6 Tips for Treating Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats

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Ear Infections: The Problem No One Wants to Deal With

By Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM

Ear Infections are one of the most common canine and feline health problems, but that doesn’t mean veterinarians and owners are all that good at treating them. 

Owners often want a quick (and inexpensive) fix, and doctors can be unwilling to put in the time necessary to thoroughly explain the complexities behind many ear infections. To help remedy this situation, here are a few tips for treating ear infections in dogs and cats.

Ear Infections Are Typically the Result of Another Problem

In most cases, a pet’s ear infection should be viewed as a symptom of another, underlying condition. Allergies to ingredients in the pet’s food, or environmental triggers, like pollen, molds, and dust mites, are most common, but anatomical abnormalities, masses, foreign material within the ear, chronically damp ears, and hormonal disorders are also possible.

Ear Mites Are Rarely to Blame, Except in Kittens

Almost every case of ear mites I’ve diagnosed has been in a kitten. Puppies can also get ear mites, but if you have an adult dog or cat that has not been in contact with kittens or puppies with ear mites, the chances that he or she has mites is very small. Bacterial and/or yeast infections are much more likely.

Have the Ears Cleaned Properly – Your Veterinarian

Getting the “gunk” out of a pet’s ears is an essential part of treatment. In severe cases, a veterinarian may need to sedate the dog or cat to thoroughly flush out the ears down to the level of the ear drum. Examining the ear drum after cleaning is important because infections that involve structures behind the ear drum require more aggressive treatment, and certain topical medications can cause deafness when used on pets with ruptured ear drums.

Clean the Ears Properly – At Home

At home, owners should completely fill the ear canal until it overflows with the *cleaner prescribed by their veterinarian, fold the pinna (ear flap) over the canal, gently massage until a “squishy” noise is heard, and then stand back and let the dog or cat shake his or her head vigorously. The centrifugal forces generated by head shaking will bring deeper material to the surface where it can be wiped away. Do not dig down into your pet’s ear canal with cotton swabs or other objects as this will simply push the material deeper and possibly lead to a rupture of the ear drum.

*Do not use a cleaner in your pet’s ear until after it has been checked by a doctor, who has confirmed that the eardrum is intact and a cleaner is safe to use.

The Longer an Ear Infection Goes Without Treatment, the Harder it is to Get Rid of

Chronic ear infections can lead to permanent alterations in the anatomy of a dog or cat’s ears, making future infections more likely and more difficult to treat. Consult with a veterinarian quickly when your pet develops the typical signs of an ear infection: head shaking, scratching at the ears, and/or discharge and a foul odor from the ears.

Ear Infections Will Keep Reoccurring Unless the Underlying Problem is Dealt With

Healthy adult pets with “normal” ear anatomy almost never get ear infections. It is reasonable to treat the first infection that a dog or cat gets as a random event, but if the infection returns or fails to promptly resolve with appropriate therapy, a search for the underlying cause should commence.

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