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Woman checking a dog‘s ear

The essentials

  • The eardrum is a sensitive, fragile membrane — A ruptured eardrum in dogs is most commonly caused by chronic inflammation or an 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, inflammation and infection can travel further inside the ear. Your dog can lose their balance or even become deaf as a result.
  • A ruptured eardrum can heal with treatment— Prompt veterinary attention is critical for a good outcome.

Your dog’s keen sense of hearing enables them to detect a squirrel scurrying on leaves and the sound of your jangling keys as you come home. While many dogs live good lives despite being deaf or hard of hearing, this sense does give them a higher quality of life. A ruptured eardrum needs prompt veterinary treatment so that it can heal, giving your dog a better chance at complete recovery.

What to know about a dog’s 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, or tympanic membrane, is a thin sheet 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 ear inflammation and infections. And, if your pup’s eardrum ruptures, they can even lose their hearing entirely.

Common signs of a ruptured eardrum in dogs

If your dog has a ruptured eardrum, you’ll likely know that something is wrong with their ears. 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, a severe ear infection, or both.
  • Inflammation of the ear canal. Ear infections accompanying a ruptured eardrum typically cause the pinna and ear canal to become red and irritated. Inflammation and infection of the middle ear are also known as otitis media. This type of infection is especially likely to occur without treatment if the eardrum is punctured since bacteria can easily get into the middle ear.
  • Odor. If your four-legged friend has stinky ears, it could be a sign of a yeast infection, which may contribute to an eventual ruptured eardrum.
  • Loss of hearing. If you have a senior dog, it can sometimes be tough to tell if they have age-related hearing loss, or if they truly can’t hear due to a ruptured eardrum. But, if they suddenly aren’t listening to normal commands, responding to your calls, or running at the sound of the treat container rattling, they’ve likely lost some of all of 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. This neurological condition occurs when a dog/s 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.

A ruptured eardrum can be incredibly painful for your pooch, so seek veterinary help at the first sign of a possible ear infection.

🚨 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, and helping to understand the cause can better inform your treatment options. Common causes of canine 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.
  • Changes in atmospheric pressure. Sudden and severe changes in air pressure — as seen with flying in airplanes — can cause an eardrum rupture in dogs.
  • Loud noises. While a loud noise at a distance won’t be a problem, close exposure to an extremely loud noise such as fireworks or a gunshot can cause a ruptured eardrum.
  • Physical 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. Ear polyps or masses can press against your dog’s eardrum as they grow larger and cause it to tear.
  • Eardrum damage from a foreign body in the ear. Since a dog’s ear canal is L-shaped instead of straight like ours, it’s not as easy for an object to puncture the eardrum. Still, you should exercise caution when cleaning your dog’s ears. Don’t use Q-tips, and never push anything into their ear canal.

Not every cause of a ruptured eardrum is preventable. However, routinely cleaning your pet’s ears and shielding them from loud noises can help keep them safe.

When to take your dog to the vet for a ruptured eardrum

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 may be suffering from an ear infection, which can cause permanent damage. 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. However, certain ear medications are dangerous if the eardrum is ruptured, so don’t start applying a medication you may have at home without a veterinary appointment.

Any dog with a ruptured eardrum is at risk of developing a serious infection in the inner ear which could lead to additional complications such as neurological disease. The faster this condition is diagnosed and treated the better.

Dr. Alleyne

How will a 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 or debris in the ears, or your dog is in pain, then your pup likely will need sedation or anesthesia.

In most cases, pain medication (sometimes 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. Your vet will then go through a few steps to diagnose a ruptured eardrum:

Clean their ears — 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.

Look inside their ears and possibly run other diagnostic tests — After the ear is clean, they’ll be able to view the eardrum with an otoscope. In some cases, a CT scan may be needed to determine if an eardrum is ruptured and if there is an inner ear infection .

Prescribe medication — To prevent or treat the infection while the eardrum is healing, your pup may need oral and/or antifungal medications or antibiotics.

Ruptured eardrum treatment and recovery

While there’s a chance a ruptured eardrum will heal on its own, it’s always a good idea to take your dog to the veterinarian for treatment. If left untreated and an infection develops, healing may take longer, and may not ever be complete.

Ruptured eardrums usually heal within 3-6 weeks. Keep an eye on your pup’s ears for signs that they’re improving or getting worse, such as redness and swelling in their outer ear pinna. Don’t hesitate to take your dog back to the vet for a follow-up if you have concerns or if they aren’t healing as quickly as you feel like they should.

How to prevent your dog’s eardrum from rupturing

Some causes of ruptured eardrums are preventable. Here are some things you can do to reduce your pup’s risk of hearing damage:

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. Just make sure to only use cotton swabs and other cleaning tools on the external part of your dog’s ear; never shove anything inside your dog’s ear canal.

👉 Check out our guide on the best dog 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 — Keep your dog confined in a quiet place while you mow the lawn or operate loud power tools. Limiting your four-legged friend’s exposure to loud noises as much as possible helps to protect their ears from permanent hearing damage.

Your dog may be able to make a complete recovery from a ruptured eardrum, especially if they’re treated quickly. While not life-threatening, a ruptured eardrum is considered a medical emergency. You should always take your dog to the vet if they start showing symptoms of a ruptured eardrum or ear infection to keep them safe.

Frequently asked questions

What causes a ruptured eardrum in dogs?

Severe ear infections, sudden atmospheric changes, toxins, foreign objects, extremely loud noises, or physical trauma can all cause a ruptured eardrum in dogs. Since there are so many possible causes, it’s impossible to completely prevent the risk of a ruptured eardrum. The best way to reduce your dog’s risk of developing a ruptured eardrum is to keep their ears clean and dry, and not expose them to loud noises.

Can a dog hear with a ruptured eardrum?

Your dog may experience partial hearing loss while their eardrum is perforated. As long as they can completely heal, they should regain their hearing within 3-6 weeks. Hearing loss that results from an untreated ruptured eardrum is less likely to completely heal because of the risk of infection.

What are the symptoms of a ruptured eardrum?

Blood or pus coming from your dog’s ears, as well as changes in their hearing and balance, signify that your dog has a ruptured eardrum. Facial nerve paralysis may occur in extreme cases. If a middle ear infection is present, your dog’s ear will also likely feel hot and look red, and they might have a fever.

Is a ruptured eardrum an emergency?

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

Will a ruptured eardrum heal on its own?

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.  However, there’s a chance the eardrum may never heal, especially if it becomes infected. If your dog is showing signs of a ruptured eardrum, it’s best to take them to the vet promptly so that they can receive the treatment they need to recover.