Many pet owners will experience their pet having an ear infection. Ear infections can be acute or chronic and generally have a successful outcome when treated properly.
Symptoms of ear infections include head shaking, itching/scratching/pawing at ears or side of face, redness and inflammation, debris in ear(s), painful ear(s) (not willing to be touched/scratched there), discharge from ear(s) and odour from ear(s).
The skin naturally has some amount of bacteria and yeast, and in normal circumstances, do not cause any issues. In many cases, some change in conditions can lead to an overgrowth of these organisms, causing infection. These conditions can include pet’s anatomy, immune suppression, environmental conditions, allergies, skin pH, wax production/build-up, water in the ear after a swim or bath, foreign bodies (foxtails), ear mites and hair deep in the canal, to name a few. It should also be noted that some breeds are pre-disposed to ear infections and can have recurrent or chronic infections throughout their life. Whatever the case, it is generally due to an accumulation of wax and debris that facilitates infection, as wax and debris promote bacteria and yeast growth. It is not uncommon to have a mixed infection of bacteria and yeast.
A sample is collected from each ear separately (or the affected ear) before they are cleaned and/or medication administered. After microscopic evaluation of the sample, a diagnosiscan be made and appropriate medication can be selected by the veterinarian.
The ear(s) are then usually cleaned out with a mild cleaner that breaks up wax and contains a drying agent so the liquid dries quickly in the ear canal.
Once cleaned, the appropriate medication in applied into the ear, following the instructions from the veterinarian. Remember to clean the medication bottle tip between ears and administrations.
You can always ask your veterinarian to demonstrate how to clean the ears and/or administer the medication!
Your veterinarian will usually recommend a recheck appointment in 7-14 days, depending on the medication used, and this is usually right before or at the end of the treatment period. This is to make sure the treatment is not stopped before the infection has resolved. Sometimes a longer treatment regimen is required to eliminate the infection.
If left untreated for a long period, complications can occur. These can include aural hematomas, middle ear infection, vestibular symptoms, nerve damage and actual changes in the ear canal.
Please note that every animal is considered a unique case for treatment, and sometimes extenuating circumstances and veterinarian diagnoses/preferences may require different treatments (including surgery) or protocols to control and treat infection.
Cleaning the ear:
- Appropriate ear cleaner is selected. Generally a cleaner with a ceruminolytic agent (wax softener) and drying agent is used. It is not recommended to use vinegar, alcohol or hydrogen peroxide based products as they can irritate the skin, and are uncomfortable/painful to an animal with any inflammation in the ear.
- Hold the ear flap up to show the ear canal and to help straighten out the ear canal. Administer the ear cleaner into the ear canal. It is not necessary to place the tip of the bottle into the canal (as we worry about the ear drum rupturing, especially if your pet is wiggly or small, and can transfer bacteria/yeast from ear to ear).
- Gently massage/rub the base of the ear to work the cleaner around and into the canal. This is usually done for 15-30 seconds, depending on how tolerant your pet is. A squishing sound should be heard while massaging the ear.
- Allow your pet to shake their head. I advise closing your mouth and turning your head to avoid debris from getting into your eyes and mouth.
- Holding the ear flap, wipe away debris from the outer part of the ear with a cotton ball or gauze. Repeat until cotton ball or gauze comes away clean.
- Using a new cotton ball or gauze, clean the inner part of the ear. Do not place your finger into the canal past the first-second knuckle or as far as your finger will reach comfortably. Repeat until cotton ball or gauze comes away clean. If you can still see debris inside the ear, you can apply the cleaning solution to the gauze/cotton ball and repeat. We do not recommend using a Q-tip or other cotton tipped applicator, as this can cause damage to the ear canal/ear drum and push debris further into the ear.
- Wipe the tip of the ear cleaner bottle using some isopropyl alcohol to remove any unwanted debris and eliminate any infectious organisms.
- Repeat for the other ear, or as directed by your veterinarian.
- Feel free to offer treats for positive behaviour and to make ear cleaning a positive experience for your pet.
- Remember to clean the ear before medication is applied, not after.