Ear infections in dogs and cats are very common. For many years the reason for ear problems have not been completely understood. Ear mites, ear conformation, environmental factors, allergies, breed etc have all been listed as the cause of the problem. Owners will frequently consult with Dr Google and do many treatments on his advise before the patient sees the veterinarian…there is a saying in veterinary medicine – DO NO HARM…and another saying …TIME IS TRAUMA. The best advise to owners who suspect an ear problem in their pet is to go and see the veterinarian as soon as possible because over time ear infections become worse and worse and more and more painful. In infections over 6 weeks duration there is a 50 % chance of the ear drum being destroyed. The infection then gets into the middle ear which is very difficult to treat. To treat the middle ear anesthesia is needed as ear infections are very painful.

Signs of Ear Infections

  • Shaking head
  • Rubbing ears along the carpet or sofa or bed
  • Lethargy, sleeping a lot
  • Crying, flinching or snapping when the ear is handled
  • Discharge from ear(s) – can be black, white or grey
  • Ear flap or inside the ear may be red
  • Change of smell or the ear
  • Other dogs in household licking the ear

Many people think that dogs will help other dogs clean their ears by licking. This does not happen as the moisture and bacteria in saliva is not good for infected ears. Also the ear canal in dogs is very long and deep. What you see of the ear is a very small part of the ear canal. An otoscope and a cooperative patient is needed to look down the ear. If the dog or cat will not allow the vet to look down the ear it will need to be sedated or anesthetized.

Cost of Treatment

The cost of ear treatments vary depending on how deep the problem is and how long it has been going for. This will also affect the prognosis and outcome of treatment. Treatments with medication alone is usually only effective in very early ear infections which is why owners need to bring their pets into the clinic right away. If anesthesia is required the costs increase. Cultures of the infection in the ear are often needed and a deep ear flush of the middle ear is sometimes needed more than once. These are very painful procedures so should not be done awake. Avoid advise from untrained people. It is unfair to your pet.

In cases where treatments have been tried by untrained people the problems are often advanced making treatment more challenging and costly to the owner. As soon as you notice your pet shaking it’s head or scratching its ears make an appointment for an examination. At Little Mountain Veterinary Clinic our objective is to clear up the ear infection and give you, the owner, the tools and information to be able to maintain your pet’s health long term. This, in the long run, saves you money and saves your pet pain.

Regular Ear Homecare

In healthy ears of the dog and cat the ear canal is dry, clean and the skin appears pale pink in non pigmented pets. Sometimes you will see some wax. Please do not mistake this for an infection. The ear produces wax all the time and this wax is perfectly healthy and is part of the defense mechanism of the ear. When you see this do not assume that you should clean it out. Cleaning this out can actually create a problem if you either scratch the lining of the canal or if you add moisture. Moisture is in vinegar, water, and alcohol.

Constant moisture (water) through well meaning cleaning of the ear canal by owners can induce permanent ear infections by causing deterioration of the ear drum and entry of infection from the outer ear into the middle ear. When this happens we have a major problem and this is extremely painful. Many of these dogs are grouchy and sometimes aggressive. They do not like their heads patted. Amazingly some dogs are extremely tolerant in spite of this pain.

As a good rule of thumb do as your mum told you—nothing smaller than your elbow and no water in the ears. Be careful of the cleaners you use in the ears and follow the advise of your veterinarian.

OK—so what is too much wax?

If in the presence of a LOT of wax, the ear looks red; if the patient is scratching the ears or shaking the head; if the pet is not eating normally or hates having it’s head touched be sure to contact your veterinarian. Early treatment will save you in the long run. The veterinarian has to be able to see the ear drum to determine the treatment. Some cleaners and medications are toxic to the ear and may cause deafness.