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Ear Anatomy in Dogs

Dog Ear Anatomy: Inner Ear, Middle Ear, Ear Canal, and Their Functions

The dog ear anatomy is a complex structure with three main parts, including the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. 

The outer ear or pinna is formed by the ear flap and ear canal. The middle ear comprises the eardrum, ossicles, and the Eustachian tube. The cochlea and vestibular system form the inner ear. 

The ear canal starts with an external opening and ends in a tympanic membrane. It consists of a cartilaginous portion, a bony portion, and ceruminous glands. 

The outer ear collects and channels sound waves, the middle ear transports sound waves, and the inner ear transforms sounds into nerve impulses and sends them to the brain, helping the dog keep balance. 

Common dog ear issues are anatomic defects, infections, ear mites, foreign objects, dog allergies, hematoma, tumors or polyps, endocrine disorders, and autoimmune diseases. Poor ear hygiene increases the risk of ear conditions. 

The consequences of ear problems depend on the affected ear part. Irreversible damage to the middle or inner structure of ear causes deafness or hearing loss in dogs.  

Understanding the loss of ear function in dogs is complex. Check an ear diagram to understand the dog’s complex ear anatomy and what to expect with different ear issues. 

What is the Dog's Ear Anatomy?

The dog’s ear anatomy is a complex set of structures responsible for hearing. The ear is roughly classified into three sections, outer, middle, and inner ear, each with a distinct function. The ear captures, carries, and transforms sound waves into electrical impulses. The auditory nerve transports the impulses to the brain, which enables hearing. 

Knowing the structure and function of ear is critical for understanding the common ear problems in dogs. The ear parts name explains the function of the structure. 

What Does a Dog Ear Diagram Look Like?

A dog ear diagram looks like a schematic image of the different structures of the canine ear. The cross-section provides a close-up view of the middle and inner ear. The image shows the dog’s eardrum connected to the ossicles and the cochlea. The cochlea is the most striking part of the ear because of its spiral shape. 

What are the Outer Parts of a Dog's Ear (Pinna)?

The outer parts of a dog’s ear (pinna) are listed below. 

  • Pinna (Auricle): The Pinna is the ear’s external and highly mobile portion that collects sound waves. It varies in shape and size according to the breed. 
  • Ear Canal (Auditory Canal): The ear canal in dogs is a long L-shaped tube responsible for transmitting and amplifying the collected sound waves to the eardrum. 

The main function of the outer ear (Pinna) is collecting, amplifying, and funneling sound waves. The dog’s outer ear is highly mobile, and the ears move independently for maximum sound capture. Dogs have a more developed outer ear than humans. The average dog hears four times better than the average person.  

1. Pinna (Auricle)

The pina, auricle, or ear flap is the dog ear's most external and visible part. The ear flap is made of cartilage and covered with skin and coat. Dogs have uniquely shaped and sized flaps. Some dog ears are pointed, and others are floppy. 

The pinna is specifically shaped to ensure optimal outer ear function, which is sound capture and sound funneling. The appearance of the inside of the pinna ear tells a lot about the overall ear health in dogs.  

2. Ear Canal (Auditory Canal)

The ear canal, or auditory canal, amplifies and transports the sound waves captured in the pinna to the eardrum. A dog’s ear canal is very long and narrow, while humans have short and wide canals. A dog's ear canal makes a sharp 90-degree bend as it approaches the middle ear.

The ear canal’s dog tube is L-shaped, with one long vertical part and one shorter horizontal section. The ear canal produces cerumen or ear wax for protection. Lifting the pinna ear allows visualization of the entrance of the ear canal.  

What are the Parts of the Middle Ear (Tympanic Cavity) in Dogs?

The parts of the middle ear (tympanic cavity) in dogs are listed below. 

  • Eardrum (Tympanic Membrane): The eardrum is a thin, semi-transparent, and fragile membrane that divides the outer from the middle ear. It amplifies sounds and transforms them into vibrations. 
  • Ossicles: The ossicles are the tiniest bones in the dog’s body and consist of the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil), and stapes (stirrup). The ossicles amplify sounds and carry them to the inner ear. 
  • Eustachian Tube (Auditory Tube): The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the back of the throat and balances the outside air pressure against the eardrum pressure. 

