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Ear Cysts (Cholesteatoma) in Dogs

Cholesteatoma in Dogs

Dogs possess an ear canal shaped like an “L”. The eardrum (tympanic membrane) sits at the bottom end of this “L”, with the middle ear located behind it. Typically, when the ear becomes infected, only the outer portion of the ear, forming the “L”, is affected, a condition known as otitis externa. However, in some cases, the infection may spread to the middle ear, leading to otitis media. Middle ear infections can occur if the eardrum ruptures or if an outer ear infection persists over time. Prolonged middle ear infections can result in the development of a cyst, or fluid-filled sac, near the eardrum. This cyst is termed a cholesteatoma.

Symptoms and Types

  • Chronic infection in one or both ears
  • Frequent head shaking
  • Pawing or scratching at the ears
  • Pain experienced while eating
  • Pain felt during yawning
  • Sensitivity or discomfort when the jaws are handled
  • Occasional head tilting to one side or difficulty in walking
  • Rare occurrences of deafness or decreased hearing


Cholesteatomas in dogs commonly stem from persistent ear infections, lasting sometimes over a year. Dogs of all breeds and ages may develop cholesteatomas, although certain breeds may exhibit physical traits that make them more prone to ear issues.

  • Ear Infection
  • Ear mites
  • Presence of foreign bodies (e.g., grass awns)
  • Overuse of cleaning agents or swabs in the ear canals
  • Predisposing factors:
  • Breeds characterized by narrow ear canals and/or excessively folded ears
  • Excessive hair within the ear canal


To diagnose your dog’s condition, your veterinarian will require a detailed history of your dog’s health, including the onset of symptoms and any relevant incidents. They will utilize an otoscope, a diagnostic tool equipped with a light and cone for examining the ear. This examination helps identify any material or discharge present in the ear canal and assess the extent of swelling. Your veterinarian will also check for damage to the eardrum, which may be obscured by swelling and discharge in cases of long-term ear infections. A sample of the ear material will be collected for culture to identify the bacteria causing the infection. X-ray imaging of your dog’s head will be ordered to examine the middle ear region beyond the eardrum. X-rays can determine the extent of ear involvement and whether the jaw is affected. If necessary, a computed tomography (CT) scan may be ordered for detailed information on the infection’s extent. This thorough evaluation assists your veterinarian in determining the most appropriate therapy for your dog.


Surgery typically stands as the primary treatment for cholesteatomas in dogs. During the surgical procedure, the affected ear canal will be removed along with the cholesteatoma. The external appearance of your dog’s ear will not be altered once it has fully healed post-surgery. However, there might be a decrease in hearing on the operated side, although many dogs retain their previous level of hearing after surgery. One potential complication of surgery is nerve damage affecting facial movements, which often resolves with time and isn’t always permanent.

Living and Management

Following surgery, your dog will receive antibiotics and may require a head bandage for a specific duration. It’s crucial to visit your veterinarian for bandage changes as needed. Ensure that you administer the complete course of antibiotics, even if your dog seems fully recovered. Monitor the surgical site once or twice daily for any signs of increased swelling or discharge, promptly reporting any concerns to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will schedule follow-up appointments to assess the healing progress. Once your dog has fully recuperated from surgery, it can resume a normal lifestyle.


Promptly treat any ear infections in your dog upon noticing symptoms. Ensure that you administer all medication prescribed by your veterinarian, even if your dog appears to be improving.

For dogs with physical traits that may predispose them to ear infections, familiarize yourself with preventive measures. For instance, if your dog has excessively hairy ears like poodles often do, maintain regular grooming and cleaning to prevent dirt and debris from accumulating. Avoid using cotton swabs inside your dog’s ear canals; instead, use a soft cotton tissue to clean the exterior of the ear canal and remove dirt and excess skin.

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