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Ear Infections

Ear infections are a common ailment that brings pets into the clinic. Most of the time, this is easily recognized as it often leads to the pets scratching their ears or shaking their heads. Sometimes the underside of the ear flap will be red and swollen, and sometimes the ear will have an unusual odor.

While ear infections are typically itchy and uncomfortable at most, they can progress to being quite painful and make our furry friends very miserable. Some pets can experience hearing changes or loss, and some will resist pets to the head or seem depressed. The infection can also progress to the middle ear and affect their balance and ability to eat and drink.

In puppies and kittens, ear mites are a common cause of ear issues. They cause dark brown/black discharge and make the pet incredibly itchy. Adult pets get ear infections most commonly from allergies (environmental or food), but they can also occur after swimming or a bath. Tumors, foreign objects, genetics, and endocrine disorders can also play a role in ear issues. While any dog can develop an infection, certain breeds can be more predisposed to infections due to the shape of their ear canals and ear flaps.

Most simple infections are treated medically after the ear canal and eardrum have been visualized and a sample of the discharge has been evaluated under a microscope. While the infection is often caused by an underlying issue (mites, allergies, tumors, etc.), the type of infection is usually bacteria, yeast, or a combination. The ear is often treated by cleaning out the debris and using a topical ear medication to kill bacteria, yeast, or mites as determined by the microscopic analysis. The medication will also often include an anti-inflammatory to soothe the ear canal. If the eardrum is found to be ruptured, typically oral medication is used instead of topical.

If the ear issue does not resolve with medication, or it recurs, further evaluation is warranted. This can include culturing the ear discharge, performing X-rays or CT scans, or even blood work to look for underlying endocrine disorders or systemic illnesses. If allergies are suspected, medication and/or diet changes are often considered.

Rarely, surgery is considered. This is typically reserved for pets with tumors or polyps, or those with infections resistant to the aforementioned treatments. These procedures can be complicated and are not considered lightly. There are post-operative risks to be aware of and the underlying conditions still need to be addressed.  

Regardless of the cause, it is important to follow treatment instructions closely and make rechecks as directed by your veterinarian. Ear infections can be a frustrating thing to treat, especially when allergies or intractable infections are at play. Staying on top of these problems can help to mitigate the discomfort and damage that infections can cause.


Should you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact us by phone at 845-876-6008, or by e-mail at [email protected].

Thank you for choosing us to be part of your pet's healthcare team!

With warmest regards,
Your friends at Rhinebeck Animal Hospital

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