How do you diagnose and treat an ear infection?

What tests will my veterinarian use to diagnose my pet’s ear infection?

Your veterinarian will perform some tests to determine if your pet has an ear infection. Your vet will look into the ear with an otoscope to see whether there is something within the ear canal like a mass. If your pet is in a lot of pain, this procedure may require sedation or anesthesia.

Your veterinarian will also take a sample from the ear to view it under a microscope (a procedure known as cytology). This will allow your vet to determine whether there is bacterial or yeast infection in the ear or whether mites are the reason for your pet’s discomfort. This is also important for selecting the appropriate treatment for your pet.

Depending on how long the ear infection has been present, your veterinarian might recommend culture and sensitivity testing. This is where a swab sample is taken from your pet’s ear and sent to the lab for testing to identify the appropriate antibiotic to use.

How will my veterinarian treat my pet’s ear infection?

If a foreign body or ball of wax is found during the examination, it will be removed. Sometimes this involves anesthesia to allow thorough cleaning and flushing of the ear. If a mass is seen in the ear, this will need to be removed. Sometimes this is done with your pet under anesthesia. Depending on the size of the mass, removal may require a referral to a veterinary dermatologist or surgeon.

If the infection is due to bacteria or yeast, your vet will prescribe a course of topical ear drops to treat the infection. This course may be for 7–14 days depending on the type of infection and drops prescribed. If your dog/cat has a lot of debris in its ear, you may also be sent home with a cleaner to remove the debris (see example here).

If the debris is deeper down the ear canal, your veterinarian may need to sedate or anesthetize your pet to flush and clean out the debris deep in the ear. If your pet has a deep infection, oral antibiotics or antifungals may also be required to address the infection.

Your vet may recommend other treatments to address the underlying disease that is causing inflammation of the ear.

If your pet’s ear infection is due to mites, your vet might recommend treating other dogs and cats in your household so they don’t become infected.