Tracey Wood, DVM

Ear infections are a common condition which can be painful to the pet and can be frustrating for owners to treat and try to prevent.  Ear infections in dogs and cats are usually caused by multiple factors.  Each needs to be addressed in order to provide the optimal outcome. 

Symptoms of an ear infection (otitis externa):

  1. Pain
  2. Head Shaking
  3. Scratching at ear(s)
  4. Smell or discharge in the ear canal
  5. Redness or inflammation of ear and canal
  6. Holding head down

When first presented a patient with a possible ear infection I will obtain a thorough history from the pet’s guardian.  How long has there been a problem?  Has this occurred before?  When did problems first begin?  What kind of food is the pet on?  Are there any other skin problems the pet is also having?

Potential causes include:

  1. Parasites (ear mites) 
  2. Foreign bodies (plant awns, etc…) 
  3. Tumors or polyps 
  4. Allergic or Hypersensitivity reactions (most common) with secondary infection. 

I then will perform a full physical exam and end with examination of the ear.  I check for inflammation, smell, discharge and pain.  I will look for polyps or foreign bodies in the ear canal.  I will use my otoscope to look into the deep canal if the pet is not too painful.  I then obtain swab samples from the ear to look for ear mites, bacterial or yeast infection, or abnormal cells.  If this is a recurrent infection, a swab with a culture may be performed. 

The most common cause of otitis externa we see in dogs and cats is an underlying allergy which causes inflammation and itching of the ear canal.  The itching then sets up an infection.  So we treat the infection but have to dig deeper to try and control the allergy component.  It may be food related or related to environmental allergens. 

Treatment plans may include cleaning/flushing the ear canal, application of medication to the ear canal, injections and/or oral medications.  A hypoallergenic food trial may be recommended.  **The most important thing to remember is that ear infections need to be rechecked to make sure they are fully resolved.  Even if the ear looks better, stopping treatment too early is the biggest reason for recurrence of the infection. 

So remember the Triple T’s:  Treat Early, Treat until fully resolved, Treat underlying issues.