The main function of the middle ear (tympanic cavity) in dogs is to transport and amplify sounds from the outer ear to the inner ear. Sound waves make the eardrum vibrate. The eardrum vibration passes through the three small bones and then is transferred to the inner ear.  

1. Eardrum (Tympanic Membrane)

The eardrum (tympanic membrane) is a thin, semi-transparent membrane separating the outer and middle ear. The membrane consists of two distinct sections, pars flaccida and pars tensa. 

The eardrum or tympanic membrane is highly sensitive. Rough ear cleaning and disease can easily damage the membrane. The eardrum receives sound waves, creates vibrations, and transmits them to the three small bones.  

2. Ossicles

The ossicles are three tiny and mutually connected bones in the middle ear. The ear’s ossicles are the smallest bones in the dog’s body. The ossicles are named because of the shape of the bone: the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil), and stapes (stirrup).  

The eardrum receives sound waves and transforms them into vibrations that the malleus, incus, and stapes receive and pass to the inner ear. The vibrations' passage through the bones amplifies the sound intensity. 

3. Eustachian Tube (Auditory Tube)

The Eustachian tube (auditory tube) connects the middle ear to the back of the throat. The tube allows air to enter the middle ear. The air equalizes the pressure against the tympanic membrane or eardrum. 

The other role of the Eustachian tube is to allow fluid drainage from the middle ear. The tube is not directly involved in hearing, but balancing the eardrum pressure indirectly affects sound emission.  

What are the Parts of the Inner Ear (Cochlea and Vestibular System) in Dogs?

The parts of the inner ear (cochlea and vestibular system) in dogs are listed below. 

  • Cochlea: A spiral-shaped and fluid-filled structure that enables auditory transduction or sound transformation into electrical impulses carried to the brain by the auditory nerve. 
  • Vestibular System: A complex system that helps the dog maintain balance and enables spatial orientation. 

The main function of the labyrinth-like inner ear is to transduce sound waves into electrical impulses. The inner ear houses the organ of Corti, which is directly responsible for hearing. The vestibular system found in the inner ear supports balance.  

1. Cochlea

The cochlea is a spiral-shaped, fluid-filled structure that resembles a snail. The cochlea houses the organ of Corti. The organ of Corti consists of thousands of hair-like cells with small protrusions called stereocilia. The stereocilia serve as mechanosenors. 

The vibrations from the three ossicles set the cochlear fluid into motion. The fluid movement bends the stereocilia, resulting in transduction. Transduction means transforming sound waves into electrical impulses, essential for hearing in dogs. 

2. Vestibular System

The vestibular system is a complex sensory organ that maintains balance and spatial orientation. The vestibular system is built from three semicircular canals and a vestibule. The vestibule has two structures, utricle and saccule.  

The utricle and saccule are membranous sacs that serve as gravity receptors. The membranous sacs contain a patch of sensory cells known as macula, which monitor the head position relative to the rest of the dog’s body, which supports balance. 

What are the Parts of Ear Canal (Auditory Canal)?

The parts of the ear canal (auditory canal) in dogs are listed below. 

  • External Opening: The auditory canal's external opening is the ear canal's entrance, and it is easily visible in dogs regardless of the ear shape or size. 
  • Cartilaginous Portion: The cartilaginous portion is hair-covered cartilage that extends from the pinna and contains apocrine glands that produce cerumen or earwax. 
  • Bony Portion: The bony portion of the ear canal is the longer part of the canal containing bone-made bases covered with small and sensitive hairs called epithelium. 
  • Ceruminous Glands: The ceruminous glands are modified apocrine glands that secrete earwax or cerumen, critical for ear protection from microbial invasion and physical injuries. 
  • Tympanic Membrane (Eardrum): The tympanic membrane is a thin membrane that divides the outer and middle ear and is responsible for receiving and amplifying sounds. 

