Why Does My Pet Get Ear Infections?

I’m sure most of us are familiar with that tell-tale odour coming from our furry friend’s ears – that very annoying ear infection.

Ear infections are common in many dogs. Dogs that are at a higher risk for infections are the “floppy-eared” dogs. Air does not get into the ear canal very well, therefore, the ear stays constantly moist which is prime breeding grounds for yeast and bacteria. Also, dogs that swim a lot are more at risk for chronic infections for the same reason – chronically moist ears. Dogs with allergies can also tend to have a higher occurrence of ear issues as well. And well, sometimes, there’s just no rhyme or reason to it, it just happens. Some animals are plagued with chronic ear issues, others may only have one or two infections in their lifetime. Cats can and DO get ear infections as well, however, it’s typically not as common.

Common signs of ear infections are: head shaking, head tilt, scratching/pawing at the ears, pet holding ear down/flat against its head, rubbing head against objects, refusal to allow you to touch or shows obvious discomfort to having its head/ears touched, presence of debris in the ear and of course that tell-tale odor emanating from the pet.

Many people do not understand why an ear swab needs to be done at the vet clinic. The reason is stated above, yeast and bacteria. The vet needs to do a swab to view under the microscope to determine what infection she needs to target since yeast and bacteria are treated very differently. Yeast requires an anti-fungal, whereas, bacteria require an antibiotic. Different medications are prescribed based on what the vet finds in the ear.

Some ear infections require more than one round of treatment with medications which is why rechecking the ears after treatment is crucial in making sure the infection has COMPLETELY cleared up before there’s a break in the treatment regimen. The ear may look to be healed up (no more smell or gunk present) but if there’s even still a bit of infection present that remains untreated it WILL flare up again, putting your pet back at square one. Ear infections do NOT go away on their own – they’ll only get worse without treatment.

There are many home remedies found on the internet and while some do work to help keep infections at bay, most are not enough to fully prevent or treat an infection. In some cases it’s unsafe to try to treat this condition at home – if the eardrum has been ruptured, some medications and treatments could potentially lead to a permanent hearing loss. Some of these home remedies may lead you to believe they are really working when in fact they are not (they are simply masking the symptoms). There are, however, some things you CAN do to help minimize the occurrence of infections. Using an appropriate ear cleaner/ear treatment helps as does cleaning your pet’s ears regularly. Some ear cleaners are designed to have a drying agent in them to help dry out the ear canal. How often you need to use them depends on your pet. Ear infections are not only frustration and costly to treat (especially if your pet is one of the unlucky ones to suffer chronically) but also painful for your pet.

Talk to your vet and together you can put a plan in place to help reduce these annoyances, thus saving your bank account and fido’s comfort.

Written by Lisa Michalik, RVT