Are ear infections in pets similar to humans?

To some extent, that's true, but only a small number of pets get the same kind of ear infections as humans. This misconception arises because pets get ear infections around the same time of year as humans, particularly during the summertime in the northeast.

How do humans typically get ear infections?

In humans, it's usually swimmer's ear. Contaminated water or water sitting in the ear can get behind the eardrum and cause problems. This is not the case in dogs and cats, leading to confusion when people think, "Well, my animal doesn't swim, how did it get swimmer's ear?"

What should we consider about the anatomy of the ear in dogs and cats?

The first thing to consider is the anatomy of the ear in dogs and cats. For example, a dog's ear is a long tube of skin before it even reaches the skull. In humans, the ear canal ends much sooner. This long tube in dogs includes a 90-degree turn of cartilage, making it a pretty long structure. Anything that causes irritation to the skin of that ear canal can lead to an infection of the outer canal, known as otitis externa or otitis, inflammation of the outer ear.

Why do animals get ear infections?

The reasons are similar to why animals get hot spots—they are self-traumatizing. In humans, pollen and other allergens land on our skin and float on top of sweat. Dogs and cats don't have sweat glands throughout their bodies like humans do; they only have them in their feet. Their skin is full of oil glands, and pollen and mold land on the skin and get sucked down into the hair follicles and glands. This leads to a reaction similar to pollen landing in our eyes, causing us to want to rub it out.

What happens when animals scratch their skin?

If animals scratch incessantly, they force bacteria sitting on the surface of the skin into it, causing rashes or hot spots. For ears, it's the same thing. The skin of the ear canals is covered in yeast and bacteria almost all the time, but healthy skin keeps it in check. If they start shaking their heads or scratching their ears, they damage the skin inside the ear canal, allowing bacteria to enter the deep tissue and cause infections. Outdoor allergens cause the ears to be itchy, leading to infections.

How can ear infections in pets be treated?

The good news is we can usually treat it topically. Medications have come a long way. We used to send owners home with bottles of cleaner and medicine, but now we can do a thorough cleaning at the animal hospital and apply a medicine that lasts about 30 days. This means no treatment at home is required. We usually also provide anti-allergy medication, as most over-the-counter stuff for people, like Benadryl, doesn't work in dogs and cats. Between these treatments, pets usually feel better within 24 to 36 hours, and we can keep infections in check.

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