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Ear Infections

By Katrina Geitner, D.V.M. - Kuenzi Family Pet Hospital, Waukesha, WI


Dr. KatrinaEar infections are a very common problem in dogs and cats. Many breeds are prone to ear infections. These include, but are not limited to Cocker Spaniels, Retrievers, Bassett Hounds, and Irish Setters. Ear infections can be a result of water in the ears, allergies, parasites, yeast, foreign bodies, or tumors. Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t find a cause for the ear infection.

Commonly, owners will notice their pet has an ear infection when they notice an odor, discharge, or head shaking and working at the ear. When we see a pet with an ear infection we examine both ears with an otoscope. The doctor usually swabs the ear to determine the source of infection. We take a swab of the debris from the ear and examine it under a microscope to determine if the problem is due to a parasite, yeast, or bacterial infection.

Bacterial infections can occur in conjunction with yeast infections or alone. Often times they will have a creamy discharge with a sour odor. Bacterial infections are very common in dogs and less common in cats. Usually we recommend culturing the ear canal to help us choose an effective antibiotic to treat the ear infection. While we are waiting for the culture results we will start with a topical ear medication and an oral antibiotic that will likely be effective against the bacteria. Sometimes the bacteria we find in ear canals is so virulent we need to turn to very strong (and expensive) oral antibiotics or injectable antibiotics. In chronic cases treatment may last up to 6 weeks or longer. In very chronic and severe cases aggressive ear surgery may be recommended.

Yeast infections are very common in dogs and less common in cats. They are usually treated with a topical medication that has an anti-yeast medication. Yeast infections usually present with a thick brown-black discharge with a very distinct “yeasty” odor. The ear is cleaned with a recommended ear cleaner to remove organic debris and the ointment is applied twice a day. Treatment usually lasts 7-10 days. Sometimes, yeast ear infections can be very resistant to routine treatment. At that time ear flushes under anesthesia and oral medications may be recommended. In chronic cases treatment may last up to 6 weeks or longer.

Parasite infections are usually a result of “ear mites”. It is more common for cats than dogs to have ear mite infections. Dogs very rarely get ear mites unless closely associated with infected cats or dogs. Ear mites are commonly seen in kittens and outdoor cats. Parasite infections usually present with a dry brown black discharge. We have a very effective product, Revolution, that is applied topically to the pets skin and it will get rid of the ear mites.

Food allergies are a common reason for resistant ear infections and chronic recurrent ear infections. If your Doctor suspects food allergies he/she may recommend special diets to feed exclusively for a minimum of 6 weeks to help determine if food allergies may be the primary cause of the ear infections.