Chronic Ear Infections in Pets: Your Questions Answered

“Ugh, not again!,” you say to yourself. “This is the third ear infection my pet has had this spring! Why does this keep happening?” You may understandably feel frustration if your pet suffers recurring ear infection flare-ups, and your pet is likely miserable because of these painful infections. Our Staples Mill Animal Hospital team answers your questions about the cause of chronic ear infections in pets, and how we help resolve them.

Question: What causes chronic ear infections in pets?
Answer: Multiple underlying conditions may be causing your pet’s chronic ear infections, making an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment challenging. Pets’ most common chronic ear infection causes include:

  • Allergies — The skin inflammation associated with allergies may affect the delicate tissue inside your pet’s ears. Your pet may be allergic to food, or environmental substances—pollen, mold, and dust mites—which can cause them to suffer seasonal or year-round ear infections.
  • Resistant bacteria — Your pet may develop a resistant bacterial infection if you have treated their ears with several medicated ear cleaners and administered various medications. If an ineffective antibiotic has been prescribed for your pet’s ear infection, the bacteria population can become resistant to many commonly used medications.
  • Foreign materials — A foreign object in your pet’s ear can irritate the canal, and lead to an infection. If the object—such as a foxtail—remains, chronic inflammation can develop.
  • Endocrine disorders — Endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease can affect the skin. If the condition is not appropriately managed, chronic ear infections can result.
  • Ear canal masses — Ear canal tumors or polyps can trap moisture and debris, allowing bacteria and yeast to flourish.
  • Parasites — Ear mites—a particularly common cat parasite—causes intense itching. As your pet scratches, they damage ear tissue, and bacteria overwhelm the ear.
  • Excessive humidity or moisture — Yeast and bacteria thrive in moist, humid environments. Ensure you thoroughly dry your pet’s ears after they have been in water, especially after swimming or a bath.
  • Breed — Some breeds develop ear infections more often than others, which is usually attributed to their anatomy. Dogs with floppy, heavy, hairy, or narrowed ears—hounds, Labradors, poodles, cocker spaniels, and bulldogs—are more likely to have recurring ear infections.
Q: How will I know if my pet has an ear infection?
A: Ear infections usually cause pets pain, and their signs make an infection easy for you to spot. However, pets can be stoic, and you may not suspect they have an ear infection. Keep an eye out for pets’ common ear infection signs, which include:
  • Reddened, inflamed ear canal
  • Thickened ear canal
  • Foul odor from the ear
  • Discharge from the ear
  • Crusting in the the ear
  • Head shaking
  • Scratching at the ear
If your pet has an ear infection, they will likely shy away from having their ears touched, which can be a sure sign something is wrong.

Q: How are chronic ear infections in pets treated?
A: To break your pet’s recurring ear infection cycle, your veterinarian must diagnose the underlying cause before prescribing an antibacterial and antifungal ear medication, or your pet will experience only temporary relief. Diagnosing your pet’s chronic ear infection causes may require the following tests:

  • Otoscopic exam
  • Ear cytology
  • Culture and sensitivity
  • Blood work
  • Hormone level testing
  • Allergy testing
Once your veterinarian determines whether your pet’s ear infection stems from allergies or a resistant bacterial population, they can prescribe an effective course of treatment, which may involve oral or topical medications, ear flushing, or surgery.

Q: Can I help prevent my pet’s chronic ear infections?
A: While you cannot completely prevent your pet’s ear infections, you can help minimize the condition’s occurrence and severity. Start by cleaning your pet’s ears regularly. Use an ear cleaner your veterinarian has approved, and perform your pet’s maintenance ear cleaning each week. In addition, stay on top of any treatment for your pet’s underlying condition. If you have an allergic pet, continue administering their prescribed allergy medication, even if their allergy signs—itchiness—are not present at the moment. Avoid your pet’s ear infection triggers as much as possible. If your pet tends to develop ear infections after being in the water, ensure you thoroughly dry their ears after they swim or have a bath. In addition, using an ear cleaner that includes a drying agent can help prevent moisture buildup in your pet’s ears. By closely monitoring your furry pal’s ears, you can help prevent them from developing severe infections, keeping them healthy and comfortable.

Are your pet’s ears emitting a foul odor despite their weekly cleanings? If so, your pet may have a chronic ear infection. Schedule your pet’s ear examination with our Staples Mill Animal Hospital team so we can determine their recurring ear infection’s underlying cause, and treat the condition effectively.