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Otitis (ear infections)

Otitis (ear infection) is a common condition for dog Otitis can occur in cats, however it is less common in this species. Otitis can affect the external ear canal (otitis externa), the earflap (pinna) and in more serious cases, the middle ear (otitis media).

What causes Otitis? 

There are various causes, including allergic dermatitis (food or environmental allergy), foreign bodies (grass seeds), parasites, tumours within the ear canal and less commonly hormonal imbalances such as hypothyroidism or hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease).

If inflammation is triggered within the ear, secondary infection may occur. The warm, moist climate of the ear canal in conjunction with excessive wax provides the perfect environment for yeast (Malassezia) and/or bacteria to proliferate. 


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Who is affected? 

Any breed of dog can be affected by Otitis. According to PetSure data from June 2019-June 2020, the following breeds are most commonly affected:



Italian Lagotto Romagnolo




Cocker Spaniel 




Poodle (Standard)




English Springer Spaniel




West Highland White Terrier 


Bull Terrier 


Signs of Otitis 

Clinical signs of otitis will vary depending on which part of the ear is affected but may include; shaking of the head or pawing at the ear, rubbing of the head, a head tilt of difficulty walking.

The ears may appear red, have an odour or there may be excessive brown, yellow or black discharge present.

Severe, chronic ear infections can lead to thickening of the ear canal, neurological symptoms and hearing damage or loss. 

Secondary to excessive head shaking, we can see the development of a haematoma. A haematoma is a localised area of bleeding that can occur when violent head shaking causes blood vessels within the earflap to break open and portions of the earflap fill with blood. This causes a swollen area in the earflap that often requires surgical correction.  

Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose the infection/inflammation by examining the ear canal with an otoscope and taking sample of the discharge for assessment microscopically. 

One of the most important components of successfully managing Otitis is identifying the underlying trigger of the ear infection to prevent recurrence. Once the underlying cause is identified, treating and preventing future infections will be much simpler.

Managing Otitis 

Your veterinarian is the best person to develop a treatment plan for your pet’s ear infection.  

Treatment varies with the cause of the Otitis. Topical treatments may include ear cleaners to remove the excessive wax and debris and medicated eardrops or ointments to treat any infection or inflammation.  

Scheduling a re-check with your vet after treating the infection is important to determine if all the infection has cleared, and to likely initiate a maintenance cleaning or treatment schedule. 

Is Otitis covered by Pet Insurance? 

Otitis is generally covered by Comprehensive Accidental Injury and Illness pet insurance policies administered by PetSure (check our brand partners at petsure.com.au/partners), unless related to a pre-existing condition or exclusion and subject to your policies terms and conditions. Refer to your policy documents and Product Disclosure Statement for more information. 

Disclaimer: Reimbursement for these claims would be subject to limits, such as annual benefit limits or sub-limits, benefit percentage, applicable waiting periods and any applicable excess. Cover is subject to the policy terms and conditions. You should consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or policy wording available from the relevant provider.

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Dr Dani has studied BVSc, BVMS and became a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Dermatology in 2013. She has worked in busy dermatology referral practice since 2014 and is the founder of the Veterinary Dermatology Clinic. She is currently the Chief Veterinary Officer for PetSure.

Dani is a proud Pet Parent to Spike, Daisy and Oliver (a trio of Labradors) , Ghost (a Lykoi kitten) and Hobbes (a domestic shorthair cat).

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