Ear infections can cause a host of problems for your pet including pain and, if severe, hearing damage. Malassezia pachydermatitis (yeast) infections commonly plague the ears of dogs and cats.
According to Dr. Cynthia Ramsey, Community Practice Veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana, the yeast organism is a normal inhabitant of the ear in low numbers. "An infection occurs when a pet's ear is traumatized due to excessive scratching or excessive moisture or wax buildup," she says. "Such conditions cause the yeast to grow in large numbers."
Old. Young. It doesn't matter. No cat or dog is immune to yeast ear infections. She points out that infections are more common in dogs than cats. Some veterinarians believe droopy-eared dogs or dogs that swim frequently are more prone to yeast infections because moisture gets trapped inside the ear.
If you notice your pet scratching its ears excessively, shaking or tilting its head, it may have a yeast infection. A "sweet-smelling" odor from the ear or waxy buildup in the ear are also signs of a potential problem and warrant a visit to your pet's veterinarian.
Your veterinarian may sample the waxy buildup and examine it under a microscope. If organisms exist in large numbers, topical ear drops may be prescribed. Pet owners may also have to flush the ear wax from the ear using prescribed ear cleansers. Your veterinarian can show you how to do this before you leave the clinic. Some veterinarians may advise using a 50/50 solution consisting of white vinegar and water to flush the ear. Check with your veterinarian for recommendations and exact dosages.
Sometimes ear infections will recur after successful treatment. Primary inhalant or food allergies causing secondary ear infections should be considered. But usually, with proper treatment, a yeast infection can be cleared up within two weeks. Contact your veterinarian about testing for allergies should ear infections recur.
Dr. Ramsey advises not to use cotton swabs to clean the ear canal. "Cotton swabs tend to pack the ear wax further down into the ear canal," she explains. "Use a cotton ball or soft gauze sponge instead."
Because long standing ear infections can cause damage to the eardrum, never use leftover medications or try to treat an ear infection without consulting a veterinarian. Permanent hearing loss or brain irritation may result.
Unfortunately, there's no way to prevent your cat or dog from developing a yeast ear infection. However, early detection is key. Always ask your veterinarian to examine your pet's ears during checkups, she concludes.
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