Ear infections are common in pets, and they can be frustrating. You may be desperate to help your pet, but don’t be misled by common myths about these infections. Our MountainView Veterinary Hospital team wants to debunk common pet ear infection myths to ensure your pet receives the care they need.

Myth: Pet ear infections are not a serious issue

Myth debunked: Ear infections are extremely painful for pets, and if not addressed appropriately, they can lead to serious complications, such as hearing loss and neurologic issues. Ear infections are classified depending on the part of the ear affected, but every type is problematic for your pet. Ear infection types include:

  • Otitis externa — Otitis externa is an infection of the outer ear canal. Pets typically exhibit signs that include head shaking, scratching at the affected ear, ear discharge and odor, and redness inside the ear flap. Your pet may express pain by vocalizing if their ear is touched or not allowing you to handle their ear. 
  • Otitis media — Otitis media typically occurs when the outer ear canal infection progresses to the area behind the tympanic membrane, but nasopharyngeal infections can also ascend and cause otitis media. Several nerves that run through the middle ear can be affected when infection occurs in this area, resulting in a condition called Horner’s syndrome. Signs include a constricted pupil, drooping eyelid, and a sunken eye appearance. In addition, otitis media can cause facial paralysis and keratoconjunctivitis sicca (i.e., dry eye). 
  • Otitis interna — Otitis interna occurs when infection progresses to the inner ear, which contains the hearing apparatus and is responsible for maintaining your pet’s balance. Signs include hearing loss, incoordination, head tilt, and nystagmus, a condition that results in uncontrolled eye movements.

Myth: Diagnosing pet ear infections is a straightforward process

Myth debunked: You see your pet shaking their head, notice ear discharge and odor, and know right away that your pet has an ear infection. However, diagnosing the underlying cause is more complicated, but is necessary to resolve the problem and help prevent recurrence. All pets normally have bacteria and yeast living in their ears, but these pathogens need suitable conditions to thrive and cause an infection. All pets are susceptible to ear infections because their ear canals have a vertical component that facilitates debris and wax accumulation, and provides nourishment for the normal ear pathogens. Other factors can also predispose a pet to ear infections, including:

  • Allergies — Environmental and food allergies, which are a common problem in pets, can cause the skin barrier to weaken inside the ear, allowing pathogens to invade the ear, and predisposing the pet to ear infections. When a pet has persistent or recurring ear infections, allergies are typically suspected. Allergy testing to determine what environmental allergies are causing the problem, or a food elimination trial may be recommended to help diagnose the problem.
  • Endocrine conditions — Conditions such as hypothyroidism and hypercortisolism result in hormonal changes that can predispose your pet to ear infections. If our veterinary team suspects an endocrine condition, we may recommend further diagnostics to make a diagnosis.
  • Ear growths — In some cases, malignant or benign growths inside your pet’s ear instigate an infection. If our veterinary team finds a growth in your pet’s ear, we may recommend a biopsy to determine if the growth is malignant or benign and to decide how best to address the issue. X-rays or ultrasound are useful in some cases to determine the extent of the growth.

Myth: I can reuse medications from my pet’s last ear infection

Myth debunked: An important part of the diagnostic process for an ear infection is culturing the ear to determine the pathogen causing the problem. Common culprits include Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas, and Malassezia pachydermatis. Our veterinary team chooses an appropriate antimicrobial depending on culture results, and the causative pathogen can change for every infection, meaning that the last ear infection medication may not be appropriate for your pet’s current infection. In addition, misusing these medications can lead to antimicrobial resistance.

Myth: I can treat my pet’s ear infection at home

Myth debunked: You can find many at-home remedies on the internet, but they aren’t effective against the pathogens that typically cause ear infections. In addition, you could do more harm to your pet’s ear if you attempt to address the problem without a veterinarian’s assessment. Appropriate treatment strategies include:

  • Deep ear cleaning — Our veterinary team thoroughly flushes debris from your pet’s ear canal to assess the structure and the tympanic membrane. Pets frequently require sedation or anesthesia, since handling their infected ear may be painful.
  • Topical medications — Topical antimicrobials are typically applied after an ear cleaning to address pet ear infections. Our veterinary team will prescribe an appropriate antimicrobial based on your pet’s culture results.
  • Systemic pain medications — Since ear infections are painful, we may prescribe systemic pain medications to help alleviate your pet’s discomfort.
  • Systemic antimicrobials — If your pet’s ear infection progresses to the middle or inner ear, or if the infection is severe, we may prescribe systemic antimicrobials.
  • Surgery — Chronic ear infections can lead to scarring and tissue proliferation inside the ear, and your pet may need surgery to help resolve the infection and prevent recurrence.

Addressing your pet’s ear infection as soon as possible is extremely important. If your pet’s ear is infected, contact our MountainView Veterinary Hospital team in Rockaway or Denville, so we can diagnose the underlying problem and alleviate your pet’s suffering.