Ear infections are reasonably common in domestic animals, particularly in dogs. There are a number of underlying causes, including:
- Hair in the ear canal (esp. poodles, cocker spaniels and German Shepherds)
- Foreign bodies in the ear canal (eg. grass seeds, hair, fleas, insects)
- Excessively moist environment (esp. dogs with droopy ears, or those that swim frequently)
- Anatomical arrangement (long, narrow, moist ear canal; floppy ears)
- Secondary to skin allergies and chronic ear inflammation.
- Various bacteria or yeast organisms can cause ear infections.
Signs and symptoms include:
- Head shaking and scratching at the ears with the paws; rubbing ears along the ground.
- Discharge or noticeable smell from the ears
- Animal may stand with one ear held down
- Lethargy, depression and restlessness
What can we do about infections?
The vet will examine your pet’s ears with an otoscope to see if there is any visible reason for infection and to assess the state of the eardrum. This may need to be done under sedation if the ear is particularly painful, and/or your pet very sensitive.
A smear of the ear discharge is usually taken and examined under the microscope to accurately identify the type (and degree) of infection present. This enables us to select the correct type of ear medication for the infection. If no improvement is seen, a swab will be sent to the laboratory for culture of the bacteria and antibiotic sensitivity testing. This allows even more accurate identification of the exact type of micro-organism present and also tests which antibiotics it is sensitive (and resistant) to.
The usual course of treatment involves ear drops twice daily for 2 weeks. It is then a good idea to leave the ears untreated for 3-5 days, and then re-visit the clinic for a repeat ear swab. This allows us to confirm that the ear infection has fully resolved.
Chronic or recurring ear infections
Common causes of chronic or recurring ear infections are:
- Antibiotic resistance – can lead to chronic infections. Laboratory testing will identify this.
- Skin allergy – leads to recurring ear infections. Your pet’s allergy needs to be addressed.
- Life-style – eg. regular swimming. Can lead to recurring ear infections.
- Conformation and shape of the ear.
Prevention of Ear Infections
- Weekly cleaning of the ears with Oticlens or another ear cleaner recommended by the veterinarian. This loosens wax deposits and any foreign material and helps keep the environment in the ear dry and unfriendly to bacteria.
- It is particularly important to clean ears after swimming.
- Management of any underlying causes or conditions with ear cleaners recommended by the veterinarian.
Do not leave ear infections untreated in hopes that they will go away! This will not happen! The more chronic the infection, the harder it is to treat and the more resistant the bacteria become to our antibiotics. Chronic infection predisposes to life long ear problems and can also result in aural haematomas – a swelling of your pet’s ear caused by head shaking that bursts blood vessels in the ear flap. This condition usually requires surgery to resolve – as well as treatment for the cause.
For further information contact our clinic, our nurses also provide a free ear cleaning service.