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Ear Infection

Otitis, Ear Canker

Overview


Chickens can get ear infections which are referred to medically as otitis interna and externa. Although not outwardly apparent, chickens have ears that on each side of their head, which are located just below and behind their eyes. The color of a hen's earlobe is actually indicative of the color of eggs that she lays. Chickens with white earlobes tend to lay white eggs and chickens with red earlobes lay colored eggs--usually brown, but also greenish or blue for certain breeds.
Ear location on chicken
There are three chambers which make up a chicken's ear, consisting of an outer, middle, and inner chamber. An eardrum separates the air-filled outer and middle chambers from the inner ear potion, which is filled with fluid. Ear infections can affect any one or more of these chambers.
  • Inner ear infections: The chicken's inner ear is considered to be a part of their nervous system, and helps the chicken with balance. This is why inner ear infections can cause neurological signs in affected chickens, in the form of head tilt, loss of coordination and balance, and torticollis (wry neck). Inner ear infections are most likely caused by a viral infection, and are much more difficult to treat.
  • Middle ear infections: Middle ear infections are most likely caused by a chronic bacterial infection or tumor. Bacteria most commonly isolated include: Enterococcus faecalis, Escherichia coli, Pasteurella multocida, and Pseudomonas aeuroginosa. Bacteria can sometimes enter the chicken's ear through a small opening in the roof of the mouth, referred to as the infundibular cleft. The infundibular cleft opens directly into the chicken's auditory canals of the ears. The chicken's ears are inside their head, covered by a tiny clump of stiff feathers. Just behind the feathers sits the chicken's earlobe. These infections tend to be a little trickier to treat, as many of the invading organisms are considered to be opportunistic and highly resistant to many antibiotics. Thus, its often best to conduct antibiotic sensitivity testing prior to starting the bird on any treatment, in order to select the most effective antibiotic against the invading organism.
  • Outer ear infections: Infection to the chicken's outer ear is usually caused by common bacteria or fungi. These types of ear infections are generally considered to be relatively simple and straightforward to treat.

Clinical Signs

Feather matting, near ear
Itching of ear
Swollen earlobe
Ear discharge
Cheesy ear wax material
Head tilt
Torticollis
Loss of balance
Head shaking
Excessive yawning
Reduced crowing in roosters

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Culture
  • Necropsy

Treatment

NameSummary
Clean earUsing hydrogen peroxide and q-tips, gently and slowly clean out any material build up/debris from only the external areas of the ear. Only apply a couple drops of the hydrogen peroxide onto the material clogging the ear, as it will help soften it, allowing for easier removal from the ear.
DO NOT put the q-tip deep into the chickens ear, as it can cause damage to their hearing, and make the infection worse.
Save any material that was removed from the ear as it can be potentially used to test for the presence of bacteria and it's identification.
Ear dropsCorticosteroid and antibiotic drops for 3 to 5 days may be needed if the infection was caused by bacteria.
Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.

Prevention

Scientific References

Good Overviews