Ear Cleaning and Treatment

Ear Infection Treatment Directions and Information

Ear Infection Tick Dog

Photo of Tick in Ear Canal of Dog (Otopet Video Otoscope)

Ear inflammation due to allergies or infections is common in dogs and cats.  Bacteria and yeast can quickly invade an ear canal that becomes inflamed by allergies, excess moisture, and changes in pH. This is termed an opportunistic infection. Becoming wet through swimming or bathing can sometimes upset the normal balance that exists within an ear. This can allow the start of growth and proliferation of pathogens within the ear canal. Signs of an ear infection can be abnormal odors or discharge from the ear canals, rubbing on or around the ears and face, and shaking the head.  Ear problems can turn into chronic issues very quickly. They are very difficult to correct if not treated promptly.

If we believe your pet has an ear infection, we will evaluate the ears with our video ear scope. This allows a deep and thorough evaluation of the entire canal down to the tympanic membrane(ear drum). When we see inflammation or excess ear canal debris, we usually take swabs to make microscope slides for inspection under a magnification.  We will first want to identify the pathogen to determine the best course of action to ensure the problem is resolved. In some cases, we can obtain a culture to send to the laboratory to perform additional testing to determine the best medication to combat a specific pathogen.

Applying ear cleansers or medications is very important and we want to be sure to teach our clients the best methods for better compliance and better clinical outcome.

Ears in dogs and cats  are different but generally similar to the human ear. Dogs and cats have a flap, which is the external part of the ear and is covered by hair.  The hairy ear can be harder to keep clean as it can trap dirt and moisture which can be the environment of choice for bacteria and yeasts.  An opening at the base of the inside of the flap leads to the middle ear canal.  This canal runs vertically down the side of the head and turns at a sharp angle towards the brain.  The tympanic membrane (ear drum) is found at the end of the ear canal, and behind it is the middle and inner ear.  Infection can invade one or more of these parts of the ear.

If ears are filled with wax or debris, we will perform a deep flushing during the first appointment. We want to be sure the medication gets into contact with the ear and not a layer of wax or debris. Sometimes, we will send home cleansers or topical medications for further treatment at home.

Directions for using cleansers or medications at home: We usually suggest that this be performed in a bathroom(tub), utility room, or back porch, as it can be messy. It is best to have a helper gently restrain the pet’s head.  Usually, we begin by lifting the ear flap to the side, so that the canal opening is visible.  Instill 15-20 drops of the cleanser. Most cleansers can sting our eyes or your pet’s eyes. Be sure to avoid getting any solution in your pet’s eyes. Under the skin, on the side of the head, you can feel the vertical canal on the side of the pet’s head.  It will feel like a tunnel under the skin running up and down (vertically).  Gently massage the canal between your thumb and fingers.  By collapsing the ear canal, we can use a milking action to work the ear wash, swishing it around the ear canal.  Try to do this for one minute. If the ear is painful, you may have to start slow and increase your effort over a couple of days.  The medication will reduce the inflammation and pain over time.  Allow the pet to shake any excess solution out of the ear.

Administering an ear medication is similar. We will write directions on the ointment or drops with regards to the specific amount to apply into the ear canal or onto the ear.  Massaging the medication into the canal, as with cleaning above, is of utmost importance to properly coat the ear(s). Treat for the entire amount of time we have directed. Many times, clients will let clinical signs dictate the amount of time they treat versus the actual amount of time needed to properly control an infection. This results in chronic problems, antibiotic resistance issues, and, sadly, recurrence of clinical signs.

Treatment will usually last days to weeks. We routinely perform an examination to determine the pet’s progress one week after starting treatment. This is to ensure the infection is completely gone.  More chronic ear infections will require longer treatment times.

Over the past year or so, some newer treatments are available. The primary treatment is for us to pack the ears with medications that stay in the canal for days to weeks. These newer treatments are easier for clients because there is less wrestling, essentially we achieve perfect compliance. They seem to work a lot better.

If a pet has severe ear issues that do not resolve, there can be a myriad of underlying issues that can predispose your pet to recurrent ear issues. We will perform a complete workup. This can include allergic testing, thyroid testing, or surgical procedures.

If you have any additional questions, please call us at 214-547-8387. James M. Greenwell and the staff of Russell Creek Pet Clinic and Hospital are always here to help you.

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