Jingle. Jingle. Jingle. You are awakened at 2 a.m. to the incessant jingle of your dog’s identification tags as they shake their head and scratch their ears. This is the third ear infection your dog has had in as many months, and you are worried the condition is becoming chronic. Lately, it seems like your dog has been battling one ear infection after another, and the various ear cleaners are no longer effective. Why does your dog keep getting ear infections, and how can you break the cycle? Our Tidmore Veterinary Hospital team describes ear infections’ early signs, and how—with your help—your veterinarian can help prevent your pet from developing this painful chronic condition.

What are signs of chronic ear infections in pets?

If your pet has a painful ear infection, they will show obvious discomfort signs. Common ear infection signs include:

  • Head shaking 
  • Scratching and pawing at the ears
  • Reddened, inflamed, swollen ears
  • Pain when the ears are touched 
  • Stenotic (i.e., narrowed) ear canals
  • Foul ear odor 
  • Ear discharge or excessive ear debris buildup 
  • Aural hematoma (i.e., a thickened ear flap filled with blood and fluid)

While ear infections are generally uncomfortable, some pets hide signs well, and you may not suspect your furry pal has an infection until the condition has advanced. If your pet is prone to ear infections, ensure you check their ears regularly.

What causes chronic ear infections in pets?

Ear infections have many causes, and effective treatment requires accurate diagnosis of the underlying cause. Common causes for chronic ear infections min pets include:

  • Allergies — Allergies irritate and inflame pets’ skin, and can also affect the sensitive skin inside the ears. Oftentimes, normal yeast population overgrowth inside the ear is associated with allergy-related ear infections. Seasonal, environmental, or food allergies may cause your pet’s ear infections. If your pet only develops ear infections in the spring and fall, they likely have seasonal allergies. If their ear infections occur year-round, they may have environmental allergies to dust or mold. Pets who develop chronic ear infections at a young age—younger than a year—may have a food sensitivity. 
  • Tumors — The most common growths—masses, polyps, and adenomas—can trap moisture and cause excess wax accumulation inside your pet’s ear canals. 
  • Foreign objects — Any foreign material that enters your pet’s ear canal can lead to an ear infection. Foxtails, grass awns, and other debris can cause chronic inflammation that leads to yeast and bacteria overgrowth in your pet’s ears.
  • Excessive moisture and humidity — High temperature and humidity levels, and excessive water—because of frequent swimming—create the perfect breeding ground for yeast and bacteria overgrowth. High humidity also causes ear canal swelling, which limits the oxygen that can reach deep in the ear, and promotes yeast growth. 
  • Parasites — Ear mites are a common parasite that bother cats and other pets who share close quarters with those affected. These mites are incredibly itchy, and feed off the dark, crumbly debris in your pet’s ears. Mange mites, such as those responsible for demodectic and sarcoptic (i.e., scabies) mange, can also cause pets’ itchy ear infections.
  • Endocrine disorders — Endocrine disorders that weaken your pet’s immune system—hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease—can put them at risk for chronic ear infections, allowing yeast and bacteria to flourish inside their ears. 
  • Resistant bacteria — Certain bacteria species are resistant to common ear medications, and those medications’ use can result in chronic ear infections. Culture and sensitivity testing is necessary to determine which treatment will be effective at eradicating the specific bacterial strain plaguing your pet. 

Which pets are more at risk for developing chronic ear infections?

While any pet can develop ear infections, some pets—especially water lovers who swim frequently—are predisposed to developing chronic ear infections. In addition, pets who have the following conditions or characteristics are most at risk:

  • Allergies
  • Narrow ear canals
  • Hairy ears (e.g., poodles, schnauzers)
  • Floppy ears (e.g., hounds)

How are chronic ear infections treated in pets?

To treat your pet’s ear infection successfully, our Tidmore Veterinary Hospital veterinarian must first diagnose the underlying condition leading to your pet’s ear infections, and will then prescribe the most effective treatment. Treatment may consist of:

  • Allergy treatment, including corticosteroids, a hydrolyzed diet, Apoquel, Cytopoint, or immunotherapy
  • Endocrine disease management
  • Ear flushing
  • Antiparasitic mite medications 
  • Surgical removal of polyps and masses
  • Antimicrobial and/or antifungal topical treatments

The underlying condition’s treatment—along with regular maintenance cleanings—helps keep your pet’s ear infections under control. However, the ear infection’s underlying condition may change over time, so regular veterinary checkups are necessary to ensure your pet remains comfortable.

Does your pet shake their head and scratch their ears constantly? If so, they may have a condition that triggers chronic ear infections. Schedule an appointment with our Tidmore Veterinary Hospital team to determine the underlying cause of your pet’s ear issues.