Caring for your pet’s ears is an important part of pet ownership. By checking and cleaning your pet’s ears once a week you will be able to detect any infection before it gets serious. This proper care can prevent ear infections, which not only smell horrible, but can also be extremely painful to your pet. Some pets need more ear care then others, spaniels and sharpeis are two breeds that often need extra ear care, however all cats and dogs are susceptible to ear infections.
It is very easy for your pets ears to get remarkably dirty, which can lead to further problems, like ear mites, yeast, or bacterial infections. If you suspect an infection it is important to bring your pet to the clinic and have it checked right away, don’t wait for the problem to get out of hand. A small infection can easily become a chronic infection causing the ear canals to swell, become inflamed or even ulcerated.
TYPES OF EAR INFECTIONS:
1. EAR MITES:
Ear mites are infectious microscopic organisms that look similar to ticks. The mite can sometimes be seen with the naked eye as small moving white dots, but typically must be detected by microscopic examination. To perform this exam a swab of earwax is taken from your pets ear. This swab is then rolled onto a microscope slide with oil and examined under the microscope. Typically the infection causes a characteristic dry black discharge in the ear that resembles coffee grounds. This discharge is composed of earwax, blood, inflammatory biochemicals, and the ear mites themselves.
Ear mites typically infect cats, however dogs can be infected as well. Ear mites are readily transmitted from pet to pet by physical contact. If one of your pets has ear mites treatment may be recommended for all household animals.
The presence of ear mites is very inflammatory, and can cause your pet a great deal of discomfort and itchiness
THE LIFE CYCLE OF AN EAR MITE:
The mite primarily lives on the surface of the ear canal skin, though it sometimes will migrate out onto the face and head of its host. Eggs are laid and hatch after 4 days of incubation. The larva hatches from the egg, feeds on ear wax and skin oils for about a week, then molts into a “nymph.” This nymph mates with the adult male mite. However this nymph has not yet developed a gender at the time of the mating.
After mating, the nymph molts into either adult male or female mite. If she becomes a female, she will be gravid with eggs as a result of the mating. If he develops into a male, there are no consequences to the mating and he is ready to mate with another nymph of his own choosing. The adult mite lives approximately two months happily eating ear wax and skin oils. This entire life cycle of the mite (from egg to adult mite) lasts about 3 weeks.
There are numerous products available for ear mite eradication. Most older and over-the-counter products contain insecticides, which do not kill incubating mite eggs. Because of this limitation, such products must be used for at least the duration of the 21-day life cycle of the mite. Some specialists recommend a 30 day treatment course with such products.
Another approach involves the use of a topical ear product called Tresaderm® which contains an antibiotic for any secondary bacterial infections, a cortisone derivative for the inflammation, and thiabendazole to kill yeasts and mites. This is an excellent ear product and is able to kill the developing mite eggs. This cuts the treatment course down to 10-14 days and provides an excellent oily lubricant with which to clean the ears as well. Veterinarians have favored this product for decades.
Do not make the diagnosis of ear mite infection yourself. If you think your pet has an ear infection, see the vet for proper evaluation rather jumping straight to an over-the-counter remedy. You will need the right diagnosis before you can intelligently choose an ear treatment product.
2. YEAST INFECTIONS:
Yeast infections are especially itchy, crusty, and smelly. Often a dog starts simple itching but the skin thickens to an “elephant” skin appearance. The itch is extreme and the odor can be especially troublesome. Any part of the body or the entire body can be affected. Typically dogs are affected but cats can get yeast infections as well. Yeasts are the spore-like forms of fungi.
Yeast happily live in most normal ears, skin and anal glands. To get a yeast infection, conditions in the ears have to change to favor the proliferation of the yeasts. The yeasts in small normal numbers are harmless but when the yeasts are present in large numbers, infection results.
So what conditions lead to a yeast proliferation? An increase in skin oils is the most common situation. Often a bacterial infection will prelude the yeast infection, causing an imbalance in the ear and allowing the yeast to grow. Sometimes there is an immune deficiency, which allows the yeast proliferation. Some animals are battling seborrhea (excessive oil production of the skin) and thus are naturally predisposed to the yeast proliferation. Some animals are actually allergic to the yeasts themselves. The most important thing to realize is that yeast infections are not contagious but they tend to recur unless the underlying allergy, seborrhea, or whatever problem is controlled.
