Ear infections are common in dogs and cats. Opportunistic bacteria and yeast can quickly invade an ear canal that becomes inflamed by allergies, excess moisture, and changes in pH. Swimming and bathing are often triggers that encourage growth of microorganisms in the ear canal. Symptoms of an ear infection include odor and discharge from the ear canal, scratching below the ear flaps, rubbing the face and head on the ground or carpet, and shaking or flapping the ears. Ear infections may become chronic and very difficult to heal if not treated effectively.
When your veterinarian suspects an ear infection, he or she may take swabs to make cytology slides for inspection under a microscope. The doctor may send samples to a laboratory for culture and sensitivity testing. These tests will help to determine what kinds of organisms have invaded the ear and which medication is indicated to fight the infection.
When the veterinarian prescribes a topical treatment such as an ointment or an ear wash solution, it is very important to administer the medications properly in order to facilitate healing.
The dog and cat ear has a very similar anatomy to a human ear with a few differences. The ear flap, or pinna, is the external part of the ear and is covered by hair. The hair can trap dirt and moisture that can be the source of bacteria and yeast. An opening at the base of the inside of the pinna leads to the middle ear canal. This canal runs vertically down the side of the head and turns ninety degrees toward the brain. The tympanic membrane (ear drum) is found at the end of the middle ear canal, and behind it is the inner ear. Infection can invade one or more of these three parts of the ear.
Treatment with an ear wash solution starts by lifting the ear pinna vertically so that the canal opening is visible. Flood the ear canal completely with the wash taking care to avoid getting any solution in your pet’s eyes. You may need to have a helper gently restrain the pet’s head. Using your free hand, grasp around the vertical canal on the side of the pet’s head. It will feel like a tube under the skin. Gently collapse the canal between your thumb and fingers. Use a downward milking action to work the ear wash into the horizontal ear canal. Repeat this action for at least one minute. Then reverse the direction to work the solution out of the ear and into a cotton ball or a wash cloth. 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 – you will want to do this outside or in a bathtub.
Administering an ear ointment is much the same, except your veterinarian will tell you a specific amount to apply into the ear canal or onto the ear pinna itself. It is very important to massage the ointment into the horizontal canal in order to treat the infection.
Treatment will usually last 10 days to 2 weeks, and you should always follow up with the doctor to see if the infection is completely gone. More chronic ear infections will require longer treatment times.