Hear Me Out: the pesky problem of ear infections

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Nov 07 2011

The eyes aren’t the only part of the body that commonly gives our best friends fits. Ear infections are also a relatively common occurrence in both dogs and cats, and may or may not have an underlying cause.

Eary symptoms

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Ear infections in our pets differ from those in humans, although they are just as uncomfortable. Ear infections in humans are usually infections of the inner ear, whereas in pets, the outer ear is affected.

Signs of an ear infection may be easy to miss, especially if your pet spends a lot of time outdoors (which, with much of the nation’s weather getting cooler, won’t be for long!). Itchiness and ear discharge are hallmark signs of ear infections in pets. Your pet may shake his head to help with the itch, and sometimes the discharge is malodorous enough to smell from across the room.

Unfortunately, ear infections will not go away on their own and should always warrant a trip to the vet. If left untreated, ear infections can lead to hematomas, narrowed ear canals and deafness.

To keep your pet’s ears healthy, be sure to check them from time to time to make sure they are looking their best, both inside and out. If you find anything funky, or your pet is displaying any of the above symptoms, a trip to the vet may be in order.

At the clinic

The first thing your veterinarian will do after examining your pet’s ear canal is take a sample of the discharge to view under the microscope. Looking at what kind of infection is present will help him or her prescribe the most effective treatment. Ear infections are generally directly caused by overgrowths of either yeast or bacteria (or both!), although often there are underlying causes, such as allergies or polyps, that contribute to their recurrence.

Once your vet has determined whether yeast or bacteria is present, he or she will likely have a technician thoroughly clean your pet’s ear canals. Getting rid of all the discharge provides a clean slate so that treatment can start.

Through the course of treatment, your veterinarian may need you to also clean your pet’s ears at home. Be sure to ask the best way to do this if you don’t know. Special ear cleaners may be indicated for stubborn infections. Most of the time, topical treatments will be sufficient. Drops placed into the ears once or twice a day can treat typical outer ear infections. More complicated infections, or those that involve the middle ear, will need to be treated with oral medications as well as topical. Your veterinarian will prescribe what is best for your pet depending on his particular infection.

Ear infections are messy, stinky and downright uncomfortable for your dog or cat. The sooner you start treatment, the sooner your pet will be on the path to recovery.

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