The main function of the ear canal is to transport sounds and to produce protective cerumen. The dog’s ear canal is unusually long and L-shaped, preventing injuries to the eardrum. 

1. External Opening

The external opening is the dog’s ear canal entrance. The opening is exposed in dogs with pointed ears and covered in dogs with floppy ears. 

The external opening allows discharge to drain from the ear. The external opening traps moisture and dirt inside the inner ear structure. Because of the canal's L-shaped nature, moisture and dirt remain inside, increasing the risk of ear problems. 

2. Cartilaginous Portion

The cartilaginous portion of the dog’s ear canal is a cartilage-made structure. It is an extension of the pinna’s cartilage and is smaller than the bony portion. 

The cartilage section is covered with small hairs and contains special sweat glands. The glands are apocrine glands and produce earwax or cerumen, which protects the ear from infection and injury. 

3. Bony Portion

The bony portion of the ear gland is the next section of the ear canal. The bony part is longer than the cartilaginous portion. 

Small hairs cover the bony portion of the ear canal. The hairs are collectively called epithelium. The epithelium of the inner ear structure is very thin and highly sensitive and is essential for balance in dogs. 

4. Ceruminous Glands

The ceruminous gland lines the cartilaginous portion of the ear canal. The glands are a type of modified sweat or apocrine glands. The glands’ secretions and the sebaceous glands’ product form earwax or cerumen. 

Cerumen lubricates the ear canal and protects against microorganisms and physical damage. A small amount of cerumen in the dog’s ear canal is normal and healthy, but excess earwax is a sign of ear problems.  

5. Tympanic Membrane (Eardrum)

The tympanic membrane divides the outer and middle ear. The membrane is a delicate, thin, and semi-transparent structure. The eardrum catches sounds, amplifies them, and moves them to the three bones of the middle ear. 

The ear canal’s L-shape and sharp curvature protect the dog's eardrum. Cleaning the ears, however, must be done carefully to prevent accidental ear damage.  

What are the Common Ear Problems in Dogs?

The common ear problems in dogs are listed below. 

  • Anatomy: Anatomical defects of the ears are rare in dogs, but the unusual ear anatomy of the dog’s ear predisposes it to problems. A dog’s ear has an L-shaped ear canal that accumulates debris, and the large ear flap in floppy-eared dogs prevents moisture from evaporating. 
  • Poor Ear Hygiene: Poor ear hygiene is not a disease on its own but increases the risk of painful ear issues, such as infection of the outer (otitis externa), middle (otitis media), or inner ear (otitis interna). 
  • Otitis Externa: Otitis externa, or outer ear infection, is dogs' most common ear problem. The condition is caused when germs normally living in the ears start overgrowing due to environmental changes. Otitis externa is treatable but challenging. 
  • Ear Mites (Otodectes cynotis): Ear mites are common in dogs. The dog ear mite, or Otodecred cynotis, lives on the surface of the ear canal and feeds on wax. Ear mites do not bite but are very irritating and make the dog scratch its ears constantly. 
  • Foreign Objects: Foreign objects stuck in the ear canal are frequently retrieved in dogs. The most commonly found foreign body is plant materials, such as awns or foxtails.  
  • Allergic Dermatitis: Chronic or recurring ear infections are a hallmark of dog allergies. Dogs with allergies are common. Dog allergens include food such as beef, chicken, and eggs, and environmental factors, such as pollen and dust.
  • Aural Hematoma: Aural hematoma is a blood-filled pocket in the ear flap or pinna. Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, and Labrador Retrievers are at higher risk of developing aural hematomas because they have droopy ears.
  • Tumors or Polyps: Tumors, benign or malignant, and polyps growing inside the ear cause ear canal obstructions. Large masses put pressure on the eardrum and, in severe cases, result in eardrum puncture. 
  • Endocrine Disorders: Endocrine diseases, such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and hypothyroidism in dogs, affect skin health and increase the chances of ear problems in dogs. 
  • Autoimmune Diseases: Dogs with autoimmune skin conditions, such as lupus and pemphigus, are at increased risk of ear conditions. 