The following breeds are predisposed genetically to yeast infections: the West Highland White Terrier, Basset hound, Cocker spaniel, Silky terrier, Australian terrier, Maltese, Chihuahua, Poodle, Shetland sheepdog, Lhasa apso, and the Dachshund.
Diagnosis of a yeast infection is similar to that of the ear mite infection. A cotton swab is used to extract material from the pet’s ears. This swab is then rolled onto a microscope slide, which is then stained. The yeast appears as dark purple “Footprint” or “Peanut” shapes on microscopic examination.
3. BACTERIAL INFECTIONS:
Bacterial infections are the most common and most painful infections found in pets ears. Some of these infections can be quite stubborn. Again early detection makes these infections easier to treat.
Numerous different types of bacteria can cause ear infections, many of which are found naturally on the animal’s skin or in the environment. Bacteria can start to multiply in the ear if the conditions and chemistry inside the ear are favorable.
Upon examination of the ear a bacterial infection and a yeast infection appear the same. In order to distinguish the type of infection in your pet’s ear a sample of the material in the ear is taken on a swab. The material is then rolled onto a slide, and stained. Microscopic examination of the slide allows us to distinguish the type of infection in your pet’s ears. Because there are so many different types of bacteria, and not all types will respond to all medication, ear cultures may be needed. These cultures allow us to identify the exact type of bacteria, and identify the most effective antibiotic for fighting the infection.
In most cases there is an underlying reason for the bacterial growth. The most common predisposing factors are:
• Moisture in the ear canal
• Long, hairy ears prevent air from reaching the lower parts of the ear canals. This airflow keeps the ears dry and healthy.
• Low acidity in the ear canals. Normal ear canals have an acidic pH, which keeps bacteria from growing. Lack of a low pH in the ear canals promotes bacterial growth.
Bacterial infections are usually controlled with ear ointment or drops that contain antibiotics. The antibiotic must be carefully chosen to ensure that it will be effective against the particular type of bacteria causing the infection. Treatment MUST continue for the full 10 – 14 days to cure the infection. Oral antibiotics are sometimes prescribed for infections that are deep inside the ear. Occasionally general anesthesia is required to completely clean the pus and debris from the ear. Any underlying conditions which may be causing the infection must also be addressed.
Keeping the ears clean and dry is very important in all animals. Animals that have a history of ear infections are especially prone to recurrence. The most effective prevention is cleaning the ears weekly in order to maintain the pH balance in the ear.
CLEANING YOUR PETS EARS:
1. Gather your supplies:
a. Ear cleaners: Not all ear cleaners are the same! Be very careful what products you use in your pets ears, some can actually do more harm then good. We carry a very gentle cleaning solution called VET SOLUTIONS, which is very pleasant smelling, and does a terrific job of breaking down earwax buildup. We also carry CORIUM-20, which acts as a drying agent for animals with long or furry ears. The Corium may also be recommended for animals that spend a lot of time swimming and frequently have wet ears.
b. Cotton balls, paper towels, q-tips, treats and another set of hands. Most pets don’t enjoy this process so you will probably want another set of hands to hold the animal still while you clean.
2. How to use the cleaners:
a. Fill the entire ear canal with solution, allowing it to overflow.
b. Place a cotton ball in the opening of the ear
c. Gently message the ear canal in an upward motion to help pull the solution into the cotton ball
d. Remove the cotton ball and refill the ear, repeat these steps until the solution on the cotton ball is clean
e. Repeat the message with the cotton ball in the opening with out adding additional solution until the majority of the solution has been removed from the ear.
f. Use the q-tip on the EXTERNAL EAR (THE PARTS YOU CAN SEE ONLY!)
g. Repeat on the other ear
h. Give your pet treats through out the process to make it more
• Ear medications are typically accompanied with ear cleaner … Please make sure you CLEAN THE EARS BEFORE YOU MEDICATE, EVERY TIME YOU MEDICATE unless instructed otherwise.
• Ear Drops: pull the earflap over the head and drop the medication into the lowest opening of the ear canal. Generally 7- 9 drops are required to deliver medication into the deeper areas of the ear canal with a liquid medicine. Exact dosages are printed on the labels for any medication you are given.
• Ear ointments: pull the earflap over the head and gently squeeze the desired amount of medication into the lowest opening of the ear canal. Gently massage the ear after application of the medicine.