The two most common types of ear infections are otitis externa (infection of the external ear canal) and otitis media (infection of the middle ear). Certain breeds are dogs are more prone to ear infections due to their lifestyle or the structure of their ear canals. Those dogs with very long floppy ears or very hairy ears seem to get infections more frequently. Most ear infections are easily treated, but if left untreated, they can result in serious damage and pain.
Ear infections are often secondary to other factors. Wax accumulation, matted hair, foreign bodies, allergies, mites, or tumors can all predispose an animal to ear infections. Signs of an infection include shaking the head, scratching the ears, or displaying a head tilt. There is often excess discharge from the ears, they may be red and inflamed, as well as may have an offensive odor.
A good ear exam will involve the veterinarian using an otoscope – an instrument that provides light and magnification to view the ear canal. A video otoscope can be used for further visibility as well as to allow you to actually see inside the ear as well. Using the otoscope, the veterinarian can determine if the ear drum is intact and if any foreign material is in the canal. The next step is to take a sample or smear of material from the ear canal to be viewed under a microscope. This is called a cytology and allows the veterinarian to determine the organism causing the infection and thus determine proper treatment.
On some occasions, sedation may be required to either remove foreign material or to cleanse the ear canal. Middle ear infections may require further diagnostics as well. Treatment may be required for two weeks up to two months depending on the type of infection, the portion of the ear infected, and the severity of the infection. The key is to be sure to treat until the infection is fully resolved or it will simply ‘return’. Once the infection has resolved, your veterinarian can advise you on simple preventative measures to help reduce the chances of further infections. Pets with chronic ear problems will require life-long preventative measures to ensure their comfort and good health.