Ear infections are very common in dogs, and can sometimes affect cats as well. They usually occur when the bacteria and yeast that are normally in the ear canal take an opportunity to overgrow when the conditions are right. The perfect conditions for overgrowth are warmth and moisture. For that reason, ear infections are more likely in dogs with floppy or hairy ears, or with excessive wax production, because this stops moisture and heat from escaping the ear canals. It is important to remember that sore ears are not always infected – other causes include foreign bodies in the ears, excessive wax, allergies or injuries.
A dog with sore or itchy ears may scratch the ears and shake or tilt its head. Sometimes your dog will cry in pain when you touch the ears. You may notice redness, swelling and/or discharge in the ears, and this can sometimes be smelly. Sometimes ear pain can lead to a general feeling of unwellness, and your pet may be quieter than usual or lose its appetite.
First, we will use an otoscope to examine the inside of the ear canal. This will allow us to see a foreign body if there is one, and helps us assess whether the ear drum is intact. If we are suspicious of an infection, we may need to make a smear of the discharge in the ear to check under the microscope to find out what is causing the problem – bacteria, yeast or mites. If we are concerned that a particularly nasty type of bacteria are involved, or if we are not having success with conventional treatments, we may recommend culturing the bacteria to make sure we choose an antibiotic that will kill the bacteria.
The most successful way to treat ear infections is with topical treatment (applied directly into the ear canal). However, topical treatments can only work after we remove the majority of the debris in the canal. For this reason, we may recommend sedation or anaesthesia to flush out the ear canal before commencing therapy at home. A number of different types of ear drops are available, and we need to choose one based on the type of bacteria, yeast or mites that are causing the problem. If there is a lot of swelling in the ear canal, we may also prescribe tablets to treat this.
Here you can find information and advice about common problems and diseases. Please remember, though, that this information can't replace a visit to the vet!