Pet ear infections are one of the most common problems that veterinarians diagnose and treat. If your pet repeatedly gets ear infections, you naturally feel frustrated. Recurring ear infections are ear-itating–in more ways than one. The first week of May is National Pet Week, and Village Animal Hospital is celebrating the human-animal bond by shedding some light on this common pet problem. Read on for our answers to the most frequently asked questions about chronic pet ear infections.

How common are pet ear infections?

Ear infections are probably the second or third most common problem that veterinary teams see in their pet patients. Ear infections are more common in dogs than in cats, but cat ear infections are often complicated by polyps (i.e., growths in the ear), and can be severe. Signs that your pet has an ear infection include head shaking and scratching at the ears, which may have discharge and odor.

Why are pet ear infections so common?

Many factors make ear infections a common problem in pets, including:

  • Ear canal anatomy — The dog’s ear canal is long and L-shaped, which means that wax and debris accumulate in rather than exit the ear.
  • Ear flap anatomy — Dogs’ long ears flop over to keep the ear warm, moist, and dark, creating the perfect conditions for infection to flourish.
  • Ear hair growth — Many dog breeds have excessive hair that blocks the ear canal.
  • Behavior — Many dogs love the water, which adds to their ear moisture. 

Why does my pet repeatedly get ear infections?

Most pet ear infections are simple, and resolve after the first treatment course. Some pets, however, are prone to repeated ear infections, most commonly because of allergies. Pets with seasonal allergies will often suffer from ear infections that flare up in the spring and fall. Food allergies can be an underlying reason for a pet’s recurring itchy ears. Or, your pet’s ears may continue to itch despite cleaning because parasites (e.g., ear mites) are living in the ear, or a foreign object (e.g., a grass awn) has migrated to the ear.

Why is pet ear cytology and pet ear cleaning performed at every recheck?

To choose the most effective medication, we need to know your pet’s infection type, which can shift with time and treatment. Some ear infections are predominantly caused by a fungus or yeast, or cocci-shaped bacteria. Some of the worst chronic ear infections are those with rod-shaped bacteria. If your pet’s ear infection does not respond well to treatment, and a microscopic examination of cytology reveals many bacteria, we may perform a culture and sensitivity test to ensure we choose the best antibiotic. 

Why does my pet need oral pills for an ear infection?

Most ear infections can be treated with ointment or drops in the ear once to twice daily for one to two weeks. Some chronically infected ears, however, may have severe swelling, redness, and open sores, and require a course of antibiotics by mouth. Pets with extremely tender ears also may require oral pain medication. Some chronically infected pet ear canals swell almost shut, which makes administering topical medications into the ear canal almost impossible, and anti-inflammatory medication by mouth necessary.

Can I use an alternative for my pet who is reluctant to let me handle his ears?

Our first-line treatment for pet ear infections often involves a prescription for you to clean and treat the ears at home. Our team will walk you through the best method for applying the ear cleaner, massaging the ear base, wiping out the ear, and applying the medicated drops a few minutes later. For some families, however, cleaning and medicating their pet’s ears is simply not feasible. If you feel unable to treat your pet’s ear infection daily, let us know. We can then thoroughly clean your pet’s ear when you visit, and place a customized, long-acting topical medication into their ears (i.e., “pack the ears”). You do not need to clean your pet’s ears after this treatment, which will continue to work for two to four weeks.

How can I prevent my pet’s ear infection from becoming chronic?

Our team can provide a gentle, drying, pet ear-cleansing solution that creates an ideal pH balance to deter infection. Using this cleaner on a regular basis, such as once weekly or anytime your pet gets wet, can catch ear infections early, and help with prevention. If your pet has underlying environmental allergies, set up an appointment with us, and we will create an allergy treatment plan. We can also diagnose and treat pet food allergies with a prescription limited or novel-ingredient diet that your pet eats exclusively.

Village Animal Hospital wants to celebrate National Pet Week by turning ear infection problems on their ear, so pets don’t have to suffer from chronic or recurring itchy, infected ears. Call us today to schedule a pet ear health appointment.