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Otitis (Ear infections)

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Otitis is the clinical term for ear infections.  Ear infections are a common problem in pets.  Dogs and cats have deep ear canals that act like megaphones to magnify sound.  This means our pets hear better than we do, but it also creates a good environment for ear infections.  The deep ear canals tend to trap moisture and wax, creating a warm and humid environment that is ideal for growth of bacteria and yeast.  In addition, many dogs have floppy ears or hair growing inside the ear that closes off the canal, which adds to the problem of developing ear infections.

Ear mites can also live in the ear canal, causing irritation and making the ears itch.  These mites are especially common in kittens.

Pets with ear infections usually rub or scratch at their ears and shake their heads often.  The inside of the ear frequently looks red, moist, and inflamed, and infected ears often have a bad odor.  In severe cases, infection may spread through the ear drum into the middle ear, which can cause pets to lose their balance.  Middle ear infections can further spread to the bone, requiring long-term therapy. Chronic ear infections can toughen and scar the ear canal, and sometimes surgery is required to open the passage way.

Your veterinarian will examine the ear canal with an otoscope.  This instrument allows your vet to check the severity of the infection, look for foreign material (eg, plant awns), and see if the ear drum is intact.  He or she may also examine some material from the ear under a microscope to look for things like ear mites and yeast cells.

Treatment begins with cleaning the ears.  In severe cases, anesthesia may be needed to do a thorough job.  Ear drops are usually prescribed to clear the infection and remove mites (if needed).  Oral antibiotics are often needed if there is a middle ear infection.

Unfortunately, ear infections often recur without regular preventive care.  Ears should be cleaned frequently (eg, weekly), especially if your dog swims or goes in water often.

 

Q&A

Why do pets get ear infections?

Dogs and cats have deep ear canals that tend to trap moisture and wax, creating a warm and humid environment that is ideal for growth of bacteria, yeast, and mites.  In addition, many dogs have floppy ears or hair growing inside the ear that closes off the canal, which adds to the problem.


What happens if the ear infection goes untreated?

Untreated infections may spread through the ear drum into the middle ear, which can lead to deafness and deep-seated infections that require long-term therapy.  Chronic ear infections can toughen and scar the ear canal, so that surgery may be required to open the passageway.


How are ear infections treated?

Treatment begins with cleaning the ears (often under anesthesia), followed by a course of ear drops to clear infection, kill mites (if needed), and relieve inflammation.  Oral antibiotics are often needed if there is a middle ear infection.


How can I prevent recurrences of ear infections?

Regular preventive care can help prevent recurrence.  Ears should be cleaned frequently (eg, weekly) with a vet-approved cleaner, especially if your dog swims or goes in water often.

 


 

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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