Largest study into why dogs get ear infections included anonymised data from more than 22,000 dogs across the UK to help owners spot the signs.
Basset Hounds, Chinese Shar Peis and Labradoodles top the list when it comes to the dog breeds most prone to ear infections. New research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) aims to help owners better spot the signs and respond to the suffering from ear problems in dogs by revealing the true extent of the condition in the UK, as well as which breeds and ear-types are most prone to this painful disorder.
Ear infections (clinically known as ‘otitis externa’) are a common and often painful condition for dogs. These occur when the lining of a dog’s ear becomes inflamed and thickened in either one or both ears. The infection can be smelly, irritating and often very painful for a dog. If left untreated, the infection can spread deeper down the ear canal causing even more serious harm to the affected dog.
Given that many dogs will not communicate the extent of their chronic pain to their owners, many owners may not even be aware of how much their dog is suffering from these ear infections. The study, led by the RVC’s VetCompass™ Programme, therefore aims to improve awareness amongst owners. This includes alerting owners to both the frequency of ear infection in dogs, as well as which breeds and ear-types are most susceptible, to help owners identify ear infections earlier and seek the appropriate veterinary care.
Certain breeds were revealed as particularly prone to ear infection. The top five worst affected breeds include Basset Hound, Chinese Shar Pei, Labradoodle, Beagle and Golden Retriever. Poodle and spaniel types of dogs overall were at greater risk of ear infection. Dogs with long and hanging ear flaps had a much higher risk of ear infection compared with dogs with pointy ears. Smaller sized breeds, weighing under 10kg, had a lower risk of ear infection than larger breeds.
The research also shows that dogs aged over one year are at higher risk of ear infection compared with those under one. Despite the often-repeated claims of healthiness in designer crosses, such as Cockapoos and Labradoodles, this study identifies a much higher risk of ear infections in these designer dog types.
Dr Dan O’Neill, Senior Lecturer in Companion Animal Epidemiology at the RVC and lead author of the paper, said:
“Humans invented dog breeds with all sorts of extreme body shapes over a hundred years ago. But it is only now that we are fully realising just how much these body shapes affect the health of these breeds. This study explores the health issues associated with floppy ears in dogs that many people find so appealing but the results may prompt us all to question whether we have gone too far in our quest for variety in how our dogs look. Avoiding breeds with extreme body shape is a conversation everyone should now have before deciding which breed to purchase.”
This information offers a new confidence to dogs and their owners in helping to detect whether their furry companions are suffering from ear infection. Making owners more aware of how frequent these infections can arise will help them to take more preventative action including gentle ear cleaning with a dry paper cloth, careful use of ear cleaners with antimicrobial properties and avoidance of overzealous ear-cleaning or ear-plucking. This is especially important for those dog breeds identified at high-risk of ear infection in this study.
Additional key results from the study include:
- One in every 14 dogs in the UK (7.3%) suffers from ear infection every year.
- Sixteen breeds have increased risk of ear infection compared with crossbred dogs.
- Four breeds have a reduced risk of ear infection compared with crossbred dogs: Chihuahua (x 0.20), Border Collie (x 0.34), Yorkshire Terrier (x 0.49) and Jack Russell Terrier (x 0.52).
- Designer breeds (e.g., Labradoodles, Cockapoos) overall had 1.63 times the risk of ear infection compared with crossbred dogs.
- Poodle breeds overall had 1.91 times the risk of ear infection compared with non-poodle breeds.
- Spaniel breeds overall had 1.24 times the risk of ear infection compared with non-spaniel breeds.
- Compared with breeds with erect ear carriage, breeds with pendulous (droopy) ear carriage had 1.76 times the risk and dogs with V-shaped drop ear carriage had 1.84 times risk of ear infection.
- Male dogs had 1.21 times the risk of ear infection compared with female dogs.
- The study is the largest ever of its kind to use anonymised veterinary health records to better understand why dogs in the UK get ear infections. It included 22,333 dogs that were followed for a year to identify that 7.3% (1,631 dogs) were affected by ear infection.
Bill Lambert, Health, Welfare and Breeder Services Executive at The Kennel Club, commented:
“This useful research into such a common canine complaint – and helping to identify which dogs are most at risk of ear infections – certainly will inform better treatment and prevention. Ultimately, we hope the research, funded in part by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust VetCompass grant, helps to ease this issue in our canine friends and ensures owners regularly clean their dogs’ ears to prevent infection, are aware of what to look out for and know when to seek veterinary advice or treatment.”
The study is the largest ever of its kind to use anonymised veterinary health records to better understand why dogs in the UK get ear infections. It included 22,333 dogs that were followed for a year to identify that 7.3% (1,631 dogs) were affected by ear infection.
Notes to Editors
O’Neill et al. (2021) “Frequency and predisposing factors for canine ear infection in the UK – a primary veterinary care epidemiological view”, Canine Medicine and Genetics. DOI: 10.1186/s40575-021-00106-1
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About the RVC
- The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is the UK's largest and longest established independent veterinary school and is a Member Institution of the University of London. It was the first in the world to hold full accreditation from AVMA, EAEVE, RCVS and AVBC.
- The RVC is ranked as the top veterinary school in the world in line with the QS World University Rankings by subject, 2021.
- The RVC offers undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in veterinary medicine, veterinary nursing and biological sciences.
- In 2017, the RVC received a Gold award from the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – the highest rating a university can receive.
- A research led institution with 79% of its research rated as internationally excellent or world class in the Research Excellence Framework 2014.
- The RVC provides animal owners and the veterinary profession with access to expert veterinary care and advice through its teaching hospitals and first opinion practices in London and Hertfordshire.