Ear infections (otitis) are a relatively common and bothersome problem for pets. Most of the time they are short-term and can be easily treated and cured. However, in some cases, they can become chronic and recurrent. In these circumstances, a more complete investigation into the cause and longer-term treatment plans are required.

  • Causes of Acute and Chronic Otitis:

Causes of acute otitis include foreign objects such as plant material, allergies, parasites, and water in the ears from swimming or bathing. Allergies, hormonal diseases, tumors, immune-mediated diseases, or incomplete/inadequate treatment of an acute infection can cause chronic and recurrent otitis. The underlying problem changes the environment in the ear allowing the development of bacterial and yeast infections.

Allergies are by far the most common cause of chronic ear infections. Besides treating the infection component, the underlying allergy must be addressed or else the infection will continue to recur.

  • Treatments:

In many acute otitis cases with no major underlying problem, a 2-3 week treatment course with a topical drop or ointment placed into the ear canal may be all that is necessary to clear the infection. When there has been a chronic infection, simple ear drops, and ointments are usually inadequate to clear the infection. The ear canal has undergone many changes that make it difficult for topical therapy to be effective. They include swelling, glandular enlargement, and a buildup of scar tissue. In these cases, systemic medications (i.e. oral pills and capsules) will be necessary to treat the infection, and underlying cause and correct the secondary changes. Antibiotics are used for bacterial infections and antifungals for yeast infections. Glucocorticoids such as prednisone or dexamethasone are often included to reduce the amount of inflammation in the ear. Therapy may be required for many weeks to get the ear canals back to normal.

  • Prevention:

The key to healthy ears is to keep them clean. Check your pet’s ears weekly. A slight amount of waxy buildup may be present in normal ears. If your pet swims a lot, has pendulous ears or a history of ear disease; routine cleaning (often once to three times per week) is recommended. Treat any underlying condition that predisposes your pet to ear problems. Remember if your pet is showing severe discomfort, the ears have a bad smell or the ear canals look very abnormal, do not delay in contacting your veterinarian.

If your pet has a ruptured or weakened eardrum, some ear cleansers and medications could do more harm than good.