Ear infections are a common issue in dogs and cats that can have many different causes. It is also a common reason for frustration among veterinarians and pet owners. While many pets have the occasional ear infections, if they have multiple infections, it is from an underlying cause. Without looking into the underlying cause, simply using the same antibiotics of anti-fungals will only create resistance without actually getting rid of the problem in the long-term.
Dogs commonly get ear infections from an overgrowth of the normal yeast and bacteria in the ear canal because of an underlying cause. Often it is because their ears are repeatedly wet from baths, swimming or humid weather and their ears don’t dry out completely. Dogs are also prone to repeat ear infections if they have food allergies because their skin gets inflamed, including their ear canals. Other underlying causes include hormonal diseases such as Hypothyroidism, Cushings and Diabetes. Breeds with ears that fold down and have lots of hair in the ear canal are particularly prone to ear infections because they trap moisture and prevent drying.
Cats on the other hand, are less prone to ear infections. Most often their ear infections are caused by an ear mite infestation with a secondary bacterial and yeast overgrowth. Mites are very contagious in cats and if one cat is infected in a multi-cat household, you need to treat all the cats and clean their bedding to get rid of the mite and eggs hiding in there. While dogs can get mite infections, they are very rare.
So what should you be looking for? The following are common signs that your pet has a possible ear infection:
• Redness of the skin of the ear canal
• Black or brown debris in the ear canal
• Foul, rotten smell
• Yeast smell, like baking bread
• Scratching or rubbing their ears
• Open wounds behind their ears and on their necks
• Head tilt and balance issues
It is important to note that some of these signs, such as head tilt and coordination problems, can be caused by other diseases. Even if it is very likely an ear infection, your veterinarian needs to look at your pet for both underlying systemic causes and at the ear infection itself. The causes of ear infections range from grass awns or other debris that needs to be flushed out to bacterial or fungus infections or ear mites, all of which require different treatments. It is also important for your veterinarian to determine whether the eardrum is intact and whether the infection has spread to the inner-ear, requiring a different treatment than a simple outer ear infection to prevent inner-ear damage and permanent head tilt and coordination difficulties. If left untreated, ear infections can also cause blood blisters in the outer ear from shacking their head, requiring surgery to fix it correctly.
You can help prevent ear infections in your pets by drying their ears after they get wet and keeping their ear canals free of hair to prevent infections. There are ear cleaners available that can be used routinely to prevent a buildup of wax and can be used after they go swimming or have a bath. If your pet has reoccurring ear infections, it is important to keep discussing it with your veterinarian to figure out the actual underlying cause, rather than trying to get another veterinarian to just give you the same medications as last time- it is better for your pet in the long-run.
Dr. Ryan Ridgway
Southwest Mobile Pet Care