If your pet is frequently shaking or tilting his head and scratching at his ear, he might be suffering from an ear infection.
Ear infections are very common in dogs. They are often caused by bacterial infections, which can be triggered by summertime swims. Other causes include a build-up of wax, debris and matted hair in the ear canal. Sometimes, infections of the external ear canal are a secondary result of some other bodily infection or ear mite infestation.
The good news is that most ear infections are easily and successfully treated.
Recognizing the symptoms
Although any dog or cat can get an ear infection, some breeds are more prone than others. Dogs with pendulous ears (like Cocker Spaniels and Basset Hounds) or dogs with hairy inner ear flaps (like Miniature Poodles and Schnauzers) tend to have a higher occurrence of ear infections. In cats, the Persian breed seems to be more prone to such infections
In addition to the head-shaking and scratching, another symptom of an ear infection is an offensive odor. If you look carefully at the ear, it may appear red and inflamed, and there may be discharge or build-up in the outer portion of the canal and along the earflap. Your pet’s ear is also likely to be painful to the touch.
Any ear infection, left untreated, can cause serious damage to your pet’s hearing. Because there are so many different causes, it is important to have your cat or dog examined by a vet so the proper treatment can be given.
Treating the infection
According to the American Animal Hospital Association, the two most common types of ear infection are: otitis externa, an infection of the external ear canal, and otitis media, infection of the middle ear.
The treatment will depend upon the veterinarian’s diagnosis, but usually includes administering medication to and cleaning the ears daily for one to two weeks. Remember that your pet’s ears are painful, and he may not want you to touch them. Be sure to follow the instructions and complete the entire course of treatment to prevent a recurrence. Recurring ear infections increase the risk of damage to your pet’s hearing.
For both types of infection, you should keep water from entering your pet’s ears. Follow-up visits to your veterinarian are also important to make sure treatment is working and the infection has disappeared.
Preventing future infections
Of course, the best medicine is prevention. A weekly ear cleaning can minimize or prevent infections. This is especially important for those animals that have pendulous ears, have lots of hair in their ears, or have allergies or other medical problems that make them prone to ear infections.
"Weekly ear cleanings get the pet owner to really see the ear on a routine basis, allowing him or her to notice any early warning signs of infection," says AAHA veterinarian Dr. LeeAnn Dumars. "And they get the pet used to having its ears handled, making exams and medication administration easier when necessary."
In addition to ear cleanings, pets with lots of hair on the inside ear flap should have those hairs plucked periodically by a professional groomer.
For more information about dealing with ear infections and other pet health problems, visit the American Animal Hospital Association’s pet owner website at www.healthypet.com.