Icky Ears

posted on September 01, 2016 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

This time of year we start seeing a lot of seasonal allergies pick up again, and one of the things that goes hand in hand (paw in paw?) with allergies for some pets is ear infections.

There are a number of different types of ear infections, also known as otitis.  There are a normal amount of bacteria and yeast that live on the skin, and the immune system usually keeps them in check.  When conditions are right for the yeast or bacteria to overgrow, or if the immune systems is not able to work properly, an infection can start.  Infections can be just bacteria, just yeast, or a mixed infection of both.

Wet conditions and lack of airflow into the ear can cause yeast and bacteria to overgrow.  Pets that swim a lot, or get water into their ears during bathing, or even pets with long floppy ears, may be more prone to ear infections.  We generally recommend using a veterinary ear cleaner after bathing or swimming to help prevent this.  The ear cleaners we carry have a drying agent in them to help prevent the water buildup leading to bacteria or yeast overgrowth.

Allergies are the immune system over reacting to things in the environment, usually things it does not need to react to.  This can change the skin’s immune response, and can also lead to secondary infections especially if there is inflammation or if the pet is scratching the skin raw.  This can lead to overgrowth of bacteria and/or yeast as well.

Pets can also get mites in the ear.  These usually occur in young puppies and kittens, but can occur in any pet exposed to them.

If left untreated, ear infections, regardless of cause, can cause further problems.  If the pet is shaking their head excessively, an ear hematoma can form.  This is when the small blood vessels in the ear flap (pinna) break and the ear pinna fills with fluid.  Ear infections can also affect the ear drum and potentially hearing and balance.

If you notice your pet has a foul odor in it’s ear, has discharge or redness to the ear, or is shaking it’s head and scratching excessively, we should probably examine them.  We will likely want to take a sample of any discharge present, so don’t clean it before coming in.  We will examine it under a microscope to look for yeast, bacteria, white blood cells, red blood cells, skin cells, or mites.  This helps us determine which type of medication and treatment is best.  We may also examine the ear drum and perform a thorough cleaning for you.  Medications and cleanings may be prescribed for you to do at home, and we will show you how to do these.  Call us today if you think your pet has an ear infection!

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