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Ear Infection

Infected and healthy ear

Ear infections are a common problem in dogs and cats, particularly in the tropics! Fortunately they can be treated, and steps can also be taken to minimise the chance of them recurring in the future. 

How do ear infections develop?
There are many potential causes and factors involved in the development of ear infections. These include:

  • Inflammation of the ear canal associated with: parasites (mites and ticks); introduction and overgrowth of bacteria and yeast; foreign bodies (grass seeds, dirt etc); allergic skin disease and other skin issues; growths in the ear; and hormonal imbalances.

  • Predisposing factors: narrow canals; hairy ears; floppy ears; moist ears (from swimming); climates with high temperatures and moisture (Darwin is the perfect environment for ear infections!)

Some causes can exacerbate and be responsible for recurrence of ear infections. This can include:

  • Extension of infection into the middle ear.

  • Antibiotic resistant infections; to effectively treat an ear infection we need to perform cytology to determine what organisms are involved. In chronic and recurrent  cases it is ideal to send a swab off to the laboratory to grow the organism and determine what antibiotics are effective against the organism.

  • Resistant organisms: requires culture and sensitivity

  • Inadequate treatment: ear infections need to be treated twice a day for a minimum of two weeks and rechecked at the end of the course to ensure the medication has been effective. Chronic or recurrent ear infections often require longer treatment courses and more frequent rechecks.

How will I know if my pet has an ear infection?
Pets with ear infections can present with the following signs:

  • Scratching at ears

  • Shaking their head

  • Pungent smelling ear/s

  • Discharge from the ear/s

  • Pain when the ears are touched

Chronic infections can lead to other changes such as thickened and irregular ear flap (pinna).

Image courtesy of Virbac Animal Health 

How are they diagnosed?
The diagnosis of ear infections involves several steps. 

  • Examination of the ears with an otoscope. This allows assessment of the amount of discharge and inflammation present.

  • Cytology: A swab of the ear is taken and viewed under the microscope to determine what type of organisms are involved. 

  • Culture and sensitivity: if required, a swab of your pet’s ear may need to be sent to a pathologist. The organism is grown and tested against different antibiotics to see which ones will be effective. This test is particularly important in recurrent, chronic or unresponsive ear infections.

How are ear infections treated?
After diagnosis the most appropriate treatment choice can be determined. Ear infections typically require treatment twice a day for at least two weeks. This is usually done in the form of drops that are instilled into the ear. Depending on the amount of inflammation present, an anti-inflammatory may also be required - this can be combined into the ear drops or may be given as a tablet.

In some cases your vet will recommend an ear flush to remove the debris and discharge and check for any foreign bodies. This involves a general anaesthetic and day stay in hospital. Sterile fluid is flushed through the ear several times to loosen and remove the debris. After an ear flush your pet may be sent home with medication. 

Cleaning of the ear to remove excess discharge is important in the treatment of the infection. Remember to clean 10-15 minutes before applying medicated drops into the ear!
Animals often don't like having drops put into their ears. It is important to persevere with the treatment and seek advice from your vet if you are struggling to medicate. 

How can I reduce the risk of the infection recurring?

  • Check your pet’s ears weekly. This will help you identify if there is anything wrong with the ears early. 

  • Some animals require regular ear cleaning to maintain healthy ears. There are a number of products available including EpiOtic and PAWS Gentle Cleaner which can be used to clean out the ears. To clean the ears, squeeze a liberal amount of the cleaner into the ear. Massage the base of the ear and then wipe out with cotton wool, face washer, tissue etc. 

  • Regular trimming of the hairs around the ear flap can also help to reduce the incidence of ear infections (particularly in long-haired dogs).


If you have any questions or concerns regarding your pets ears please don't hesitate to call us.

To watch a video on how to clean your pet's ears visit

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