Ear infections are common in dogs and cats of all ages, breeds, and environments. The ear canal is divided into three sections: externa – external canal; media – middle canal; and interna – internal canal. Ear infections may occur in any or all of these sections, and can be caused by a number of influences. Depending on the cause of the infection, there are several preventative treatments and treatments indicated for recovery.
Commonly, ear infections in dogs and cats are caused by parasites, such as fleas and mites; environmental conditions, such as extreme heat; foreign objects, such as plant particles; and allergies. Other possible causes include fungus, build-up of dead skin cells, wax, moisture, fur blockage, autoimmune disease, yeast, and reaction to medication. Any irritation to the ear can cause the dog or cat to scratch. If the animal breaks the skin, and bacteria from the nails invades the abrasion, infection is possible. As the ear canal is most often obscured by earflaps and or fur, ear infections may begin undetected, but can quickly become a more serious problem.
Prevention of Ear Infections
As there are so many possible causes, ear infections cannot be universally prevented. It is important to routinely check the ear canals for infection and keep them free of debris. However, nothing, including Q-tips, should ever be poked into the ear canal because it can push debris further inside, causing inflammation and possible infection. It can also damage the eardrum, resulting in possible hearing problems and pain. Keeping the canals free of waxy build-up and parasites can positively affect ear health, but be wary of caustic cleansing liquids, as they can be damaging to your pet's health. Several over-the-counter products available are safe and effective for routine ear cleansing. Keeping an eye on your pet’s ear canals and good hygiene will help prevent ear infections from further damage to the ears.
Ear Infection Tests Explained
Typically, a veterinarian will be able to tell whether your dog or cat has an ear infection just by looking into the ear canals. Common symptoms of ear infections are usually easily visible to a veterinarian with the proper tools. It may be necessary for your veterinarian to take blood samples and perform allergy tests to determine the cause, along with testing the infection discharge for fungus, yeast, bacteria, and parasites. In rare cases, x-rays, CT scans and MRIs may be necessary to determine any damage. Any of these tests may require the dog or cat to be sedated or put under anesthesia.
Common symptoms of ear infections include hearing loss, inflammation, redness, irritation, discharge, and odor. If the irritation causes skin breakage, scabs may be visible near the earflap. Hair loss around the ear can indicate infection, and may be caused by scratching the affected area. There are many behavioral symptoms of ear infections, and can be obvious indicators that your pet needs veterinarian attention; darting eye movement, pushing affected ear on the furniture or floor, walking in circles and shaking head as if trying to get water out of ears.
Often the first round of treatment a veterinarian recommends is a course of systemic or topical corticosteroids. Steroids used in addition to antibiotics are a quick and effective way to reduce swelling and keep bacteria at bay. If the infection does not subside, the veterinarian may be able to rule out root causes and move onto anti-fungal medications, and perhaps recommend ear flushing with vinegar and water. In cases of major obstruction or tumors, surgical removal may be the only viable option.
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.