Otitis in Labrador Retrievers

A Lab would be lost without the use of his ears.
i Black Labrador Retriever image by crazy.nataly from Fotolia.com

Labrador retrievers are great fetchers thanks to their sharp senses and fast reaction speed. These traits make them desirable hunting companions and alert guards for a home. Unfortunately, their sensitive floppy ears are also prone to frequent infections, which can cause all sorts of problems if left untreated.

What is Otitis?

Otitis externa is a general medical term that describes an external infection of your dog's ear. Some ear infections, called bilateral infections, can develop deep inside your dog's ear cavity, but external ones occur frequently on floppy-eared dog breeds. Otitis can be mild to severe depending on the cause and magnitude of the infection. It may emerge as a temporary condition that lasts for few days, or it could become a problem that never seems to go away.


Dogs rely on their ears for social interaction, detection and navigation, so it's no surprise that ear problems give them a hard time. If your dog frequently scratches his ears, rubs his head against things or avoids being stroked on the head, his ears may be bothering him. Visible excretion under or in your dog's ears, especially if there is also a foul smell, is a strong indicator of an infection. The presence of more serious symptoms, including imbalance, disorientation or inflammation, could mean the infection is already pretty serious. Get your pup to the vet if you notice any of the signs of otitis. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is the key to keeping your dog healthy and happy.


The Labrador's floppy ears shelter large, moist patches of skin that are ideal for harboring infections, infestations and other problems. Growths of yeast and various bacteria, including the pathogens responsible for staph and strep, are among the most common culprits of otitis in dogs, according to the Tiara Rado Animal Hospital. Labradors can also develop ear infections following an allergic reaction or after being tested for allergies. Other symptoms of skin allergies include localized fur loss, itching and rashes. Some parasites, like fleas and ear mites, could also be to blame. Don't try to figure out the cause on your own. There are dozens of possible suspects, including internal problems, so let a vet take a look at your dog as soon as you can.

Risk Factors

There are a few activities and physical traits that increase the likelihood of ear infections, even though they don't actually cause otitis themselves. These factors include swimming, too much hair in the ear canal and physical deformities, according to Clinician's Brief. Moisture can also get trapped deep inside your dog's ears, which increases the chances of an infection. Keep your Lab's ears dry after a bath or swim by gently rubbing under and around his ears with a towel. Ask your vet about drying solutions for your dog if he is a frequent swimmer.


If your vet diagnoses an ear infection, he will prescribe an immediate treatment and investigate the underlying cause of the problem. A deep cleaning session at the vet's office, usually when your dog is under anesthesia, usually serves as the initial treatment. Your dog may also have to take oral or topical medicine, like an anti-fungal compound or antibiotic, for a few weeks. Surgery may be required to fix the problem if it is serious, although it is usually not necessary for external infections.


Labs also have a hard time cleaning their head, so dirt and grime can easily build up underneath their ears. As a Lab owner, there are many days of ear cleaning ahead of you. Some quality ear-cleaning time is probably not near the top of your list of fun things to do, but it will go a long way toward preventing your dog's ear infections altogether. Ask your vet about appropriate cleaning solutions and methods. Just because a certain product is fine for humans doesn't mean it will be appropriate for your pup. Hold your dog's ears up one at a time and shine a flashlight in them once or twice a week to check for signs of an infection.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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