Understanding and Managing Dog Ear Infections

Understanding and Managing Dog Ear Infections

Whinny’s Wisdoms

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Greetings, dear readers! Whinny here, your trusty guide through the curious world of dog ear infections. Today, we’re going to delve into the fascinating realm of these “ear-resistible” troubles that our furry friends, like Fido and Fluffy, sometimes encounter. So, grab your metaphorical magnifying glasses, and let’s explore the intricacies of ear infections in our four-legged pals.

The Anatomy of a Dog’s Ear

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

First off, let me introduce you to the ear-tastic design of our canine companions’ auditory apparatus. Unlike your straightforward (aka boring) human ears, a dog’s ear canal takes on a peculiar “J” shape, with both vertical and horizontal segments. It’s like a doggy labyrinth in there! This unique architecture presents a challenge for debris, as it must defy gravity to exit. Instead of a straightforward exit strategy, it’s an uphill battle.

Accumulation and Infection

Now, here’s where the plot thickens. Accumulation in the ear canal is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for bacteria and fungi. Earwax, skin oil, dirt, and other debris, when left to their own devices, create a petri dish for microorganisms to thrive. These tiny troublemakers typically coexist with a dog’s ear but under control. However, when excess moisture and debris are on the menu, they go from being polite dinner guests to party crashers, leading to a full-blown ear infection. Most often ear infections are multi-species, with both fungus and bacteria causing issues.

So, what contributes to this ear-wax-gone-wild scenario, you ask? Well, here are the culprits:

  1. Congenital or Breed Predisposition: Some dogs are more predisposed to ear infections due to their breed’s ear shape or good old genetics. It’s like having a mouse-sized doorway in a mouse hole; it just doesn’t work.
  1. Water Woes: Leaving water in the ear after a bath or a swim creates the ideal environment for microbial growth. It’s a bit like us mice diving headfirst into a river – not our favorite activity.
  1. Underlying Health Conditions: Certain diseases can lead to abnormal earwax buildup, as if we mice had a never-ending stash of cheese. It’s not a good thing.
  1. Skin Allergies: Dogs with skin allergies, akin to us mice with a sudden cheese allergy, are especially prone to ear infections. The earwax moisture is a welcome mat for bacteria and yeast.

Managing and Treating Ear Infections

Fear not, dear pet owners! Ear infections are typically manageable and can be cleared up with the right treatment. However, like a wedge of cheese, you mustn’t cut it too soon; follow your veterinarian’s guidance for treatment once a diagnosis is made. Stopping treatment prematurely can leave the infection lingering like a cheesy aftertaste. Most often, we will take a sample swab of both ears and examine them under the microscope after a special staining procedure to identify the type of infection. We can then use this same test to check our work after a course of treatment.

If the infection keeps showing up like a mouse at a cheese convention, further testing may be required. Allergies are often the sneakiest suspects behind recurring ear problems. They can be environmental or food-related and often sneak in like a mouse in the night. Hormone imbalances can also be accomplices in this ear mystery.

Preventing Ear Infections

Prevention is the key to a harmonious life with your furry friend. Here are some tips to keep ear infections at bay: 

  1. Regular Cleaning: Gently clean your pet’s ears with a veterinarian-approved ear cleaner to whisk away excess wax and debris. No need to dig for buried treasure; a gentle touch will do.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Whinny Wisdom: To achieve clean ears without fear, here’s the best plan: soak two cotton balls with the ear cleaner, then put the bottle away. Gently push one cotton ball into each ear canal–don’t worry, they won’t get stuck—and cover the canal with your dog’s ear flaps. Gently massage at the base until you hear a nice squishy sound. If tolerated, massage for about 30 seconds, then stand back! Your dog will shake out both cotton balls on their own, bringing lots of debris with it. Then, you can use clean cotton balls or gauze to wipe away the shaken loose debris.

  1. Drying Ears: After baths or swims, ensure your pet’s ears are bone dry. No puddles or soggy surprises allowed!
  1. Allergy Management: If your pet has allergies, work closely with your veterinarian to navigate them like a mouse through a maze. Allergies often lead to skin problems, including ear infections. I’ve got another blog covering all things allergy: Allergy Blog
  1. Regular Check-Ups: Schedule regular check-ups with your veterinarian to catch potential ear capers early and nip them in the bud.


In conclusion, ear infections are like that rogue mouse in the pantry—unwanted, but manageable. Understanding the unique ear anatomy and potential causes of ear infections in dogs is the first step in keeping Fido’s, Fluffy’s, and everyone else’s ears in top-notch shape. By taking steps to manage allergies, maintain clean ears, and seek prompt veterinary care when needed, you’ll provide your pets with the best possible ear health and overall well-being.

So, there you have it, folks, a mouse’s perspective on dog ear infections. For the record, cat ear infections work about the same way and most of this will apply to our feline friends as wellKeep your ears perked and tails wagging, and remember that knowledge is your best weapon against these ear-enemies.

Until next time, cheese enthusiasts!


P.S. If you’re looking for some stocking stuffer ideas for a horse-crazy teen in your life, we have the perfect book! The world needs more equine vets, and we need your help to get them prepared for the difficult task of getting into vet school. This book is for young people age 12 to adult. Click Here to learn more!

