Ear Pain in Dogs

Dogs make it fairly noticeable when they have ear pain of any kind. The ear canal is fairly exposed and can easily become infected or injured from outside sources. Ear pain in dogs that is not addressed could possibly lead to deafness or chronic conditions.

Common Symptoms:

  • Pawing or scratching at ear
  • Excessive ear shaking
  • Ear redness
  • Ear swelling
  • Odor
  • Discharge

Causes of Ear Pain

Auricular Chondritis

Auricular Chondritis is when the outer ear cartilage becomes inflamed which is rare in dogs. There isn’t a known cause but trauma has been believed to play a part. It usually affects both ears at once. Clinical signs of auricular chondritis include ear pain, swelling of the ears, erythema, and pinnae deformation. The ears may also present lesions and necrosis of the ear cartilage. Diagnosis is quite easy as the symptoms are physical and can be seen immediately upon physical examination. Treatment can prevent further damage but the damage that has already been done cannot be reversed and is usually focused on treating the lesions and necrosis.


  • Antibiotics such as dapsone.

Dermatitis is the irritation of the skin often caused by mites, mange, allergies, seborrhea, fissures, or injury. This can result in intense itching, irritation, and pain for the affected dog. An infection can even occur if the dog has itched enough to break skin leading to the bacteria from their nails getting into the wound. Clinical signs you want to look out for include hot spots, hair loss, gastrointestinal discomfort, flatulence, red and raised skin, inflammation, greasy skin, self-mutilation from itching, and diarrhea. Dogs who are affected may also be sneezing, have watery eyes, scratch at the affected area, and have compulsive licking. While any dog can get dermatitis, there are certain breeds that are more prone to this condition including bulldogs, cocker spaniels, old english sheepdogs, poodles, golden retrievers, most terriers, dalmations, and irish setters. These breeds should be examined more often for the symptoms. If this goes untreated, there are risks of dermatitis spreading to other parts of the body, developing bacterial infections or yeast infections, and possibly even deafness in the case of chronic ear infections. The most common areas this can occur are the neck, groin, armpits, paws, and ears. To diagnose, a vet will take into consideration the symptoms the dog has presented and may run an intradermal allergy testing or a blood test to find the exact cause. Treatment varies per the cause.


  • Avoidance and prevention of contact from allergins. 
  • Immunotherapy in the form of a hypo-sensitizing injection.
Ear Canal Tumor

Tumors in the ear canal can develop from any part of the ear such as the earwax glands, oil glands, skin, and underlying connective tissues, bones, and muscles and they can be either benign or malignant. It’s important to note that external ear tumors are more common than middle and inner ear tumors. The most common are ceruminous gland adenomas (benign) and adenocarcinomas (malignant) but also include inflammatory papillomas, polyps, sebaceous gland adenomas, and more. While there isn’t a single known cause for tours or cancer, many ear canal tumors seem to be related to environmental and genetic factors as well as chronic inflammation. Because of this, breeds who are more prone to chronic ear infections are prone to ear canal tumors.


Signs of an ear canal tumor include nodules in the ear canal, nodules that have broken and bled (only in malignant cases), an inflamed, itchy, and painful ear, head shaking, ear scratching, odorous discharge, draining abscesses below the ear. If a tumor is affecting the inner and middle ear, dogs may have a head tilt, loss of balance, circling, loss of balance and coordination, nystagmus, Homer’s syndrome, facial paralysis, loss of hearing, and other neurological signs. Outer ear tumors can be easy to spot and diagnose but the further down in the ear they are, the harder to diagnose and occasionally, the inflammation may need to be reduced before being able to see any tumors. A fine needle aspiration or biopsy may be done if the tumor can be accessed. After these tests, a CT scan of the head and neck can show how invasive the tumor has become and if it has spread. If it’s believed to have spread, staging will be done which can include urinalysis, bloodwork, x-rays, and an abdominal ultrasound to search for spreading.


  • Surgical removal of the tumor.
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Chemotherapy.
Ear Hematomas

A hematoma is a blood clot that is limited to a certain organ or tissue. When a blood artery in the ear breaks and bleeds into the area between the ear cartilage and the skin, an ear hematoma develops. Scratching, shaking the ears, or bite wounds are the most prevalent causes of this condition. Ear hematomas are caused by dogs shaking their heads forcefully or scratching their ears. A piece of foreign material, such as a tick or a strand of grass, may be lodged in the ear canal in some cases. It’s also conceivable that the shaking was caused by a foreign body that was subsequently removed. Dogs with long, floppy ears are more likely to develop ear hematomas as well as those with clotting or bleeding disorders. It’s fairly easy to spot as the main clinical signs are the outer ear being very swollen, red, and both painful and warm to the touch. The physical signs make it fairly easy to diagnose and from there, the cause of the hematoma must be determined.


  • Surgical correction followed by placement of a surgical drain.
  • Treatment of the underlying cause such as allergies or infection.

