Titan, a six year old male Rottweiler who was shaking his head and pawing at his ears

As a Rottweiler, Titan is a giant dog, weighing over 60kg (around 10 stone). He is a good-natured animal, which is just as well. If a dog of his size and strength was aggressive, he would be as dangerous as a tiger. Titan’s ear problems began several years ago. It started with some mild head shaking in the morning, but soon he was pawing both ears repeatedly, rubbing his head along the ground, and obviously suffering discomfort in both ears. When I examined him, there was a strong, yeasty smell around his head, and I could tell without even looking in his ears that he had a serious problem. Both ears were painful to touch, and it was difficult to get a good look inside them with the otoscope.

Ear disease is very common in dogs, especially in the warm summer months, and especially in some breeds of pedigree dog. Dogs such as spaniels, with long droopy ears, are particularly prone to problems, but any type of dog can be affected. Sometimes there is a specific cause, such as ear mites, or a grass seed lodged in the ear canal, but more often, ear disease is simply an extension of generalised skin disease.

The ears are just an extension of the skin, with the ear flap protruding outwards and the ear canal going inwards. The complicated design of dog ears, with folds, crevices and narrow tubes, means that they contain pockets of moist, warm air which are prone to developing bacterial infections.

Treatment of one-off instances of mild itchy ears can be simple. After the inside of the ear has been thoroughly examined with an otoscope, a general treatment with an antibiotic, soothing ear ointment is usually prescribed. This is applied once or twice daily, and usually, after a week or so, the sore ear has completely returned to normal. Other types of ear disease can be much more difficult to cure. In Titan’s case, it was clear from his discomfort and from the strong smell around his head that there was a serious problem going on. I had to take a more detailed, systematic approach to his diagnosis and treatment.

The first step was to take a swab from each ear, to be cultured in the laboratory. There was a risk that he might have an infection with a particular type of bacteria that would need specialised antibiotics, and it was important to clarify this at the beginning, before any treatment was given. Luckily, the swabs showed that he had common bacteria in both ears, which were likely to respond to treatment with standard ear ointments. The second stage was to apply ear ointment regularly to both of his ears for around ten days. This was not easy to do, because Titan was strong and very wriggly. However Mrs Sutton persisted, and after the full course of ointment had been given, it was time for a follow-up veterinary examination.

By now, Titan’s ears were much less painful, and I could examine each of them in more detail. I could now see that his left ear was looking very healthy, but his right ear was in trouble. He had cauliflower-like warty growths around the opening to his ear, preventing normal air circulation in and out. I prescribed more treatment, with antibiotic tablets and a different ointment, but already I knew that he would probably need surgery to cure the ear. Two weeks later, his right ear was still as itchy as ever, and so he was booked in for an operation. There are several types of surgery that can be used to treat sore ears, but they all work on the same principle: removing the complicated crevices and tunnels that cause ears to become hotbeds of bacterial infection.

The operation was very successful, and for a while, Titan seemed to be cured. When he began itching again a few months later, it was obvious that there was another underlying problem. A workup showed that he had generalised allergic skin disease, and since his ears were the most sensitive part of his skin, they were showing up as the first sign of the problem. Titan was started on to long term anti-allergy treatment for skin disease, and this time, the cure has been almost permanent. He still has occasional itchy ears, but he only needs treatment with ointment once a year or so.

Titan is an intelligent dog, and it is as well that he only needs sporadic treatment. He recognises the tube of ear ointment, and he does his best to avoid having it put into his ears. Ten stone of wriggling Rottweiler can be quite a challenge!


  • Itchy ears are common in dogs, especially in some breeds and in the summer months
  • Many patients are fully cured using a simple ear ointment
  • Some cases can be much more complicated, needing surgery and long term medications

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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