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canine health problems
Beagle at the veterinarian

The essentials

  • Your dog’s ear has three sections — The eardrum, or tympanic membrane, separates the outer ear from the middle ear. It’s an essential piece for transmitting sound further into your dog’s ear.
  • The eardrum is a sensitive, fragile flap of tissue — The eardrum is most likely to rupture from chronic inflammation or infection that first started in the outer ear canal and migrated down to the eardrum.
  • Middle and inner ear infections can cause serious issues — If the eardrum is ruptured and inflammation and infection travel further inside the ear, your dog can become deaf or lose their balance.
  • A ruptured eardrum can heal — Prompt veterinary attention is critical for a good outcome. Small holes in the eardrum can heal within two to three weeks with veterinary care. But, if the eardrum is significantly damaged, it may take longer to heal, or it may unfortunately never heal.

What to know about the eardrum

A dog’s ear has three sections : the outer or external ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear consists of the pinna, or ear flap, and the ear canal. The pinna is shaped to capture and funnel sound waves through the ear canal to the eardrum. The eardrum is a thin membrane that separates a dog’s outer ear canal from the middle and inner ear. Stretched tight like a drum, the eardrum vibrates when sound hits it. These vibrations move the tiny bones of the middle ear, which send vibrations to the inner ear. From the inner ear, the sounds travel to the brain for identification.

Without a fully intact and functioning eardrum, your dog’s middle and inner ears are susceptible to inflammation and infection. And, if your pup’s eardrum ruptures, they can even become deaf.

Common signs of a ruptured eardrum in dogs

If your dog has a ruptured eardrum, you’ll likely be able to tell they have an ear issue. A ruptured eardrum can be incredibly painful for your pooch, so seek veterinary help at the first sign of a possible ear infection. Signs can include the following:

  • Pain. Most dogs love a good ear rub, but if your dog whimpers, yelps, or even snaps when you reach for their ear, they may have a painful ruptured eardrum.
  • Inflammation of the ear canal. Ear infections typically cause the inside of the ear flap and ear canal to become red and irritated.
  • Odor. If your four-legged friend has stinky ears, it could be a sign of an ear infection.
  • Loss of hearing. It can sometimes be tough to tell if your dog has hearing loss due to age, or if they truly can’t hear. But, if your pup isn’t listening to normal commands, responding to your calls, or comes running at the sound of the treat container rattling, they likely lost their hearing.
  • Ear discharge. Discharge coming from the affected ear is often thick and pus-like, and may even be bloody. Flip your dog’s ears up regularly to check for signs of infection and discharge.
  • Nystagmus. Nystagmus occurs when a dogs’ eyes flicker back and forth quickly. It can be a sign of an inner ear infection caused by a ruptured eardrum.
  • Stumbling. Incoordination and stumbling while walking can occur if your pup’s balance is affected by an ear infection.
  • Head tilt. If your dog has an inner ear infection, their head may tilt to the same side as the affected ear.
  • Drooping face. In some cases, facial paralysis can occur, causing one side of the face and mouth to droop. The inability to blink may also occur, or complete closure of the eyelid.

🚨 Neurological signs, such as stumbling, nystagmus, and a drooping face, can indicate other serious problems. If you notice your dog with these symptoms, head to your vet.

What causes ruptured eardrums in dogs?

Your dog’s eardrum can potentially rupture for a variety of reasons, many of which can be prevented with care. Common causes of eardrum ruptures include:

  • Ear infections. Chronic ear infections that produce long-term inflammation — such as those seen with allergies — can cause the eardrum to rupture. Once ruptured, bacteria and yeast from the outer ear can enter the middle and inner ear, causing a more serious infection. Ear infections are the most common cause of a ruptured eardrum.
  • Loud noises. While a loud noise at a distance won’t cause your dog’s eardrum to rupture, being too close to an extremely loud noise can be problematic. Close exposure to a firework or gunshot can cause a ruptured eardrum.
  • Trauma. A traumatic injury, such as being struck by a car, can produce such a forceful impact that it ruptures your dog’s eardrum.
  • Polyps or masses. If a polyp or mass grows too large within your dog’s ear canal, it can press against the eardrum and rupture it.
  • Severe changes in atmospheric pressure. Although your pup isn’t going scuba-diving, they may travel by plane. Sudden and severe changes in air pressure — as seen with flying — can cause an eardrum rupture.
  • Eardrum damage from a foreign body in the ear. Since a dog’s ear canal is L-shaped instead of straight like ours, it is difficult for an object to puncture the eardrum. In very rare cases, a migrating foxtail could rupture an eardrum, but you’d be hard-pressed to damage it with a Q-tip or medication applicator.

