Recurrent ear infections are a very common problem for pets in Florida. Heat and humidity result in dark, warm, moist ear canals– a perfect environment for growing microorganisms! Swimming may also predispose to infection, along with environmental allergies, food allergies, hypothyroidism, and certain breed-specific characteristics.
So what can you do about it? Do you have to go to the vet every time there is a problem?? If you notice an odor and/or you can see visible discharge coming from the ears, a trip to the vet is warranted. If your pet is tilting his head to one side, is bleeding from the ears or is painful enough to cry out or snap when you touch her head, you definitely need to see a vet.
Mild problems causing occasional shaking or scratching can sometimes be resolved with an over-the-counter ear cleaner to lower the pH and make ears less hospitable for microbial growth. When used regularly, these cleaners can often keep infection at bay. There are also products available specifically to help dry out ears after swimming.
It is important to never put alcohol or peroxide in a pet’s ears- these substances can irritate the canal and potentially make infections worse.
If the problem doesn’t clear up with cleaning or gets worse within a few days, it is important to seek veterinary care. Untreated ear infections in pets are not only itchy and painful but can adversely affect hearing and can sometimes lead to ruptured ear drums.
Your vet will look down into the ears with an otoscope, collect a sample of any debris and look under a microscope to determine exactly what is growing there. If the problem is new, you’ll likely go home with topical medication only. If the problem is recurrent or chronic, your vet might recommend diagnostic tests or treatment for an underlying condition. Sometimes a diet change or allergy medication can make an enormous difference! In certain cases of recurrent bacterial infection, a culture of the material from the ears may be necessary to select an appropriate antibiotic and avoid further complications.
Regardless of which treatments are prescribed, it is important to return for a follow-up visit to be sure the infection has completely resolved. This can be a very frustrating condition but we are here to help! – Written by: Dr. Elizabeth Chosa