Have you ever noticed your dog scratching at their ears or shaking their head a lot? Hair loss or redness around the ears? Have you ever seen a yucky (totally scientific term), waxy debris in the outer ear? Or perhaps noticed an odor that is quite unpleasant coming from the ears? Let’s not forget our feline friends. Have you seen scratching behind the ears, discomfort when the ears are massaged, or a dark, crusty debris in the ear canal that resembles coffee grounds? Unfortunately, these are a few of the symptoms of an ear infection.
There are different causes of ear infections in dogs and cats. Usually they are caused by yeast, bacteria, or parasites such as ear mites. Dogs, like humans, have certain organisms occurring naturally. It is only when these organisms are given an environment to multiply that they can cause problems. Cats are lucky in that they have ear infections much less frequently than dogs but the causes can be more troubling. In cats the cause is usually ear mites (which can be contagious to other cats), allergies, or an abscess from a bite (the bite can lead to other illnesses such as feline leukemia or FIV).
Do their ears hang low, do they wobble to and fro?
Some canine breeds are predisposed to ear infections due to their ear canal characteristics. Dogs with long, floppy ears such as Basset Hounds, or heavy skin folds like Shar Peis are examples. They are more likely to get an ear infection because debris and microorganisms become trapped, which can lead to an overgrowth. Often water loving breeds such as Labradors and Goldens spend time at lakes, swimming pools, or beaches. Wet ears can create the perfect environment for bacterial or yeast overgrowth. Some breeds like Poodles and Schnauzers often have long hair in their ears which can trap debris and lead to an infection as well. Ear infections are also very common in pets with allergies. Any pets with hot spots due to flea allergy dermatitis are more likely to develop ear infections as are any pets with skin allergies.
As with any type of infection, it is best to treat as soon as possible. Outer ear infections can lead to more serious middle ear infections in which the ear drum may rupture. From there, an inner ear infection and hearing loss is possible. These infections can be quite painful as well. Much better to treat sooner than later!
Only your veterinarian can diagnose and treat an ear infection. She or he will first need to obtain a history and examine your pet. A sample (swab) from inside your pet’s ear canal will be collected. A slide with the material (ear cytology) and if necessary, a culture will be prepared so that the doctor can determine if there is an infection. If so, we’ll know what type of organism is present. This will help determine the proper course of treatment.
There are many treatment options for ear infections. There are drops that you can administer daily after cleaning the ears or packings that stay in the ear canals for two weeks. Depending on how severe the infection is, we may also send your pet home with pain medications. No matter how you treat, it’s important to follow up to ensure that the infection is completely resolved.
As the old adage goes: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Prevention is most definitely the way to go! Make sure your furry friend’s ears stay clean and dry. This is especially important for dogs who swim. The clinic offers products for at home care. We are also more than happy to show you how to clean your dog’s ears so you can you feel comfortable and confident doing it at home. If you are concerned that your pet is at risk for an ear infection please call the clinic and talk with a vet tech or doctor. If you suspect your pet has an ear infection, please set up an appointment to see the veterinarian.
By: Kathy Berrier