Otitis Externa (Ear Inflammation)

If your dog or cat has a red ear, it probably has otitis externa, which is the medical term for ear inflammation of the outside or external part of the ear. Redness is one of the four hallmarks of inflammation. The other three are swelling, warmth, and pain, the latter of which often results in scratching. This condition happens more often in dogs than in cats. You might notice the following signs if your pet’s ears are inflamed:

  • Scratching an ear (may be associated with tilting or shaking the head or crying out in pain)

  • Red, crusty, or swollen ear flap (pinna)

  • Rubbing the side of the head on carpet or furniture

  • Bad ear odor (Other pets may lick ears that smell bad)

  • Ear discharge

  • Pet reluctant to allow you to inspect the ear

  • Pet crying out in pain when you touch, massage, or rub the ear

  • Depression or irritability

These signs can occur in both ears or in only one ear. Sometimes the signs are so subtle that you may not know there is a problem until your veterinarian finds ear disease on otoscopic exam.

Ear inflammation is often an extension or complication of skin allergies, which can occur in many dog breeds. Allergic skin disease is common in spaniels, retrievers, Dalmatians, Chinese Shar-Peis, Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos, and Pugs. Otitis is very common in certain breeds with particular ear conformation or structure:

  • Drooping ear flap (pendulous pinna)

    • Spaniels, Retrievers, Hounds

  • Hair-clogged ear canals

    • Terriers, Poodles, Portuguese Water Dogs

  • Narrow (stenotic) ear canals

    • Chinese Shar-Peis

Whenever your pet is showing signs of a health issue your first step is to contact your primary care veterinarian. If it is indicated that your pet may suffer from otitis externa (Ear inflammation) or another serious condition, a veterinary specialist is available at an ExpertVet certified hospital.