Ear Infections 101: Healthy Pet/Happy Pet 15

By: Dr. Amanda Thomas

One thing I know for sure, after almost 2 decades in small animal clinical practice, is that owners who have pets that suffer from EAR INFECTIONS dread coming back to the veterinary clinic time and time again for (yet) another round of medical treatment. They become very familiar with the veterinary clinic, the doctors and the staff, because they are there, without fail, every 2-3 months. These owners spend a lot of time and money and effort treating the problem, then, they become very frustrated and go to a new veterinarian. Sound familiar? I bet it does…

Let me ease your pain., and your pet’s pain.

The problems with ear infections are many…….

One big problem, is, that by the time the owner presents the pet to an actual veterinary doctor, they have put everything imaginable into their pet’s ears in an attempt to treat the problem at home via Dr. Google.

Some of these (bad) choices include over the counter ear mite medication, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, witch hazel (I don’t even know what this is), mineral oil, coconut oil, concoctions made with apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, their neighbors’ old medicine that they put into their dog’s ears 6 years ago, something their friend gave them, something they put in their baby’s ear when he was sick, oil of garlic, muellin oils, vaginal douches, and who knows what else that they never ever tell us about!

Please don’t do this.

It causes pain in your pet, and undue stress associated with anyone ever going anywhere near them and their ears again, like, say, me, in the exam room.

Ear infections and ear diseases can include any part of the ear — the internal, or middle ear, the external horizontal canal or the external vertical canal. Infections and diseases can cause ear pinna problems as well (the ear flap).

Most commonly, a pet that is showing signs of an ear problem is likely holding the ear flap in a down position, shaking his or her head, scratching at the ears, rubbing their ears or face on the carpet, or is acting depressed.

The skin of the inner ear is typically red and inflamed, irritated, and there may be discolored fluid that is coming out of the ear canal. In severe cases, the pet will exhibit a head-tilt to the right or to the left, and an elevated third eyelid that covers the cornea. This indicates middle ear involvement and is very serious.

When these symptoms occur, your pet is in extreme discomfort from any combination of the following :

  • Yeast infection (malassezia)
  • Bacterial infection
  • Yeast and Bacterial infections combined
  • Resistant bacterial infections like pseudomonas and coli
  • A ruptured eardrum, or two.
  • Growths, polyps, or tumors of the ear canal
  • Stenotic (small) ear canals that invite infections
  • Allergic conditions that cause secondary recurrent ear infections
  • Endocrine disorders that cause ear infections.
  • Environmental influences like allergens and parasites cause ear infections and chronic.
  • Foreign objects in the ear canal, or parasites.

The most important aspect of treating a pet with an ear problem is making an accurate diagnosis. This must include the veterinarian looking into the ear canals of the patient, if this is allowed by the pet, and taking an ear swab for microscopic evaluation (cytology) to determine what exactly is living in the ear canal. A microscope slide is made with the material coming from the ear and the veterinarian looks at the cells to identify them as yeast or bacteria or something else. In some cases, a culturette-swab of the ear canal is taken and sent to a laboratory for diagnosing the specific organisms present in the ear canal so that treatment can be targeted toward killing those organisms.

Therapy and treatment have to be based on knowing what you are treating, so these diagnostic tests must be performed, at least initially.

Once we know what organisms are present in the ear canal of the patient, we can target our treatment, and come up with a plan that is effective and safe for your pet.

The treatment should include a topical medication to be used in the ear canal, as well as some form of pain management. The pain and inflammation associated with ear infections and ear problems is treated with both topical and oral medications. No other substances or medications, cleaning agents or solutions should be used in the pet’s ear canal except for what the doctor has prescribed.

What I find to be most important, and the key factor to the treatment of every ear infection and every ear disease, is providing the owner with a long term treatment plan. Your veterinarian will recommend at least 1-2 follow up visits after the initial diagnosis and treatment of an ear problem, and should outline a specific long term treatment plan that stops chronic ear infections from reoccurring over and over again.

Part of the long term plan may include the recommendation of further diagnostic tests like general bloodwork, thyroid testing, testing for allergies, or the suggestion of a hypoallergenic food trial if your pet is exhibiting signs of a food allergy.

Whatever the underlying cause, ear diseases in our pets are painful and often times chronic. If you suspect your pet is showing signs of any ear problems, please call your veterinary clinic to schedule an appointment.