One of the most common presenting dermatologic complaints that comes through the veterinary clinic is the development of ear inflammation/infections in dogs and cats. Ear infections can be one of the most painful conditions in veterinary medicine, leading to symptoms of itching/pawing of the ears, shaking of the head, increased sensitivity and reluctance to be pet or touched near the ears, swelling, redness, crustiness and increased odor and discharge of varying intensities. In severe cases, there may be leakage of blood from blood vessels in the ear flaps, leading to the development of fluid like swellings known as ear hematomas.
While ear mites are a common cause of discomfort in younger cats and dogs, overgrowth of yeast and/or bacteria are usually the culprits found in most adult and senior pets. By far the most common underlying causes of ear inflammation and infection in adult pets are underlying allergies, such as inhalant/contact or food allergies. Other pets may have hormonal conditions such as a low thyroid, common in middle age and older dogs. Certainly pets that like to spend a lot of time swimming in pools, lakes or oceans, are much more prone to the development of a swimmer’s ear type of condition.
With chronic inflammation, the ear canals may thicken and close, leading to secondary polyps and growths, as well as the loss of hearing in pets afflicted with long term ear problems. Any pets with signs of ear discomfort as noted above should have a thorough veterinary exam and evaluation to properly evaluate the ear canals with visual and otoscopic exam. This allows an accurate evaluation of the degree of pathology, as well as whether the ear drum is intact; this will help guide and direct treatment and medication choice, based on evaluation of the ear discharge under the microscope for proper identification of yeast and/or bacteria. In severe cases, an ear culture also may be obtained by a veterinarian to insure that the appropriate medication is prescribed.
Treatment will often involve the use of various acidifying and drying agents that are used to clean and deodorize the ear canals. Products such as Epi-Otic and 1800PetMeds Ear Cleansing Solution are often quite helpful for this part of treatment, and I often encourage animal guardians to use such products preventatively, especially in those pets with ear anatomy that limits access of air and easy discharge, such as Cocker spaniels and various retriever breeds. Regular use of such solutions after pets swim is also encouraged to help prevent secondary ear infections. In severe cases, prescription antibiotics such as Surolan, Mometamax, and Posatex may be prescribed by veterinarians.
If ear hematomas develop, surgical drainage will be necessary by the pet’s veterinarian. It is also extremely important for veterinarians and animal guardian to address common underlying allergic conditions in affected pets, or ear problems will likely recur.