Ruptured eardrums need veterinary care

If your dog is showing any signs that indicate their eardrum has ruptured, you need to take them to the veterinarian immediately. This is especially important if your dog is suffering from an ear infection , which can cause a damaged eardrum. Your dog will need medication if an ear infection is present.

Different ear medications are available to treat the various types of bacterial and yeast infections, along with soothing inflammation. However, certain ear medications are contraindicated if the eardrum is ruptured, so don’t start applying a medication you may have at home with a veterinary appointment. Small tears in a dog’s eardrum usually heal in two to three weeks.

👉 The sooner you take your dog to the vet, the better their chances are for recovering.

How will my vet diagnose a ruptured eardrum in my dog?

Sometimes a ruptured eardrum can be diagnosed during a routine physical exam. However, if there’s significant swelling, debris in the ears, or your dog is in pain, then your pup likely will need sedation or anesthesia. Pain medication paired with a sedative — or general anesthesia — will prevent your pooch from feeling any pain or anxiety while their hurt ear is cleaned and examined.

Once your dog is sedated (if necessary), your dog’s vet will clean the ear canal by gently flushing out debris. After the ear is clean, they’ll be able to view the eardrum with an otoscope. A vet will perform one of two tests to diagnose a perforated eardrum.

Your dog’s vet will also likely want to perform other diagnostic tests to rule out other possible causes and determine if an infection is present. In some cases, a CT scan may be needed to determine if an eardrum is ruptured and if there is an inner ear infection.

Treating a ruptured eardrum 

First, your pup’s veterinarian will thoroughly flush your dog’s ear to remove any foreign matter or pus. This is generally performed under sedation, so it will likely occur at the same time as the initial exam. To prevent or treat the infection while the eardrum is healing, your pup may need oral and/or antifungal medications or antibiotics.

How to prevent your dog’s eardrum from rupturing

To make sure your dog doesn’t go through the pain of a ruptured eardrum, follow these preventive tips:

Don’t shove objects in your dog’s ear — The only items you should ever put in your dog’s ear are medicating and cleaning supplies. Be gentle when wiping out debris or applying medication. Avoid shoving your finger, cotton swab, or applicator in so far that it’s out of sight.

Keep your dog’s ears clean — Keeping your pup’s ears clean is critical for preventing a ruptured eardrum. Debris, matted hair, and moisture can trigger an ear infection, and the subsequent inflammation can damage the tympanic membrane. Depending on your dog’s ears, they may need weekly cleanings. It’s also helpful to clean the ears with a routine ear cleaner after your pup takes a swim or has a bath.

👉 Check out our guide on the best ear cleaners to keep your pup’s ears spotless. 

Find the cause of chronic ear infections — Long-term ear inflammation is a major cause of ruptured eardrums in dogs. Finding — and treating — the underlying cause of chronic otitis is essential for a healthy ear. Often, a diet change is needed if your dog has food allergies, or medication to manage environmental allergies.

Avoid long-term exposure to very loud noises — If you operate loud power tools at home often, or hunt with a gun, keep your dog confined in a quiet place while you do so. Limit your four-legged friend’s exposure to loud noises as much as possible to protect their ears.

Frequently asked questions

What happens when a dog’s eardrum ruptures?

When a dog’s eardrum ruptures, bacteria and fungi can travel from the outer ear to the middle and inner ear. This can cause a serious and painful ear infection.

Can a dog’s ruptured eardrum be fixed?

Yes, small tears in the eardrum can heal on their own within two to three weeks. However, severe cases usually take three to four weeks to heal, but there’s a chance the eardrum may never heal.

Is a ruptured eardrum an emergency?

Yes! If your dog ruptures their eardrum, prompt treatment gives them the best outcome. Waiting to see if the eardrum will heal on its own allows a deep ear infection to set in. Nerve damage can also occur, causing permanent changes to the face, lips, and eyes or hearing loss.