During a physical examination, our veterinarian will look in the ear for the presence of inflammation, redness, discharge, growths, or other findings that may indicate an ear infection. Sometimes, a cotton swab is used to collect debris from the ear. This material can be placed on a slide and examined under a microscope to determine if the infection is due to yeast, bacteria, or mites. Your veterinarian may also collect a sample of ear debris for culture and sensitivity testing, which identifies the exact organisms present and helps your veterinarian select the best antibiotic to use.
In severe cases, or if the animal is in too much pain to permit an examination of the ears, sedation may be needed to evaluate the ears, collect samples of discharge, clean the ears, and initiate treatment. With the pet sedated, the ears can be gently flushed to remove debris and facilitate better examination of the ear. Radiographs (X-rays) and other diagnostic tests can be performed while the pet is sedated to determine if the middle or inner ear are also involved.
Once the infection has been identified, most animals with chronic ear infections can be treated at home. Ear mites are relatively easy to treat with medication placed directly into the ear or applied topically between the shoulder blades. Most yeast and bacterial infections can be treated with regular cleanings and topical or oral medication. When inflammation is severe, a steroid may be needed to give comfort to your pet and decrease the swelling around the ear canals.
If there are underlying problems such as thyroid disease or seborrhea, these must also be addressed to clear the infection and reduce the chances of recurrence.
If the ear canals have been permanently narrowed or damage is otherwise severe, surgery may be recommended to allow for drainage and application of medication. In other cases, more extensive surgery may be recommended to prevent the pet from being in chronic pain due to a permanently deformed, infected ear.