Locally-Owned in Oakdale and St. Paul, Minnesota

Understanding Your Pet’s Ear Infection

ear infections in pets, a dog sitting on a white couch itching it's ear, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

  • Difficulty breathing or profuse bleeding are considered “RED” – or true emergencies– on our Fast Track Triage system. We advise you to seek immediate veterinary care. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you!
  • Facial swelling, hives, and wounds caused by itching are considered “YELLOW” – or semi-urgent case – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend having your pet evaluated by your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital within 24 hours. Call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you, and if your pet’s condition worsens, call the team back to inform them of the status change.
  • Hair loss and red eyes, skin, and ears are considered “GREEN” – or non-urgent cases – on our Fast Track Triage system. This means emergency care isn’t needed, but your pet should be evaluated by your family veterinarian within the next few days.
    • Note: If it’s hot out and your dog has been exercising in the heat, red eyes, skin, and ears may be a result of heat exhaustion instead of allergies. Learn more about heat risks here.

Ear infections can be very irritating and painful to our pets! They’re also especially frustrating because they can draw out for months or years, even with the best treatment. That’s why it’s important to have a logical approach when dealing with your pet’s ear infection. Keep reading to learn about common causes for your pet’s ear infection and how to work with your pet’s veterinary team to best help your pet! 

Close-up of a patient's ear with exudate from otitis externa (ear infection), AERC Dermatology Service, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

Exudate from otitis externa (ear infection).

A collage of close-up photos of pet's ears: the first photo is of a healthy eardrum. The second photo is of a post-myringotomy (a surgical procedure where an incision is made in the eardrum to relieve pressure). The third photo is of a polyp in a cat. The fourth photo is of A bulging ear drum. All photos from Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota's Dermatology Service.

Underlying Causes 

Ear infections are usually due to an underlying cause. To prevent recurrences, it’s important to identify and manage the cause. Most commonly, ear infections in pets are caused by an allergy. However, other causes can include: 

  • An ear polyp
  • Ear mass
  • Middle ear infection
  • Reduced immune system
  • Narrowing of the ear canal (anatomic cause) 

A photo of a cat on an exam table getting ears cleaned by veterinary staff at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

Management 

Since ear infections can be persistent and recurrent, it’s essential to collaborate with your family veterinarian or dermatologist Together, you’ll likely focus on the following steps: 

  1. Thorough cleansing of your pet’s ear canals. 
  2. Application of medication into the ear canals.
  3. Correction of any existing underlying causes.
  4. Regular recheck appointments so your family veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist can re-examine your pet’s ears until the infection and inflammation are cleared.
A still shot of a video-otoscopy ear cleaning with a catheter, AERC Dermatology, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

A still shot of a video-otoscopy ear cleaning with a catheter.

Additional Imaging

There are times where additional diagnostics such as CT (computed tomography) and video-otoscopy is recommended. This procedure requires general anesthesia. 

  • CT is performed first to assess the middle ear, external ear, ear drum, and surrounding tissuesCT will reveal: 
    • The presence and extent of any growths and the thickness of the ear canal. 
    • Infection in the middle ear. 
      • It is particularly important to accurately diagnose and treat a middle ear infection since the brain is located directly behind the middle ear. Infection can extend to the brain if it is not accurately diagnosed or treated. 
  • After the CT scan, if deemed safe, a video-otoscopy is often performed. This allows: 
    • A visualization of the ear canal lining and ear drum. 
    • Flush and suction of the exudate (fluid) from the external and middle ear (if indicated,) permitting topical medications to work better.
    • Removal of any polyps if present.

ear infections in pets, a dog with one floppy flat up, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

By knowing what kind of infection is in your pet’s ear, providing proper at-home care, and maintaining regular appointments with your family veterinarian or dermatologist, you can help your pet live a much more comfortable life!  

If your family veterinarian recommends a visit to a board-certified veterinary dermatologist, ask about a referral to Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota! Learn more about our Dermatology Service here! 

More Reading: 

Andrea Meyer, DVM, DACVD

Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, Fast Track Triage, color-coded triage system, pet emergency, Twin Cities emergency vet, Minnesota emergency vet, Saint Paul emergency vet, Oakdale emergency vet

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