Infections of the ear canal are common in pets, especially those with hairy or large, floppy ears. Pet owners often do not realize there is an infection until the ears are itchy, painful, or swollen. Fortunately, vet visits can reduce the severity and frequency of this painful condition for your pet.
Types and Causes of Ear Infections in Pets
There are two categories of ear infections in pets: outer ear infection and middle/inner ear infection. Outer ear infection, known as otitis externa, is the most common type and tends to occur outside of the eardrum or tympanic membrane. This type of infection affects the layer of cells in the external portion of the ear canal. Inner or middle ear infections (otitis media and interna) occur when a pathogen spreads to the portion of the ear inside of the tympanic membrane. Inner or middle ear infections can be very serious and may result in facial paralysis, hearing loss, and vestibular signs.
Typically, ear infections are caused by yeast, bacteria, fungi, or a combination of these. Some of the factors that may predispose your pet to ear infections include:
- Allergies triggered by the ingestion of certain foods and allergens your pet may come into contact with; allergies disrupt the skin barrier
- Moisture caused by an activity like swimming and bathing. A damp environment creates prime conditions for yeast and bacteria
- Excessive wax buildup
- Trauma to the ear canal
- Suppressed immune system, like in pets with thyroid disease and Cushing’s disease
- Foreign bodies
- Poor ventilation for pets with big, floppy ears
- Excessive cleaning
Many pet owners will automatically assume their pets have ear mites. While ear mite infections are a possibility, most pets have either bacteria or yeast infections in their ears. Please contact your vet for a proper diagnosis and advice before trying to treat the condition at home. This will help to prevent aggravating your pet’s ear infection.
Signs of Pet Ear Infections
Some pets show no symptoms of ear infection, especially when it is in the early stages. But acute ear infections often cause significant discomfort and you may notice the following if your pet is affected:
- Shaking of their head
- Rubbing their head against the couch or carpet
- Scratching of the affected ear
- Redness and swelling of the ear flap
- Crusting or scabs in the ear or on the cheek
- Odor and discharge
Signs of serious middle and inner ear infections may include:
- Walking in circles
- Inability to chew or unwillingness to eat
- Head tilt
- Rapid eye movements from side to side
It’s important to visit your vet as soon as possible if your pet is showing any of these signs.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Ear Infections in Pets
Acute outer ear infections are easy to diagnose and treat. Typically they will resolve within 1-2 weeks once treatment is started. To diagnose your pet’s ear infection, the vet will examine the ear canal with an otoscope, which provides light and magnification. If your pet is in extreme pain, it may be necessary to anesthetize or sedate the pet for a thorough examination. A sample of the material from the ear canal will then be examined under a microscope to determine the organism causing the infection.
If the infection is mild or caught early, treatment may involve cleaning your pet’s ears using a medicated cleanser. Your veterinarian may also prescribe a topical medication, ear cleanser, oral antibiotics, or anti-inflammatory medications. Most prescription drops contain an antibiotic, a steroid, and an antifungal agent. It’s important to avoid using cleaners without a vet’s examination because it may push the infection into the middle ear if the tympanic membrane is damaged. When cleaning, don’t use cotton balls or paper towels because they can cause irritation.
More severe and longer-standing infections will take longer to treat and will generally require a broad-spectrum oral antibiotic, antifungal, oral steroids, and pain medication to bring relief. Treatment may also include symptomatic therapy for anorexia and nausea. It’s important to follow your vet’s instructions, finish the full course of treatment to prevent reoccurrence, and return for any recommended re-evaluation appointments.
Prevention of Ear Infections in Pets
As with most diseases, prevention is the best medicine. If your pet is prone to having ear infections, identifying and managing the underlying cause can prevent or reduce the recurrence of infection. Regularly cleaning your pet’s ears at home with a pet ear cleaning solution can help prevent infections or improve the chances of noticing an infection early. Cleaning and drying the ears after swimming or bathing can also help keep the canals dry and prevent infection.
At Naples Coast Animal Hospital, we want you and your pet to be happy. Don’t dismiss your pet’s chronic ear infections – let us begin a treatment plan to manage the problem effectively. Call us at (239) 500-0105 or visit our website to book an appointment.