Frostbite happens when the skin is damaged due to prolonged exposure to extreme cold. The body protects itself by constricting the blood vessels close to the skin to help preserve body temperature. And in extremely low temperatures, this protective measure can restrict blood flow to parts of the body to critically low levels. This causes the body tissue to freeze, especially in the body parts furthest from the heart with a lot of exposed surface area. The most common areas for this to happen are the ears, paws, and tail. Clinical signs of frostbite include discoloration of the affected skin which is usually pale, gray, or bluish in nature, pain and swelling on the affected area, blisters and skin ulcers, dead or blackened skin. When tissue that has been frostbitten starts to thaw, the area can become extremely painful and red as a result of inflammation. Frostbite is easily prevented by bringing dogs indoors in certain temperatures (this can vary per dog), and ensuring they are dry in cold weather. A physical examination can determine a diagnosis and a blood and urine test may be done to test for organ damage in the case of prolonged exposure.


  • What to do immediately:
    • Moving to a warm, dry area and wrapping the dog in warm, dry towels or blankets.
    • Slowly warm the affected area with warm water between 104 to 108°F.
    • Keep wrapped in warm towels while traveling to the vet.
    • Pain medication should be administered without veterinary consultation.
  • Vet treatment:
    • Administer pain medication.
    • Antibiotics.
    • Amputation if needed.
Insect Bites

Insect bites in pets are a common problem and while can sometimes be harmless, certain insects can cause serious health complications and pain. It’s important to note the three categories of insects that sting: Vespidae (yellow jackets, and wasps, hornets), Formicidae (i.e. fire ants), and Apidae (i.e. honeybees, African killer bees). While it can take 20 stings from one of these to be lethal in mammals, it can happen quickly if a pet disturbs a hive or colony. Clinical signs that your dog has been bit or stung by an insect include swelling and redness at the site of the bite, hives, swollen face or muzzle, localized pain at the site of the bite (can vary from mild to severe), puncture wound, and itchiness. Dogs experiencing anaphylaxis may have diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, seizures, respiratory distress, cardiovascular arrest, and collapsing. Initial diagnosis is based on the clinical signs being presented. Blood samples might also be taken to help determine an allergic reaction.


  • Treatment is based on type of bite, how many, and severity of clinical signs.
  • Removal of stinger or other insect parts (if applicable).
  • Antihistamines and anti-inflammatory agents such as corticosteroids.
  • Treatment for anaphylactic shock includes supportive measures such as intravenous fluids, corticosteroids, oxygen therapy, and epinephrine.
Middle and Inner Ear Infections

Ear infections are one of the most common ailments in dogs which is often caused by bacteria, yeast, or a combination of both but ear mites can also be the culprit in puppies. There are three types of ear infections based on the three sections of the ear canal. Otitis interna is an infection of the inner ear, otitis media is an infection of the middle ear and otitis externa is an infection of the external ear canal. Ear infections are more common in dogs with floppy ears such as Basset Hounds, BloodHounds, and Cocker Spaniels. Otitis interna and media are often a result of the spread of infection from the external ear. Inner and middle ear infections are quite serious and can possibly result in deafness, facial paralysis, and vestibular signs.

The signs of ear infections are quite easy to spot and include crusting/scabs in ears, head shaking, dark discharge, scratching the affected ear, odor, redness, and swelling of the canal, and pain. Your dog may be predisposed to ear infections if they have an autoimmune disorder, ear canal injury, excessive cleaning of the ear, and allergies. It’s important to stay on top of the infection and have it diagnosed quickly by your vet where they conduct a visual examination, using an otoscope to evaluate the ear canal and eardrum, culture samples, and possibly biopsies or X-rays in severe or chronic cases.



Syringomyelia is a condition that mostly affects Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Griffon Bruxellois, leading experts to believe that this is a largely inherited condition. Dogs with syringomyelia have very small skulls that are unable to hold the brain, causing a blockage at the base of the skull. This prevents the flow of spinal fluid which creates pockets of fluid called syrinxes that cause pain in the shoulders, neck, head, and chest. This leads to affected areas being extremely sensitive to touch as well as weakness of extremities and possible paralysis. Symptoms include extreme sensitivity, sleeping with head held high, whining and yelping, inability to play or walk, holding head high and at a certain angle, phantom scratching, and weakness of extremities. Other clinical signs include depression, irritability, paralysis, and seizures. Typically, this condition is categorized in severity and age to determine the progression of the disease:

  • Grade 0 – Normal (with no syrinx or pre-syrinx and is not dilated)
  • Grade 1 – Central canal dilation (CCD) under two millimeters
  • Grade 2 – Syringomyelia (has CCD of more than 2 millimeters and a pre-syrinx or syrinx)
  • A – more than five years old
  • B – three to five years old
  • C – one to three years old

Diagnosing includes an MRI of the brain and spinal column along with supplemental tests to evaluate the condition of the disease and of the dog’s overall health.


  • Cranial or cervical decompression through surgery.
  • Pain relief medication.
  • Physical therapy.