Common Ear Infections: What, Why, and Bye-Bye

Miniature Poodles can be more susceptible to ear infections than other breeds.

Bacterial Infections

Anyone who has ever owned a dog has most likely had to deal with their beloved pet contracting an ear infection at least once. The bacteria causing these infections can be picked up almost anywhere, whether inside or outside. Miniature Poodle and Schnauzer owners have probably spent the most money and time treating Fido's ear infections, since the inside of the ear in these breeds is deep and hairy. Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels develop ear infections far less often than Poodles or Schnauzers, since the former's ears are comparatively less hairy, and hang outward and down. Cats are slightly less prone to ear infections than dogs, but still develop them regularly. Persian cats often suffer more ear infections than any other breed.

The two most common types of ear infections involve infection of the external ear canal (scientific name: otitis externa), and the middle ear (otitis media). Bacteria and yeast infections can both cause external ear canal infections, but bacteria is most likely to be a primary cause, while yeast infections usually creep in later. Otitis externa can also come about from matted hair, wax, or other debris in the ear canal, as well as a tumor or the ear's inability to drain properly.

Otitis media infections most often occur as a result of infection spreading from the external ear canal. Debris or foreign bodies in the ear, ulceration, or poor ear hygiene, allowing an infection to enter the middle ear, can rupture the eardrum.

The symptoms of either type of ear infection include your pet tilting and/or shaking his head nonstop and scratching his ears, as well as red, irritated ears, a foul odor, and potentially a yellow or black discharge.

Yeast Infections

Yeast infections usually occur as a result of or companion to another problem, like a bacterial infection. If your pet has a yeast infection, his ear will smell a lot worse than usual. Some vets may recommend a yeast culture to definitively identify the problem, while others may diagnose it based on appearance and smell alone.

Do not under any circumstances use any form of vinegar as a treatment for your pet's yeast infection. Vinegar is painful, dangerous, and ineffective. Instead, use a topical treatment, shampoo, or an ear flush (all of which should be prescribed by a vet for to ensure safety and effectiveness) to rid your pet of the infection once and for all.

For the treatment of both bacterial and yeast infections, always bring your pet to a veterinarian. The vet will most likely clean out your pet's ear, then prescribe medication that you must administer on your own for several weeks after the visit. Make sure to keep water out of your pet's ear for the duration of his treatment.

Ear Mites

The same type of ear mite, most commonly Otodectes Cynotis, can affect both cats and dogs, although it is far more common in cats. If you found that scientific name hard to pronounce, don't worry; identifying the specific type of ear mite your pet has is not important, as the treatment is generally the same. Ear mites are usually referred to as just that – ear mites.

Ear mites cannot by any means be passed from animals to humans, but they are highly contagious from physical contact between animals, including dogs, cats, gerbils, rabbits, hamsters, and other furry household pets. Oftentimes, a mother will pass mites to her offspring.

Symptoms of ear mites include ear scratching and shaking of the head, which ranges from occasional and light to prolonged and intense depending on how serious the mite problem is. At first, this scratching and shaking will be your only clue to a possible mite infestation, but as the situation worsens, you will notice fresh or dried blood inside your pet's ear canal. If you suspect ear mites, look carefully at your pet's ear canal for a dark substance similar to coffee grounds. This is a mixture of blood, earwax, and mites themselves. Its appearance usually signifies a mite infestation, but could also point to a yeast or bacterial infection instead. In order to make sure that your pet is indeed suffering from ear mites, a vet will look at this waxy concoction under a microscope. Do not try to remove the buildup yourself, as this can permanently damage your pet's ear. Instead, take your pet to the vet as soon as possible.

Untreated ear mites can cause permanent hearing loss and damage to your pet's eardrum and ear canals. In order to get rid of these pesky critters once and for all, your vet will clean your pet's ears, and then use medication (usually drops, but sometimes a spray, shampoo, or dip). Veterinarians use a range of different products, including but not limited to Acarexx for cats only, and Interceptor, Revolution, and Frontline. It is extremely important you keep applying the treatment for as long as your vet instructs you to, even if the mites appear to be gone, in order to prevent a recurrence.

When treating dogs, make sure to apply the product to their tails, as dogs usually sleep with their tails curled around their (mite-infested!) ears. Treatment should take no more than two to four weeks, and it is important to treat all pets in the house simultaneously, as mites are highly contagious.

Daily Care

For cases of bacterial, yeast, and ear mite infections, a trip to the vet and daily care for a set period after is necessary. In order to keep your pet's ears healthy even when nothing is specifically wrong with them, though, you should use an ear cleansing product recommended by a vet weekly. If the hairs in your pet's ear are particularly numerous, groomers or veterinarians should occasionally pluck them. Sticking to these instructions will help your pet, whether dog or cat, escape many a painful, unnecessary infection.

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