Disorders of the Outer Ear in Horses

Last Updated on March 29, 2022 by Allison Price

Many skin conditions can affect the outer part of the ear called the pinna. Many conditions can also cause tissue changes elsewhere. Rarely does a disease only affect the outer ear. A thorough history, complete physical examination and careful selection of diagnostic tests are required to diagnose a skin condition.

Insects or parasites can cause inflammation of horses’ pinnas – resulting in redness and swelling, itching small bumps, scabs or blistering. This could be either from direct parasite bites or hypersensitivity (an allergic reaction).


How to Treat Horse Ears Painful Bites

How to treat painful bites on the ears of your horse

If not treated, bites from certain types or flies (deer flies and black flies) can sometimes be very painful.Only trim ear hairs when it is absolutely necessary to see bites or other signs. Horses’ ears are protected from parasites and agents that can spread infection by the hairs.Use warm soapy water and a soft cloth to gently clean the bite area. Don’t let water get into your ear.Your veterinarian may direct you to use a general antibiotic ointment, or any other medication.Use appropriate fly repellent to prevent more bites. Also, clean up any manure.
Disorders of the Outer Ear in Horses

Ticks can cause irritation around the point of attachment. They may be found in the ear canal or on the pinna. The ear tick is a soft-shelled, soft-shelled tick that can be found in the Southwest United States, South America, Central America, and India. Its younger, immature form infests and lives on horses’ external ear canals. Head shaking, head rubbing and drooping ears are all signs of an infestation. The environment (pasture, stable) and the animal should both be treated. Your veterinarian will recommend the best treatment for your horse. The southwestern United States, South and Central Americas, India, and southern Africa are home to the spinous ear tick ( Otobius Megnini). Horses and other animals are able to get their ticks from the ear canal. Head shaking, head rubbing and drooping of the ears are all signs. The treatment involves the removal of as many ticks possible using a forceps, and the application of topical insecticides. Secondary bacterial and yeast infections should also be treated. To prevent future infections, the environment must also be treated.


Horses with nonburrowing or psoroptic mites have an inflamed, itchy ear canal. While some horses may not show any signs of infection, others may shake their heads or have an enlarged ear. Common signs include scabs, hair loss and scaly skin. The mites can be found on skin scrapings and in ear discharges. However, mites in the ear canal may not be easy to locate. These conditions can be controlled with medications. Your veterinarian will recommend the best one for you horse.

Sarcoptes.scabiei is a different type of mite that most commonly infects dogs and pigs, but rarely horses. Sarcoptic mange can cause severe itching and skin problems (such as small bumps, scabs, hair loss; thickened, leathery skin) around the ears and other areas of the body. The disease can spread to other parts of the body, causing severe weight loss, weakness, and refusal to eat. Signs, history and detection of mites in skin scrapings are all factors that will help to diagnose the disease. The mites may be hard to spot so it is possible to do multiple scrapes and even a biopsy. Your veterinarian will recommend a medication to kill the mites. All bedding, brushes and tack must be treated because mites can live off the host animal. Your veterinarian might recommend that any other animals who come in contact with infected horses be treated for the contagious mite.


Fly bite (irritation to the ears due to biting flies), is a common problem in horses. It can be caused by black flies ( Culicoides species), and stable flies ( Culicoides species). Fly bites cause small, hard bumps, raised, reddened, and itchy areas. The tips of the ears are the most affected by tissue changes. Horses can be affected by fly bites, which can lead to a hypersensitivity reaction and severe inflammation of their skin. This results in tissue changes at the tips of the ears, as well as the lower body and face. Fly repellents and control of the fly population by environmental cleanup (such as removing manure) are some options.

Aural Plaques (Papillary Aanthoma or Ear Papillomas).

The equine aural plaques consist of raised, pinkish-colored bumps and patches at the inner surface the ear. These are likely caused by papillomavirus, which is transmitted by blackflies. These flies attack horses’ heads, ears and lower abdomen at dawn and dusk. These flies eventually form thickened, hardened, round bumps and patches. Both ears can be affected. Although plaques don’t usually cause symptoms, in some cases the direct effects of a fly bite can cause skin inflammation and discomfort. The treatment includes frequent application of fly repellent, and the stabling of the horse during black flies activity. Plaques rarely disappear.


Frostbite can occur in animals that are not well adapted to cold environments. It is more common in windy or wet conditions. Frostbite usually affects areas of the body that aren’t well insulated, such as the tips and ears. It can cause skin to become pale, red, swollen and even painful. In extreme cases, the tissue may become brittle and eventually die. The treatment involves rapid, gentle warming as well as supportive care. Sometimes, it is necessary to amputate affected areas. However, this is often delayed until the extent and quality of the remaining living tissue has been determined.

Immune-mediated diseases

Many immune-mediated diseases can affect the outer ear or ear canal. The affected areas may also include the skin or mucous membranes. A biopsy of the abnormal tissue can confirm that it is immune-mediated.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!