Otitis (ear disease) is an inflammation of the ear. It may involve the outer ear – otitis externa, middle ear – otitis media, and/or the inner ear – otitis interna. Although usually not life-threatening, ear infections are often very painful for your pet. In some cases ear infections can recur after treatment. Chronic infection causes the ear canal tissue to become thick and rough. This can severely impair hearing and may lead to difficulty hearing.
Over-the-counter ear cleaners can cause or aggravate infection when ears do not drain and dry properly after cleaning. Your veterinarian can prescribe ear cleaning solutions that clean and dry the ears and medication to treat an infection if necessary. Chronic infection may require surgery.
Pets with otitis often shake their heads, scratch their ears, or rub their ears against objects. Inside, the ear is sometimes red, and a foul-smelling discharge may be present (brown or dark brown). Head tilting and poor coordination can be a result of inner ear infection.
The type of ear infection can be determined by microscopic examination of the ear discharge in addition to visual inspection of the ear canal and ear drum with an otoscope. A bacterial culture to identify disease causing organisms may also be necessary. When severe inflammation is present, anesthesia may be required to properly examine and treat the ear.
Treatment varies with the type of infection and length of time it has been present. The ears may be flushed to remove debri. Antibiotics and other medications may be required. Long-term treatment may be necessary to control chronic infections.