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Ear Infection

Other Names: Otitis, Ear Canker

Chickens have ears which are used for hearing and balance. They are composed of an external part which is hidden by a tiny clump of stiff feathers, a middle part with an air filled tympanic cavity, and an inner part, a complex structure with the membranous labyrinth. Ear infections can affect any or all portions of the ear.
Ear location on chicken
  • Inner ear infections (Otitis interna): The inner ear is the sensory receptor for both sound and equilibrium. It consists of the cochlear organ and a vestibular organ. 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 (Otitis media): The middle ear is an air filled tympanic cavity containing a muscle, ligaments, the tympanic membrane, the cochlear window and a rod-like bone (ossicle) known as the columella. Middle ear infections are usually 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. 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 (Otitis externa): Inflammation of the external ear may be caused by bacterial or fungal organisms. Pruritus may be present causing the bird to scratch their ear or rub their head often. The ear opening is often red and swollen, and the stiff clump of feathers covering the ear opening may be matted with discharge. The most frequent bacteria isolated from these infections include Pseudomonas aeuroginosa, Klebsiella spp, Enterobacter spp, and Kocuria kristinae.

Clinical Signs

Feather matting
Frequent scratching or rubbing their head
Swollen earlobe
Ear discharge
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.

Support

Scientific References

Good Overviews