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Ear Infections in Your Dog or Cat

Otitis Externa











There are two articles on this subject. Read the other here
You can read about the surgery that is sometimes required to cure this problem permanently here.

Ron Hines DVM PhD

What Will I See If My Pet Has An Ear Infection ?

Most owners notice that their pet has a problem when it begins to scratch and paw at it's ear. This may begin suddenly, but by the time the pets get to me they usually have a chronic condition.

All ear problems have an underlying cause, which must be determined. Simply treating the ear for inflammation and infection guarantees that the problem will reoccur.




What Causes Ear Infections In Pets?

Ear Mites :

Ear mites are the most common cause of itchy and infected ears in puppies, kittens.

Youngsters obtain these pin-head sized parasites from their parents as the nestle with them and nurse. During the first two month of life, the baby's ears rarely appear dirty and there is no signs that the mites are present.

However, by the third or fourth month a brownish “coffee grounds” material begins to appear within the ear. These youngsters rarely have itchy ears yet. If these mites are discovered early, a few drops of permethrin-containing liquid or even baby or mineral oil in each ear and massaged downward will cure the problem. Ear mites breath through holes in their sides. Any thing oily plugs these holes and kills them.

If the problem is left untreated, the delicate linings of the ear canals thickens and changes occur that sometimes persist throughout your pet's life. It is better to over-treated ear problems with gentle medications when they are first discovered than to try to return the ear canal lining to its normal condition later.

After a product is used to kill the mites, a bland antibiotic and steroid- containing ointment should be used daily for several weeks. The medications do no good if they aren't massaged down into the ear canal where the infection actually is. Have a veterinary technician instruct you how to do this. Don't place objects in your pet' ear. You should just clean the outer portion of the canal that you can see with a Q-tip.

Floppy Ears :

Dogs with floppy ears are naturally predisposed to ear problems because of poor circulation within the ear canals. Humidity and the tendency for many floppy-eared dogs to have hair growing within the ear canals causes this problem. Spaniels, Springer's, Labradors and golden retrievers are quite prone to this ear problems.

Wet ears after swimming – especially in swimming pools is an added cause.

Several liquid ear-cleaning products are on the market containing boric and salicylic acids, eucalyptol, and propylene glycol. They generally come in 8 or 16-ounce containers. About 10 drops should be massaged into the ear canal after these pets swim or on a weekly basis in dogs prone to ear problems.

Allergies :

Dogs and cats with skin, flea or food allergies often develop ear problems. This is because their ears itch as well as their skin. If you find a single flea on these pets - it is one flea too many. The cause of your pet's itchiness needs to be found and treated. This might include strict flea control, limiting the pet’s access to damp moldy areas, discontinuing brands of skin-care products, perfume, household cleaning agents or dietary management.

In stubborn cases, periodic ear medications containing steroids and antibiotics may be necessary. It is best to alter the formula (Brand) of ear ointments or ear drops every few months so that bacteria and yeast living in the ear canals of your pet do not become immune to the ingredients. You can use these products round-robin and eventually come back to the first one.

Conformation - How Your Pet Is Built :

Too much hair in the ears of certain breeds, particularly poodles, make them sensitive to ear problems. Plucking this hair from within the ears with your thumb and forefinger can help. So will trimming the hair on the underside of the earflap and surrounding the ear. You can grasp this hair better if you dust it with a powder. Any residual inflammation of the ear is treated in the ways previously mentioned. Experienced groomers will generally do this well.

Does Hypothyroidism Cause Ear Problems ?

Probably not. The two conditions can exist simultaneously in the same pet and overweight, floppy-eared hypothyroid pets might be at a bit greater risk of otitis. But hyperthyroidism is not a direct cause of otitis.

What Are The Long Term Complications Of Ear Infections ?

Sometimes, despite proper treatment, ear problems continue and eventually result in a narrowed ear canal. In these cases, populations of antibiotic- resistant bacteria and yeast become established.

These ears can usually be managed for the pet’s entire life without surgery. I usually suggest that owners try to manage the problems with an ear medication that is antibiotic free. These products often rely on boric acid or acetic acid to kill the bacteria and yeast. Bacteria and yeast can not become immune to these products like they do to antibiotic drops or ointments. Sometimes, drops that just contain steroids are best. If the ear canal is not too damaged, the steroids hardly pass into the pet's body and can be used indefinitely. The only drawback is that they are generally sold at high price in very small bottles. Sometimes, a puff of boric acid powder in each ear is all that is required. Many pet owners make their own mixtures of acetic acid (vinegar) and rubbing alcohol. These products can burn the ear canal lining and cause your pet pain if they are used wrong.

Is Surgery An Option ?

Yes, sometimes it is the best option. Some cases, pets won't cooperate with long term preventative treatment. In others the infection just can not be controlled or reoccurs too frequently. In some cases, the infection spreads to the inner ear causing balance problems. In other cases the problem is just too painful for your pet. In these cases, ear infections can be cured with surgery.

There are two forms of surgery. In the first, the passage of the ear canal is re-directed downwards (otoplasty) to solve the problem by allowing the ear to drain naturally.

If the eardrum has already been lost and infection has spread to the middle or inner ears, total ablation (closure) of the ear is preferable. It is also the best solution when super-resistant bacteria take over the canal. Please also see my article on ear surgery .

These pets then go on to lead long happy lives even though their hearing is diminished.