Chronic Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats
Chronic Otitis Externa San Jose
Chronic ear problems and chronic ear infections can cause an inflammation of the external auditory canal and can cause great discomfort to your pets.
- Frequent scratching of the ears
- Shaking the head
- Foul odor from the ear canal
Chronic Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats Defined
Infection and inflammation of the external ear canal (external to the eardrum) is a common problem in dogs and cats. There are a myriad of causes including heredity/anatomy (eg. pendulous ears, hair in ear canals), allergic skin disease (eg. flea and/or inhaled allergies), seborrhea (skin disorder), parasites (eg. mites, ticks), foreign bodies (eg. grass lawns, foxtails), ear canal tumors or polyps, endocrine disorders (eg. hypothyroidism), immune mediated skin disease, and chronic moisture (eg. swimming). The bacteria and yeast usually present are contributing to the condition but are often secondary and opportunistic pathogens taking advantage of a perfect environment for growth (ie. culture media).
Symptoms may start abruptly or develop gradually. They include
- redness, swelling, and pain (inflammation);
- axy and/or pus-like foul smelling discharge (infection).
- Often affected animals will shake their heads, scratch or rub at their ears, while their ears may be painful when touched. Head shaking in some animals results in a swelling to the ear flap called a hematoma which requires surgery.
An attempt at cleaning infected ears with cotton tipped applicators at home is not recommended because this may push debris further down the ear canal. Obviously, rupturing the eardrum should be avoided. Ear cleaning and canal drying is indicated as a preventative measure at home as will be discussed later, but only without existing infection.
Diagnosis is made based on the history you provide and physical examination including visualization of the canal and eardrum (when possible) with an otoscope. Tranquilization is often necessary to allow for thorough evaluation and treatment. To determine appropriate treatment especially in longstanding cases of otitis externa, samples of ear canal discharge are stained and evaluated under the microscope (cytology) as well as cultured for identification of organisms and testing for sensitivity to different antibiotics. A thyroid level (blood sample) and skin biopsy are advisable when indicated.
Chronic Ear Infection Treatments
- Addressing the causative factor(s). (eg. removal of foreign bodies, treating allergic skin disease, surgical removal of tumors or polyps).
- Thorough ear flushing with tranquilization.
- Appropriate topical treatment (longstanding treatment with antibiotic ear preparations is not recommended due tot he development of resistant bacteria and therefore a more difficult infection to clear).
- Systemic treatment (injections, oral medication) when indicated.
- A re-check evaluation to be sure ear canals are clean and free of infection before medication is stopped (or recurrence is likely).
The goal is prevention, though this is difficult with recurrent cases because often the cause can only be controlled, not cured (eg. allergic skin disease).
- Ear cleaning at home or in hospital to remove normal wax and debris before infection
- Routine plucking of ear hair when present.
- Preventing access to foxtails and swimming holes.
- The use of an ear canal drying product after swimming (isopropyl alcohol is very irritating to the ear canal and eardrum in animals and is not recommended).