If you’re lucky, your furry friend will never be bothered by ear infections, but many pets are frequently up to their ears in trouble. Dogs and cats have long ear canals, and they are warm, dark, and moist — a perfect environment for yeast and bacteria to thrive. For this reason, you should peek into your pet’s ears each time you bathe or groom them; if something seems (or smells) off, you’ll want to get to the vet as soon as possible.
Some pets are just naturally prone to ear infections, and there are a number of predisposing factors, including a history of allergies, floppy ears, a history of ear infections, increased ear wax production and excess ear hair. Ear infections are generally caused by overgrowths of either yeast or bacteria (or both!), and often there are underlying causes, such as allergies or polyps, that contribute to their recurrence.
signs + symptoms
Ear infections are typically accompanied by thick brown or yellow discharge and a foul odor. Crusts or sores on the pinna (ear flap) or inside the ear are abnormal, and usually indicate an infection. Painful, red, or ulcerated ears and swollen ear flaps are other hallmarks of trouble. Pets sometimes shake their heads excessively due to the itchiness and discomfort of an ear infection, which can contribute to the formation of hematomas in the ear flap. It’s important to seek treatment from your vet before an ear infection leads to other problems! Untreated ear infections can lead to narrowed ear canals and even deafness, and can be extremely painful for pets.
Your veterinarian will use an otoscope to examine your pet’s ear canal and tympanic membrane (ear drum), and take a swab of the aural discharge to observe under a microscope. Looking at what kind of infection is present (fungal or bacterial) will help him or her prescribe the most effective treatment.
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. 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 like antibiotics or steroids, as well as topical solutions. Your veterinarian will prescribe what is best for your pet depending on his particular infection. Persistent, severe ear problems sometimes require surgery.