Does Your Pet Have 'Otitis Externa'?

It's an extremely common condition that often sees pets end up in a vets office. But have you heard of it?

What is it?

Otitis externa is a broad term given to inflammation of the ear canal and is one of the most common reasons for an animal to present to the veterinarian. There are a number of primary causes, all of which lead to increased irritation and pain within the ear. Some of the primary causes include allergens, bacteria or fungi, foreign bodies or skin disorders. Due to the anatomy of the ear, often a hot and moist environment, it is the perfect breeding ground for many bacteria or fungi, leading to increased inflammation and irritation of the ear.  This often causes your animal to scratch at the ear, further perpetuating the problem.

Does my animal have it?

There are a few factors that may predispose your animal which include; conformation of the ear, excessive moisture and obstruction of the ear canal. Animals that like to swim and get their head wet are highly predisposed as are thick-coated animals with large amounts of thick hair around the opening of the ear.

The most common thing we see when an animal has otitis externa is head shaking, and scratching at the affected ear. Your animal may walk with their head tilted to one side and the hair around the ear may begin to thin. Often the ear is painful to touch.  The ears may smell of yeast or bacteria and there can often be varying amounts of discharge and discolouration of the fur around the ear.

Diagnosis by the veterinarian is usually achieved by an otoscope examination (looking down the ear canal) and assessing for any of the primary causes previously mentioned. They will usually take a sample of any discharge present and assess it for any potential causes. Especially serious cases may require for the samples to be sent away for culture to determine the causative bacteria or fungi. Due to this being such an uncomfortable and painful condition sedation or anaesthesia may be needed to thoroughly assess and clean the ears.

How do I treat it?

Very rarely is the condition quick and easy to fix and long-term management is often needed. Getting on top of the initial insult is the first step and involves a combination of thoroughly cleaning the ear and a combination of systemic or topical medications and pain control. Most acute cases are resolved with 2-4 weeks of treatment however some of the more chronic cases can take months to resolve and in sometimes life-long preventative therapy is required.


If your animal becomes prone to otitis externa or if your animal is at risk then there are a few things that can be done to help.  It is best to consult with your veterinarian as each case is different and there is not a one size fits all approach. However, identifying the underlying cause of ear irritation and appropriate measures to address the underlying cause are essential.

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