Smelly ears, head shaking or rubbing, and ear scratching can all be signs seen with otitis externa, or infection of the outer part of the ear canal. Pets can also seem depressed or have a decreased appetite, just like many kids with ear ailments.
However, some pets do not show any signs of an ear infection. Especially if you own a breed like the happy-go-lucky, nothing-bothers-me Labrador retriever, for instance. Many owners have been surprised to go to their veterinarian for a routine check-up, only to be told that their pet has an ear infection. So it is important to routinely flip the ears over for a quick peek and good sniff to detect problems early.
Ear infections can affect any breed, but some have more problems than others. Breeds with large, floppy ears, such as Cocker spaniels, or hairy ears like miniature poodles, are at increased risk. Pets with repeated ear infections often have another underlying problem, such as allergies or low thyroid hormone levels (hypothyroidism). If such a predisposing disease is suspected, it must be addressed or your pet will continue to suffer from chronic ear infections.
Dogs that swim can also have an increased risk for ear infections. The warmth and moisture found in the ear with swimming is an ideal environment for yeast or bacteria to grow. Drying the ears or using specific types of ear solutions to flush out the ears after swimming can help reduce ear infections.
I have heard numerous people tell me that their dog has ear mites. In truth, ear mites account for less than 10% of ear infections in dogs, and are typically seen in puppies. Dogs much more commonly get yeast or bacterial ear infections. Cats, on the other hand, are a different story. Ear mites account for 50% of infections in cats.
Knowing what type of ear infection is present is vital to receiving the correct therapy. A medication that treats mites will be useless in a pet with a yeast infection, for instance. In fact, some medications can result in loss of hearing if administered to a pet with a ruptured ear drum. Therefore, a thorough evaluation by a veterinarian, including microscopic examination of material obtained from a swab of you pet’s ear canal, is needed for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
If you suspect something is wrong with your pet’s ears, it is extremely important to consult your veterinarian as early as possible. The sooner the diagnosis can be made and treatment started, then better the prognosis. The longer ear infections go untreated, the more damage can be done to the ears. Over time, some damage becomes irreversible and may require surgery or lead to deafness.
So remember to look at – and smell – your pet’s ears on a regular basis to detect ear issues early. And if your pet shows any symptoms of ear problems, schedule an appointment right away with your veterinarian.