Ear problems in Labradors

by Pippa on December 18, 2014

ear problems labradorsLabradors are prone to a number of different types of ear infection.

Nature designed dogs with pricked up ears for a good reason.

Upright ears allow good air flow which helps to keep ears free from infection.

Floppy ears have flaps which cover the ear canal, creating a warmer, darker environment where germs and other unwanted visitors can grow and flourish.

What this means is that Labradors, and other floppy eared dogs, are somewhat more prone to ear problems, than dogs with pricked up ears.

Individual Labradors with narrow or very hairy ear canals are also at a particular disadvantage

Signs of trouble

So, how do you know that your Labrador is having problems with his or her ears?

Ear problems can be highly irritating, so you may see behaviours like head shaking and ear flapping.  Or the dog may simply keep tilting his head to one side.

Your dog may scratch at his ears with his hind feet.  Or he may drop his head down and rub his ears with his front foot.

He may even put his head on the ground and rub his ear along the floor.

But, sometimes, ear problems can go undetected.  This is why it is a good idea to inspect your dog’s ears from time to time.

A grubby or sore appearance with a lot of dark brown wax coming from the ear canal, is not a good sign.  Nor is any kind of odour.  Your dog’s ears should not smell at all.

Common causes of ear problems

  • Ear mites
  • Yeast infection
  • Bacterial infection

Ear mites are tiny creatures that can infest the ear canal.  They are just visible to the naked eye and your vet may be able to see them, when he looks in your dog’s ear.  He’ll certainly be able to see them under a microscope.

A yeast or fungal infection is another common problem and this can cause the ear to smell unpleasant, as can a bacterial infection.


The first step is to get a diagnosis.  Your vet will be able to look inside your dog’s ear with an otoscope.

He can also send off samples of the material inside your dog’s ear to confirm exactly what is lurking in there. He may want you to clean your dogs ears each day for a while to help improve the environment inside them.

If your vet thinks that there is a bacterial infection he may prescribe antibiotic drops to be placed into the ears. A yeast infection can be treated with anti fungal drops.

Will it get better on its own?

It can be tempting to leave what seems to be a relatively minor problem, and to wait and see if it clears up on its own.

With ear infections this is a bad idea, for three main reasons.  Firstly because they are distressing for the dog.  Secondly, if not resolved, ear infections can lead to permanent deafness.

And thirdly because the dog that is flapping his ears to relieve the irritation inside them, is quite likely to give himself a haematoma of the ear flap.  This is where bleeding occurs inside the flap from the constant shaking, and a big cyst fills with blood and if left may eventually burst.

Treating the haematoma, stitching, draining etc, can be a lot more trouble, and a lot more expensive, than treating the original ear infection.


A good circulation of air is the best way to keep ears healthy.

Upright ears have the advantage, but you can help your labrador by keeping his ears clean and free from debris so that the environment inside them does not encourage and overgrowth of unpleasant visitors.

If your dog has a lot of hair growing in around the entrance to the ear canal, your vet may recommend you trim it.

Cleaning ears

A large ball of cotton wool moistened with warm boiled water or a little of the ear cleaner recommended by your vet can be gently wiped around the opening of the ear canal, as far as you can easily see.

Don’t be tempted to poke anything down into the ear canal itself, this just pushes wax etc back inside and may make it more difficult for the dog’s ears to clean themselves naturally.


Your first port of call is a trip to the vet.  It’s tempting to try and treat the problem yourself,  but the main problem is diagnosing what is wrong, and your vet has the equipment, knowledge and facilities to do this.

You don’t want to end up with an operation on your dog’s ear flap either.  So it’s best to get the vet involved sooner rather than later

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