Is there a Preventive Measure to Reduce the Risk of Ear Problems in Dogs?

Yes, there is a preventative measure to reduce the risk of ear problems in dogs. Promote ear health with ear checking, ear hygiene maintenance, parasite control, and regular vet visits to prevent ear problems in dogs. 

Check the dog’s ears once or every other week to find ear problems early. Trim the hair in the ears and keep them clean with commercially available pet ear wipes or cleaning solutions. 

Prevent ear mites with regular administration of flea and tick preventatives that cover mites. See the veterinarian regularly to have the dog’s ears routinely examined by a professional. 

How to Assess a Dog's Ear Condition?

To assess a dog’s ear condition, follow the steps below. 

  1. Visual Inspection. Visual inspection is the simplest way of assessing the dog’s ears, but it is limited because dogs have a unique L-shaped ear canal. The visual inspection is focused on changes to the inside of the ear flap, like redness, swelling, or discharge.  
  2. Ear Smell. The smell of the ear tells a lot about its health. The healthy dog ears have a specific but non-repulsive scent. Infected ears develop a foul smell that radiates and is easy to sense, especially when the ear flaps are open. 
  3. Ear Discharge. The normal dog ear produces a small amount of wax for protection, but excess wax creates a discharge. Ear discharge, medically known as otorrhea, varies in color depending on the underlying problem and is repugnant. 
  4. Ear Sensitivity. Dogs enjoy having their ears touched. A sudden reluctance to have ears touched is a sign of increased sensitivity. Ear problems in dogs are very painful and cause increased sensitivity.  
  5. Ear Canal Examination. A veterinarian performs an ear canal examination. The dog’s L-shaped ear canal is easy to examine with a special handheld device called an otoscope. 
  6. Ear Sensitivity Test. The vet takes an earwax sample with a swab and analyzes it for germs. The culture and sensitivity test identify the germ responsible for the ear problem, allowing the use of suitable antimicrobials. 
  7. Diagnostic Tests. The veterinarian performs diagnostic tests such as blood count or biochemistry panels to evaluate the dog’s health. The vet orders a brainstem auditory evoked response or BAER diagnostic test if suspecting deafness.  

Does an Allergen Increase the Risk of Developing Ear Problems in Dogs?

Yes, an allergen increases the risk of developing ear problems in dogs. Chronic or recurrent ear infections are standard for dogs with food and environmental allergies. 

Ear infections, or otitis, are common ear problems in dogs. Otitis cases are treatable but painful and itchy, harming the dog’s quality of life. 

The top allergens that affect dogs' ears are food and environmental allergens. Food allergens in dogs are beef, chicken, eggs, dairy, and gluten. Pollen, dust, dust mites, mold spores, feathers, and dander cause environmental dog allergies

What is the Consequence of Leaving an Ear Problem Untreated?

The consequence of leaving an ear problem untreated is hearing loss. Deafness is partial or complete in dogs. Hearing loss in one ear is unilateral and bilateral in both ears. 

Ear problems progress and damage the middle or inner ear structures when untreated. Some causes of deafness, such as ear mites or allergic dermatitis, are manageable and allow hearing restoration. Causes of deafness, such as advanced inner ear infections and invasive tumors, are not and result in hearing problems in dogs

Can CBD Oil Helps Dog Ear Problems?

Yes, CBD oil can help dog ear problems. CBD is not a one-size-fits-all solution for ear problems, but it is helpful when used correctly. CBD oil is used properly when it is veterinary-approved and combined with traditional treatments. 

Cannabidiol, or CBD, helps with ear problems by reducing inflammation, pain, and itchiness, which are the main symptoms of ear conditions. CBD modulates the immune system, reducing the risk of allergic reactions that cause ear infections. 

Veterinarians in some states are unable to recommend or discuss the use of CBD due to the non-transparent legal and regulatory aspects of CBD for pets. Find and consult a holistic vet to learn more about CBD for dogs.