Some days at the veterinary hospital, all I seem to do is treat ear infections. While certain seasons are worse than others for this phenomenon, the humidity of summer can lead to a greater chance of ear infections. This can be one of the most frustrating conditions for pet owners to battle.
There are many misconceptions about ear infections in dogs and cats. For example, some pet owners mistake dark debris in a pet’s ears for ear mites. It is very rare for a dog or an adult cat to get ear mites. Although a kitten with ear mites can pass them to any other cat or dog, if your pet has not been around a kitten or a stray cat, it is highly unlikely that the dark debris in the ears is from mites. It’s also important to remember debris that is not associated with infections can build up in your cat’s ears, and ear infections are definitely more common in dogs than cats.
An important thing to understand about your pet’s ears is they have very long ear canals. When you look into your dog’s ears you can only see part of the vertical ear canal. The part you cannot see takes a turn and continues to the eardrum via the horizontal canal. Because of this anatomy, ear infections can be brewing long before you see visual signs of a problem. It also means an infection may not be completely cleared up just because the ear looks good from the outer part of the canal. This is why it is so important to have your dogs ears checked at the end of treatment for an ear infection to be sure the problem is completely resolved.
Another thing to understand is that ear infections in dogs are most commonly associated with allergies. Recurrent, year-round ear infections are often caused by food allergies. In contrast, seasonal occurrences of ear infections are more commonly associated with airborne allergies. Managing these underlying allergies will decrease and sometimes eliminate ear infections in your pets.
Humidity plays a big role in ear infections. Chronic moisture in the ears is a very common cause of ear infections in dogs. Dogs that do a lot of swimming are very prone to developing infections and it is common for dogs to develop ear infections after baths. Regular ear cleaning can go a long way toward combating moisture in the ears. Use a liquid ear cleaner that will chemically dry the ear weekly during humid months, at the end of a day of swimming and after bathing. You can wipe out excess cleaner with a cotton ball, but do not use cotton-tipped swabs as these swabs can actually pack debris into the horizontal canals.
Treatment of ear infections in your pet may require repeated visits to your vet. This is very important because untreated ear infections will lead to chronic pain and irritation for your animal, and can result in irreversible damage to the ear canals. Your veterinarian can determine if you pet’s ears are infected and what type of infection is present by swabbing the ears, and then looking at the ear debris under a microscope. This process will also help the veterinarian choose the best medication for treatment. If a significant amount of bacteria is found, a culture might also be recommended to determine exactly which bacteria are present and what antibiotic will be most effective for treatment. If your animal gets recurrent ear infections, or if the infections never seem to completely clear up, it may be worth seeing a veterinary dermatologist.
As we head into the summer heat and humidity, remember to watch for ear infections in your pets and keep their ears as clean and dry as possible.
Originally published April 2016 in the Lake Norman Citizen.