What Causes an Ear Infection
Most ear infections in pets are actually caused by environmental allergies. Other possible causes are food allergies, swimming or lack of routine cleaning. You may have a good cleaning routine and your dog doesn’t swim but you still battle ear infections. If this is the case, talk to your veterinarian about finding the underlying problem.
Symptoms of Ear Infection
Odor – Some ear infections have a very foul odor.
Discharge – Any type of discharge from the ear is abnormal.
Itching – Some pets will scratch at their ears or rub them on the carpet and furniture. Some will be more interested than normal when you rub them behind their ears.
Head shaking – Shaking the head can be a sign that something is bothering your pet’s ears. Excessive head shaking can cause a secondary problem called an ear hematoma. Ear hematomas are pockets of fluid in between the layers of tissue in the ear flap. Surgical repair is usually necessary. Don’t let it get that far!
Pain – Crying, whining, or yelping when the ear is touched are signs that the infection has progressed to the point of pain. An ear infection that has gone untreated can become extremely painful. It can even result in permanent hearing loss.
Diagnosing an Ear Infection
Luckily most ear infections in pets are easy to diagnose. When you make your appointment, you probably already know your pet has one. Your veterinarian will begin with an exam of the ear flap, the canal and the ear drum. Even though you already know your pet has an infection, the exam is very important.
Examining the ear will give your doctor a lot of information. What does the ear flap look like? What does the skin in the canal look like? How much discharge is present? What does it look like? Is the ear drum present? Has it ruptured? If it’s present, what does it look like? All of this information will influence your doctor’s choice of treatment.
The second thing your veterinarian will do is a cytology. A cotton swab is used to collect some of the discharge from the ear and it is put onto a slide. Special stains are used and the slide is then looked at under a microscope. This will tell your doctor what kind of infection your pet has. Different types of infection are treated by different medications.
Kinds of Ear Infections
Typical ear infections are caused by yeast and/or bacteria. Looking at the slide under the microscope helps your veterinarian determine what is growing in your pet’s ears.
Yeast – Yeast are very itchy and have a very distinct smell. Yeast can also be easier to get rid of than bacteria.
Cocci – Cocci are a kind of bacteria. It is typically the easiest bacteria to get rid of.
Bacilli (rods) – Bacilli is the most difficult bacteria to get rid of. It also can have a very distinctive smell. If see or smell puss in your pet’s ears, it’s probably bacilli.
Treating an Infection
Treating an ear infection as early as possible is very important. It will be much quicker, easier, and cheaper to treat in the beginning. The further an infection progresses, the more difficult it is to treat. A mild ear infection that is caught early can usually be treated by topical medications only. A more serious infection may also require systemic medications to get the infection, inflammation and pain under control. Recurrent infections sometimes require further diagnostics to choose appropriate medications. Follow up exams are very important. Ear infection symptoms will go away before the infection is completely gone. You don’t want to get your pet’s ear infection almost clear and then stop treatment.
Preventing Ear Infections
Routine cleaning is important for preventing ear infections. Most dogs need their ears cleaned about once a week. At a minimum your dog’s ears should be cleaned after baths and swimming. One of the main cause of ear infections in dogs is getting the ears wet. Yeast and bacteria love to grow in warm, moist environments. Ear cleaners are designed to dry up any left over water in your pet’s ears. Many cleaners also help the PH of the ears to inhibit the growth of microorganisms.
If your pet has recurrent ear infections, ask your veterinarian about finding the underlying cause. Once the cause is found, be sure to stick with your doctor’s recommendations. Your pet will thank you.