Ear Infections


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Clinical signs can range anywhere from head shaking and ear scratching to excess debris and a foul odor.

Yes, they are aggravating… yes, they can be painful… and yes, they can be expensive. But with a little knowledge and a little effort, these stubborn infections can be resolved. Follow along on the first of a three-part series to learn more about your pet and what you can do.


Otitis externa (ear infection) is one of the most common medical conditions presented to our hospital. Clinical signs can range anywhere from head shaking and ear scratching to excess debris and a foul odor. Where do they come from? Ear infections are usually an opportunistic infection. They are laying silent, just waiting… waiting for the right conditions to develop. Yeast and bacteria are normal inhabitants of the ear canal in our pets. That’s the bad news. The good news is the canine and feline ear is extremely efficient in keeping these infectious agents in check. When the ear environment changes, their numbers can escalate to harmful levels. Therefore, it must be recognized that most ear infections, not all, are NOT contagious. They do not come from the backyard, the pool water, or the dog park! They’re already there. What triggers these agents to proliferate? The list is long, but most infections, nearly 75 to 80%, are caused by a single Common condition. What is the culprit? What starts the ball rolling? It’s everywhere. It’s all around us. It is very simple. It’s ALLERGIES! The inflammation created down the ear canal by a wide array of everyday allergens is the driving force behind the majority of otitis cases. Other primary causes include parasites, foreign bodies, hormonal imbalances of hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, as well as a host of skin conditions, including seborrhea and autoimmune diseases.

Dry the ears with bathroom tissues between your weekly treatments or whenever you suspect water in the ear canal.

Dry the ears with bathroom tissues between your weekly treatments or whenever you suspect water in the ear canal

Seem Hopeless?

Not really. Here’s what you can do. Keep ears clean and dry. For those ‘water doggies’ that can’t stay away from the beach, the pool, or the nearest sprinkler head—dry the ears routinely. Use a veterinary-approved cleaner/ drying agent in the form of a liquid medication to apply weekly. Dry the ears with bathroom tissues between your weekly treatments or whenever you suspect water in the ear canal. Removing hair from the ear opening helps prevent problems in those breeds with excessive ear hair. Most importantly, removing wax and debris buildup from the canal aids in the ears’ natural self-cleaning mechanism. Use a good ear cleanser formulated to break up wax and lipids that are commonly found with infection. Apply the cleanser liberally down the ear canal, massage it to break up the debris, and then clean out the canal as deep as possible. Remember the pet ear, unlike the human ear canal, takes a 90 degree bend, precluding any chance of damaging the deeper structures of the ear. Avoid Q-tips. In the next issue we will focus more specifically on the ‘how to’ of ear treatment and give you some helpful hints for even the most reluctant patient. Don’t be discouraged. Even if you follow all the right steps, some infections are destined to occur. Call your veterinarian. Don’t delay. Most cases of otitis externa will not resolve on their own. Resolution comes with early treatment before permanent ear Changes can occur.

Vet Exam

The veterinary visit usually consists of a four stage process in order to achieve the best chance of success.

Ear Infections 1

1 The exam starts by obtaining a good history. First-time occurrence? Pet having frequent flare ups? Are flare ups seasonal? Any signs of other skin diseases? Any signs of food allergies? Hormonal symptoms? Water exposure? Breed predilection for otitis? Any odor from ears? Character of discharge or debris from ear? Seems like a lot of questions, but all help your veterinarian put the pieces of the puzzle together for the best possible outcome.

2 Diagnostics. Analysis of a sample of debris from the deeper part of the ear canal has now become the standard of care. The information gathered from this swab/cytology will guide your vet in the course of treatment and proper selection of medication. Not all ear infections are created equal. Each infection is likely an entirely different type of infection with an entirely different set of problems and treatment. Don’t fall prey to the thinking that ‘what worked last time will work this time.’

3 Thorough ear cleaning under sedation. The sedative ear flush is the single most important component of treating otitis externa. It separates success from failure and gives your Pet the quickest path to eliminate pain and infection. Sedatives are safe and effective and allow your vet to clean the deeper structures of the ear canal without undue discomfort. Special instruments are passed down the ear canal through an ear scope to clean the areas of the ear you cannot reach. Long-term success will only come with a clean ear.

4 Selection of appropriate medication. The final step in ear treatment is using the proper ear product for your pet’s specific infection. In my experience, this is one of the most common areas that lead to failure. Medications come in 3 categories—cleansers, antibacterials and antifungals (yeast). Most treatment plans include the combination of cleansers and antibacterials or cleansers and antifungals. Both combinations work together synergistically to achieve what they cannot achieve alone. Product selection is dic-tated by the previous findings at the sedative ear flush and the ear cytology. The specific “how to” of home ear treatment will be covered in next month’s issue, but usually involves a two-stage process of applying a cleanser followed by an antimicrobial. Remember, otitis externa is not a quick fix, but with some help and guidance from your veterinary team, most occurrences can be knocked out in 7 to 14 days.

Village Park Animal Hospital is located at 51-230 Eisenhower Dr. in La Quinta. Village Park Animal Hospital also offers grooming services for dogs and cats. (760) 564-9364www.villageparkanimalhospital.com


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