change in your dog’s nutrition is required in the event a food allergy is diagnosed, for example.

Frequent ear canker can also occur when preventative measures, such as regularly checking and cleaning the ears and keeping them dry, are not taken.

Equally, many treatments need to continue for extended periods of time.

How to Treat and Prevent Ear Canker

Over the counter topical ear medications can be used to help treat canker, but if symptoms are more severe then those prescribed by your vets are usually most effective.

First, it’s important to wash your dog’s ears with a specifically produced pet ear cleaner, and then dry them thoroughly.

Cleaning your dog’s ears first can help make the treatment more effective. Wait a few minutes before applying any ear medication, as directed.

You can help to prevent ear canker by keeping your dog’s ears clean and dry and by inspecting their ears regularly to monitor any changes to the inside of the ears.

Although ear canker is a common issue for dogs you can treat it quickly and easily to relieve the symptoms and help your dog feel more comfortable. If your dog’s ear problems persist, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian.

Moriello, K (2018) Ear Infections and Otitis Externa in Dogs, viewed 31 May 2021, https://www.msdvetmanual.com/dog-owners/ear-disorders-of-dogs/ear-infections-and-otitis-externa-in-dogs

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