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What are Ear Margin Hyperkeratosis?

If you notice your dog has crusty lesions on the edges of his ears, or on any part of his ear, he may have what is known as ear margin hyperkeratosis.  This condition is characterized by thickening of the skin on his ears, excessive head shaking, and scaly or greasy plugs on the ear margins.  Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose his condition by ruling out other possible conditions and by taking skin samples and examining them with the microscope.  If your dog is diagnosed with ear margin hyperkeratosis, there is no cure but there are ways to manage it and keep your dog happy and comfortable.

Ear margin hyperkeratosis affects the outer edges of your dog’s ears.  If you notice crusting or greasiness on the outer edges, it would be a good idea to take him to his veterinarian for an evaluation.

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Symptoms of Ear Margin Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

Symptoms of this condition may include:

  • Thickening of the skin on the ears
  • Mild lesions on the pinna
  • Scaly or greasy plugs on the pinnal margin, nonpruritic 
  • More severe cases affect the entire ear pinna, not just the edges
  • Head shaking

Types

Ear margin hyperkeratosis can also be known as ear margin seborrhea or orthokeratotic hyperkeratosis.  It is characterized by abnormal thickening of the outer layer of skin.  This condition is commonly found to affect dogs with pendulous ears such as Dachshunds and Cocker Spaniels.  As the condition progresses, the scaling often moves from the edge of the ear to the entire ear.

Causes of Ear Margin Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

This condition can be a side effect of hypothyroidism in some dogs.  In other cases, it may be from the absence of follicular atrophy.  Most commonly, hyperkeratosis of the ears is regarded as a primary keratinization defect.  This means there is no cause to the condition; it is the condition.  As a primary defect, there is no underlying illness you have to worry about treating; you just have to treat the ears.

Diagnosis of Ear Margin Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

When you arrive at the veterinarian’s office, she will start her diagnostic process by collecting a verbal history from you.  For example, she will want to know what symptoms you have seen on your dog and when you first noticed the development of his symptoms.  She will also want to know how fast each symptom has been progressing and if it seems to impair his daily routine.  She will then proceed with performing a full physical exam.  While it may be obvious the lesions are on his ears, she will want to check him over entirely for other symptoms that could be indicative of an underlying cause of his condition.  

In cases of suspected ear margin hyperkeratosis, your veterinarian may need to rule out other possible medical conditions first.  For example, fly bite dermatitis in dogs causes very similar symptoms as to those of ear margin hyperkeratosis.  Additional diagnoses she may need to rule out include scabies and solar dermatitis, to just name a few.  In order to rule out these conditions, she may want to perform diagnostic testing.  It would involve taking a skin scraping sample from the affected area of your dog.  She will scrape a small sample from the superficial layer of your dog’s ear tips to examine under the microscope.  This will allow her to evaluate the appearance of the skin cells as well as rule out external skin parasites.

Ear margin hyperkeratosis can be complicated by a yeast infection or bacterial infection.  She will want to ensure your dog does not currently have an ear infection in his canal as well as on the surface of his ear pinna.  This may involve taking a skin cytology sample from his ears.  Often, the veterinarian only needs to take a piece of scotch tape, apply it to your dog’s ear lesions and then stain it with a special stain.  She will then examine it under the microscope for the presence of bacteria or yeast.

Other testing may be requested by the veterinarian depending on your dog’s symptoms.  If she suspects his condition is a secondary development to a different illness, she may want to perform diagnostic testing to determine the cause. Depending on what she suspects, the testing can vary.

Treatment of Ear Margin Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

Many dogs with this condition respond well to medicated shampoos with keratolytic and keratoplastic properties. Examples would be tar, sulphur, salicylic acid, selenium sulphide, or benzoyl peroxide.  Your veterinarian will be able to prescribe you this as it is not something that can be found over the counter.  If you do find something over the counter, it may be similar, but the prescription shampoo is more concentrated and therefore typically works better.  

Close clipping of the hair on the affected area is also helpful.  This will prevent matting of the hair and accumulation of seborrhea within the fur.  It will not necessarily prevent the condition from developing but it may slow or stop its progression.

Other treatments will be administered depending on your dog’s needs.  She may send you home with an ointment or spray to apply to the ears.  If there is a yeast or bacterial overgrowth, it is possible oral medications will also be sent home for you to administer over a course of time. If your veterinarian discovers there is an underlying cause to your dog’s symptoms, she will administer therapies in accordance to that illness.

Recovery of Ear Margin Hyperkeratosis in Dogs

There is no cure for this condition but you can reduce how much it affects your dog.  With treatments suggested by your veterinarian, you should be able to keep your dog comfortable.  The medications should also help prevent or slow the progression of the hyperkeratinization before it expands further over his ear pinna.  With the proper treatments applied, your dog’s prognosis of recovery or at least prevention of progression is good to fair.

Ear Margin Hyperkeratosis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Patriot
Basenji
2 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Ear Flaking
Ear Crust

So, I was reading your article on hyperkeratosis. My dog seems to have it on the tips of his ear. I had adopted him with it, and have no prior knowledge to how long it’s beeen going on, though it takes up maybe .5-1inch up the tip of his right ear, and beginning to develop on his left. I was wondering if I was use a medics led shampoo with benzoyl peroxide would those reduce the current peopblem on his ear. I understand it is not a cureable Solution, but he has no infections of sorts. Just a crust. Thanks for your help. It doesn’t seem to cause him any discomfort if I put pressures on it, and generally doesn’t bother him. Though, as a pet owner it bothers me.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. It would be a good idea to have Patriot examined by your veterinarein to determine if there is any other condition going on that might be causing the crust on his ears. Many dogs with hyperkeratosis respond well to medicated shampoos with keratolytic and keratoplastic properties. Examples would be tar, sulphur, salicylic acid, selenium sulphide, or benzoyl peroxide. Your veterinarian will be able to prescribe you this as it is not something that can be found over the counter. Close clipping of the hair on the affected area is also helpful. This will prevent matting of the hair and accumulation of seborrhea within the fur. It will not necessarily prevent the condition from developing but it may slow or stop its progression. Other treatments will be administered depending on your dog’s needs. They may send you home with an ointment or spray to apply to the ears. If there is a yeast or bacterial overgrowth, it is possible oral medications will also be sent home for you to administer over a course of time. If your veterinarian discovers there is an underlying cause to your dog’s symptoms, they will administer therapies in accordance to that illness. I hope that everything goes well for him.

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herman
Shar-Pei Pitbull Terrier
2 Years
Mild condition
1 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Ear Crust

my dog has some sort of crusty on the edge of his eat and on the top side of his ears there is also some hair loss he doesnt seem to be in any pain though sometimes hell flinch and yelp if i touch it

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. There are many causes for hair loss and crusting, including parasites, bacterial or fungal infection, or various conditions that can occur. If he flinches when you touch the area, it is probably bothering him, and it would be a good idea to have him examined by a veterinarian. They'll be able to look at the problem, determine what might be causing it, and get any treatment needed for you so that his problem resolves.

My dog seems to have this she's rat terrier I put aquaphor on it or any moisturizing cream it softens overnight and comes off, just need to keep her ears moist and no more issues! Coconut oil works well

Well, Rich sure is a rude prick. Hey, Rich, if you have all the answers, then why are you bothering to read the site? Dr. King is nice enough to take time out of her schedule to help strangers on the internet, and you’re a prick to her because you didn’t like the answer? Screw you, dude. 🙄

that whole paragraphs just says "see a vet" thanks for telling me what I already new but wasting my time.

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