Infection of the ear canal is one of the most common types of infections seen in dogs and cats.
A pet with an ear infection is uncomfortable and the ear canals are sensitive. The dog/cat shakes its head and scratches its ears trying to get the debris and fluid out. The ears often become red and inflamed and develop an offensive odour.
Ear mites can cause several of these symptoms, including a black discharge, scratching, and head shaking. Sometimes, ear mites will create an environment within the ear canal which leads to a secondary infection.
Dogs and cats with ear infections are miserable. Their ears are a source of constant pain resulting in head shaking and scratching. However, that is not the only problem. Head shaking and scratching can also cause broken blood vessels in the ear flap, requiring surgery, and chronic ear infections can penetrate the ear drum and result in an internal ear infection.
A thorough examination allows us to determine whether the eardrum is intact and if there is any foreign material in the canal. When a dog or cat is in extreme pain and refuses to allow the examination, it may be necessary to sedate or completely anesthetize the dog for a thorough examination.
The results of the examination usually determine the course of treatment. If there is a foreign body or tick lodged in the ear canal, the dog is sedated so that it can be removed. Some dogs and cats have such a heavy buildup of debris that sedation is needed to cleanse the canal and examine it completely.
An important part of the evaluation of the patient is the identification of underlying disease. Many dogs and cats with chronic or recurrent ear infections have allergies or low thyroid function. If underlying disease is suspected, it must be diagnosed and treated. If this cannot be done, the dog is less likely to have a favorable response to treatment. Also, the dog might respond temporarily, but the infection will recur (usually when ear medication is discontinued).
Nearly all ear infections that are properly diagnosed and treated can be cured. However, if an underlying cause remains unidentified and untreated, the outcome will be less favorable. A progress check may be needed before the process is completed, but we expect ultimate success.
Closing of the ear canal is another result of a chronic ear infection. There are medications that can shrink the swollen tissues and open the canal in some dogs and cats. However, some cases will eventually require surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove the vertical part of the ear canal and to remove swollen tissue from the ear canal.
The ear canal may be medicated by following these steps:
- Gently pull the ear flap straight up and hold it with one hand.
- Apply a small amount of medication into the vertical part of the ear canal while continuing to keep the ear flap elevated. Hold this position long enough for the medication to run down.
- Put one finger in front of and at the base of the ear flap, and put your thumb behind and at the base.
- Massage the ear canal between your finger and thumb. A squishing sound tells you that the medication has gone into the horizontal canal.
- Release the ear and let your dog shake its head. If the medication contains a wax solvent, debris will be dissolved so it can be shaken out.