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Whinny’s Wisdoms is the official blog of Whinny the Clinic Mouse at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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More Adventures of the Horse Doctor's Husband
The Ears Have It

The Ears Have It

Tuesdays with Tony

The Ears Have It 


First things first: please don’t forget that my biggest Meet Tony Event of the year- Open House- is coming up in just a few short weeks! Mark your calendars for Springhill Equine’s 12th Annual Open House on Saturday, September 29th from 10 am – 2 pm. This year you will visit booths themed after favorite movies, enjoy delicious BBQ, and explore what our local vendors have to offer, while getting entered to win a free Wellness Package for one of your horses! I’ll plan on seeing you all there.

Do you ever feel like your week has a theme? For example, you and two of your friends all get a flat tire, or you see a snake in your backyard then the next day you see one on your way in to work, or you hit 2 squirrels with your car within the span of a few days? Well, this week’s theme was definitely ears. We have seen itchy ears, swollen ears, abscessed ears, allergic ears, hyper-sensitive ears, and even an ear with a tick in it! So, I quizzed the docs on the common ear problems horses get, and how to recognize and treat them. Do you know what to do if your horse’s ears are driving him nuts?


My horse won’t let me touch his ear

So first, a few questions. Does your horse normally let you touch his ear? Because most horses generally don’t love it. Is it just one ear, or both ears? Both ears make it more likely to be an itchy, allergic, hypersensitivity condition. One ear makes us think of trauma such as a laceration or bruise, or perhaps a tick inside the ear. Side note: the docs tell me that in vet school they teach you that ear ticks are a super-common thing that you will encounter all the time…but in real life they are extremely rare. However, if your horse develops a sudden extreme hypersensitivity in one ear with no other symptoms, an ear tick is definitely on the rule-out list.

If your horse’s ears are irritated in any way, you’re probably darn right that he won’t let you touch them…they hurt! Spoiler alert: it’s going to require a good amount of sedation, a step stool, and a fancy light called an otoscope to get a good look in there. Read as: Call your vet.


But doc, this just happened today!

Far and away the most common ear problem our docs encounter is chronic, thickened, irritated ears secondary to a gnat allergy called “Culicoides hypersensitivity.” Often the vet doesn’t get called until the horse itches his ear so badly that he cuts it on something, and the owner finally takes note when blood and/or pus are streaming out of the ear. Without fail, they claim this “just happened” and the ears were normal a few days ago. While the wound may be new, the underlying condition that led the horse to be so uncomfortable that he self-traumatized his ear has taken months, or even years, to develop.

Springhill Equine Veterinary ClinicCulicoides (kyōō′lĭ-koi′dēz′) is a species of gnat very common here in Florida. Many horses are actually allergic to the saliva of this gnat, so every bite by one of these annoying little devils sends the poor horse into an itching frenzy. The early signs of this gnat allergy include frequent scratching and hair loss in the ears, mane, base of tail, and chest. Over time the skin in these places will become thickened, there will be multiple open bite wounds, the hair will be completely gone, and the horse will constantly be scratching on anything and everything he can find. Horses with chronic Culicoides hypersensitivity will often develop a “cauliflower ear” appearance over a period of years. Once this happens, the ears will never return to their original shape.

What can I do for my horse’s poor ears?

It is best and most successful when owners treat horses with gnat allergies early and often. Look closely at your horse’s ears. Is the hair thinning inside and around the edge of the ear? Are there tiny bug bites inside? Do you see any scabs or blood? Is the skin normal, or is it becoming thickened?

At this early stage, you should be able to get the problem under control with just some topical medication and fly gear. We always recommend a fly mask with ears for these horses; fly sheets, neck pieces, leg covers, etc. can be added at your discretion. The topical medication that works best for this condition is Equishield IBH (that stands for Insect Bite Hypersensitivity). It comes as a salve or a spray, depending on your preference. We find that the IBH salve works great for ears, but the IBH spray is awesome when you need to treat a larger area.

itchy horses Springhill EquineOnce the ear has gotten to a point where there is a secondary laceration, abscess, or hematoma, it can be difficult to treat. While we always try conservative options first, these horses sometimes have to undergo surgery under general anesthesia to drain the ear, followed by weeks with the ear taped down against the horse’s head to allow for continued drainage. No fun.

If you have tried the fly protection and IBH products, but your horse is STILL uncontrollably scratching, talk to our docs about a systemic treatment such as an antihistamine to break the chronic itch cycle. There is even a new drug on the market called Apoquel that has been used to treat itchy dogs, but is now finally getting some attention for use in horses. While the medication is pricey for a 1000 lb animal, we have seen promising results with it so far!

As a cat who suffers from itchy skin, let me tell you that constantly feeling itchy is no fun. If (God forbid) I lived outside swarmed by the very creatures that made me so itchy, I would be miserable! So thank you in advance for not ignoring your itchy horses.

Fondly yours,


P.S. Want more itchy horse info? Check out Dr. Lacher’s podcast on itchy horses. It’s the latest episode of Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth. You can listen right from our website, or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts! What’s a podcast, you ask? It’s just like a radio talk show, except you can listen to it on your phone or your computer whenever you want to. Try it out, and see what the thousands of other subscribers have already figured out 😉

P.P.S. If you haven’t subscribed to this blog yet, make sure you scroll down to the purple box and sign up. Don’t rely on Facebook to deliver my weekly wisdoms to you, they’re very unreliable!

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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