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canine health problems
Dog with ear polyps

The essentials

  • Ear polyps are more common in cats than dogs — But dogs can still experience ear polyps, so you’ll want to keep an eye out.
  • Though some growths in a dog’s ear are malignant, inflammatory polyps in a dog’s ear are benign tumors — In other words, they’ll only grow to a certain size but can bother a dog’s ear.
  • Ear polyps in dogs can lead to further illness — According to studies, inflammatory ear polyps in a dog’s middle ear can cause ear infections (otitis externa).

Your dog’s ears perk up when you walk through the door and when you ask them if they’d like to go for a car ride (spoiler alert: of course they do). It’s a sign of love, affection, and excitement. But sometimes, your dog’s ears may be telling you something is up. They’re called ear polyps. And while they’re not fatal, they are a condition you’ll want to get treated stat.

Reasons dogs get ear polyps 

Unfortunately, the precise cause of ear polyps is unknown. But experts have some theories:

  • Chronic inflammation. Some experts believe that chronic inflammation of the ear and ear infections may cause them. Researchers have found links between chronic middle ear infections (otitis media) and ear polyps. But not every dog with a polyp has this issue,
  • Breeds. Some breeds are more prone to get ear infections, including Brittany spaniels, Golden retrievers, and West Highland white terriers. Pet parents to these dog breeds should especially be aware of chronic ear infections.
  • Ear anatomy. Dogs with small ear canals or long floppy ears may be more at risk.

What do ear polyps look like?

Scratching (or admiring) your dog’s ears is a great way to bond. It’s also a way to potentially detect an ear polyp by inspecting your pup’s external ear canal.

  • A small lump in your dog’s ear. Ear polyps appear as pea-sized lumps.
  • Color. They usually look pink or whitish and may seemingly blend into your dog’s ear.

Signs your pup might have irritating ear polyps

Sometimes, polyps aren’t always obvious on the outside. Nasopharyngeal polyps can grow in the throat, middle ear, or Eustachian tube (a tiny passageway that runs from a dog’s throat to the middle ear). Pups will often show signs of an ear infection if they have a polyp, including:

  • Drainage from the ear. Your dog may begin to secrete discharge that could be present as pus or blood. It may have a foul smell. According to our vet, Dr. Erica Irish, she notes the discharge can range from brown and black to yellow in color.
  • Head shaking. If your pup’s ear is bothering them, they may shake their head to try to find relief.
  • Ear scratching. Like head shaking, ear scratching is a common way to soothe discomfort. Occasional scratching is normal, but it could be a sign of something more serious if it becomes constant.
  • Head tilt. Your dog may sometimes tilt their head if they’re curious about something. But if they seem to be doing it randomly and incessantly, it could be an ear polyp.
  • Trouble hearing. Deafness is another symptom of ear polyps. If your dog suddenly stops responding to their name and doesn’t acknowledge loud noises, you’ll want to get their ears checked.
  • Facial changes. Dogs with ear polyps may experience facial nerve paralysis or palsy. Signs of these conditions include facial drooping and salivation. Pups with facial paralysis or palsy may experience nausea and may not want to eat, Dr. Irish says.
  • Change in the shape of a dog’s pupils. Dog’s experiencing ear polyps often display “pinpoint pupils,” or very small pupils. Dr. Irish notes the change will only happen on one side (anisocoria, or asymmetrical pupils) and is common with Horner’s syndrome.

This would mean the polyp and ear infection have affected the middle ear, the part beyond the eardrum.

Dr. Erica Irish

DVM

When to bring your dog to the veterinarian

Ear polyps may appear small, but they can obstruct your dog’s ear canal and cause ear secretions to become trapped. If fluids get stuck in your dog’s ear, they may experience yeast and bacterial infections. To prevent ear polyps from turning into something more uncomfortable and problematic for your pup, you’ll want to bring your fur-baby to the veterinarian to have them evaluated if you notice any of the signs above.

Your dog’s vet will determine if your pup has a simple ear infection, polyp, or another issue, like ear mites, parasites, or food allergies.

👉 Don’t hesitate to bring your pup to the vet if you notice any signs or symptoms of ear polyps. The sooner your pup can get treatment, the better.

How are ear polyps treated in dogs? 

Ear polyps don’t have to keep your dog down for long. A vet can help them get on the mend using various treatments, depending on your dog’s needs.

Diagnostics

Your vet might be able to see your dog’s ear canal tumor with an otoscope (a tool vets use to see inside a dog’s ear). They may also need to do a CT scan or MRI to see if it’s extended into your dog’s middle ear. Not all general vets have access to CT scans and MRIs, so they may need to refer you to one that does. The pup may also undergo some other tests, such as a urinalysis, X-Rays of the lungs, and bloodwork.

Removal

Sometimes, polyp removal requires a vet to pull on the mass, though this solution is most common in young cats.

But it’s not always possible for a vet to remove the base of the tumor. In these cases, they may recommend a ventral bulla osteotomy (opening up of the pup’s bony middle ear). This procedure can help stop recurrence.

Your vet may also recommend surgery to remove the polyp in your dog’s ear if it’s causing chronic ear infections.

Surgery may sound scary. But remember, your pet’s doctor is a veterinary medicine specialist who will care for your pet, including any topical medications to use. They’ll advise you on postoperative complications to flag.

“This kind of surgery may also require a specialist’s care, especially if the ventral bulla is involved,” Dr. Irish says.

Keeping your dog’s ears clean

Benign ear polyps may not always be preventable. But it’s still important to work with your vet to properly care for your pup’s ear so you can keep them as comfortable and healthy as possible. One essential item on pet parents’ to-do list is regularly cleaning their dog’s ears. The vet can tell you what “regular” means for your doggie. Here’s our full guide on how to safely clean your dog’s ears.

👉  You can do everything right and still notice your dog gets an ear polyp — but a little cleaning may go a long way for your pup’s ear health.

Our favorite vet-approved ear cleaner

Virbac Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleanser is ideal for regular ear cleaning for dogs with or without chronic ear infections. Its powerful formula nixes debris, bacteria, and wax build-up, keeping your pup’s ears nice and clean. But it has a low pH, so it shouldn’t interfere with any other ear treatments you’re using on your dog. The cleanser is also non-irritating, making it ideal for doggies with sensitive skin.

👉 Want to see all your options? Take a look at the list of our favorite vet-approved ear cleaners.

Frequently asked questions

What causes dog ear polyps?

It’s not clear what causes dog ear polyps, but chronic ear infections and inflammation may play a role. Some breeds, such as Golden retrievers, seem more prone to them. Dogs with small ear canals and long, floppy ears may also be more susceptible.

Are dog ear polyps cancerous?

Ear polyps are benign tumors. But they still need to be treated. Otherwise, they may cause infections.

How are a dog’s ear polyps treated?

A vet will check your pup’s ear polyp and may recommend surgery.

What does a tumor look like in a dog’s ear?

Ear polyps may appear as a pea-sized lump. They are typically white or pinkish.