Angry Ears -- Managing Your Pets Ear Infection

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Angry Ears -- Managing Your Pets Ear Infection

As spring continues to make its way into the Vail Valley with summertime not far behind, the warmer weather can bring up medical maladies in our furry family members. Along with an exponential increase in the flea, tick, and mosquito populations (which can cause a host of illnesses as these critters can carry transmittable diseases to you and your pet), summertime activities such as hiking and swimming can predispose to issues as well. If you have a dog with especially long, floppy ears that adores spending time in the water, you may be attuned to the fact that they are more susceptible to ear infections during this time of the year. Although ear infections can start out as a minor irritation, they can develop into a much larger issue if not treated promptly.

Although ear infections can occur at any time of the year, warm weather can make it more likely for your pet to develop an infection. There are many predisposing factors, including the anatomy of the ear itself (heavy, floppy, or hairy ears), but summertime brings with it seasonal allergies that can make your pet scratch their ears as well as the increased time spent in bodies of water. The ear canal of a dog is shaped so that there are several places small drops of water can collect, leaving a dark, moist environment for unfavorable organisms to grow. Additionally, if your pet scratches their ears they are causing small areas of trauma to the skin which, again, allows for an excellent growing environment for microbes.

The most common bugs that cause ear infections are yeast (usually Malassezia spp.) and cocci bacteria (round-shaped organisms commonly Staphylococcus psuedintermedius). These organisms will cause clinical signs such as red, itchy, smelly ears with mild to severe amounts of brown, black, or tan debris in the ear canals. Other bacteria such as Psudomonas aeruginosa and Klebsiella spp. can cause infections with very similar signs but will often require different treatment than yeast or cocci infections. Your veterinarian will want to perform an ear cytology to determine what organism(s) are causing your pet’s infection and can choose the appropriate therapy. Often, treatment will consist of daily topical ear medication and ear flush for 1-2 weeks. Some pets that may be difficult to treat at home can be given a long-acting topical ear gel treatment that only requires 2 doses 1 week apart at your vet clinic and then will continue acting for up to 45 days after the second treatment. 

Many pets can develop recurring or resistant ear infections, which means either the infection comes back within a few weeks of treatment or it never fully heals due to resistance of the infectious organism to the chosen therapy. At this point, an ear culture is recommended to grow the organism(s) causing the issue and determine to which medications they are susceptible. This is usually a more expensive test--however, if accurate results are obtained and the correct medication can be started based on those results, the treatment process for your pet will be much more effective.

Although many ear infections are mild and short-lived with medication, if left untreated for too long, irreversible damage may be done to the outer, middle, or inner ear. This may cause permanent ear problems for your pet or may result in the need for surgery of the ear. That is why it is always best to have your pet seen as soon as possible if you suspect an ear infection, not only to keep your pet pain-free but to prevent further damage to the ear itself. If you notice signs of head-shaking, itching, red, dirty, or irritated ears, get in touch with your local veterinarian to have an exam performed and determine if treatment is needed.

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