Pet Corner: Recognizing and treating ear infections

Published 10:12 am Wednesday, August 1, 2018

One of the most common reasons for pets to be taken to their veterinarian is because of ear infections.

Some breeds of dogs, such as cocker spaniels, bassett hounds and other breeds with large floppy ears, are more prone to ear infections.

Dogs with an excessive amount of hair in their ear canal are also prone to ear infections because not enough air can circulate in the ear canal, causing a warm and moist environment for infection to develop.

In general, cats that are allowed to go outside are more likely to develop an ear infection.

There are several different causes of ear infections in dogs and cats. Several different bacteria and a particular kind of yeast are capable of causing ear infections. It is extremely difficult to treat an ear infection unless the actual cause is known.

You should always have your pet’s ear problem examined by your veterinarian to determine the exact cause and allow for maximum response to treatment.

There are also several underlying causes of ear infections. Often, there is a primary problem leading to a secondary ear infection. Even ear mites might allow for a secondary ear infection to occur.

Allergies are often responsible for chronic ear infections. Many dogs with significant allergies continue to have ongoing ear infections.

Allergies in dogs and cats are very different from allergies in people. Allergies in dogs and cats cause their skin to become irritated, inflamed and very itchy. The skin in a pet’s ear canal is lined with oil-producing glands. When their allergies cause irritation of the ear canal, excess oil is produced causing an environment in the ear canal suitable for bacteria and yeast to grow.

One of the most unusual scenarios of medical events is the process in which food allergies in pets cause chronic ear infections.

Dogs and cats may exhibit gastrointestinal symptoms with food allergies, but more often than not, food allergies cause skin problems.

Food allergies tend to cause an excess of production of substances from certain glands. The classical food allergy dog has chronic ear infection and chronic anal gland issues.

Thyroid conditions and other hormonal imbalances may lead to problems with reoccurring ear infections. Similar to allergies, hormonal imbalances in dogs and cats often cause problems seen in their skin. Once again, these skin abnormalities may lead to chronic ear infections.

Other problems such as foreign bodies or more likely a polyp in the ear canal will result in an ear infection that will not respond to treatment. For this reason alone, it is extremely important to have your pet’s ears examined routinely as well as whenever there seems to be a problem.

Even more importantly, there are certain medications that will cause hearing loss if administered to a pet that has a ruptured eardrum. This can only be detected by a thorough ear examination by your veterinarian.

The most common symptoms of ear infection are pets shaking their head or scratching at their ears with their rear paw.

Most of the time, the infection will cause an unpleasant odor. Often, a dog owner will bathe their dog not knowing where the smell is coming from and realize after the bath the odor is still present.

Fortunately, most pets show these specific symptoms so the infection does not go unnoticed for long.

Treatment of ear infections is dependent on the type of organism causing the infection as well as any underlying primary problem leading to the infection. Obviously, treating the primary cause is imperative for long-term management of chronic ear infections.

Systemic antibiotics are often needed to fight nasty ear infections as well as anti-inflammatory pain medications to manage the often painful condition.

Regardless of the type of infection or the cause, treatment always consists of applying medicine directly into the ear canal. Fortunately, now we have a very unique medication that only has to be administered in the ear canal one time and it stays in the ear continuing to fight infection for two weeks.

You no longer have to chase your dog around the house trying to get squirt ointment into their ear every day for two weeks.

If your pet shows any symptoms of ear infections, see your veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure your pet lives a long, healthy and happy life.

Dr. Jeff Castle is a veterinarian at Clark County Veterinary Clinic.