- Ear infections are covered by pet insurance — But not if your pet has had one within the last year.
- Treatments vary by cause — Bacterial or fungal infections might mean an easy treatment for your pet compared to one caused by injury.
- Insurance can save you a lot — Once you submit a claim, you can get up to 90% of the overall cost back.
How pet insurance works
Most pet insurance policies cover injuries and illnesses. The exception to this would be for pre-existing conditions. But, not to worry if this isn’t Fido’s first ear infection. Providers have two categories when it comes to pre-existing conditions: curable and incurable.
Most infections in general, including ear infections, are considered curable. If your pet has had any symptoms or been diagnosed with one within the last year (in the same area of their body), it won’t be covered. But, if it’s been over a year since the last occurrence, most policy providers will cover the bill (up to your deductible).
The cost of infections (with and without insurance)
Compared to some other ailments and accidents that can happen with pets, a simple outer ear infection isn’t that expensive. The price can add up though, especially without insurance.
|With insurance*||Without insurance|
|Physical exam||$10 avg||$50 avg|
|Emergency exam||$20 - $40||$100 - $200|
|Blood panel||$20 - $40||$100 - $200|
|Antibiotic medications (for bacterial infections)||$2 - $6+||$10 - $30+|
|Antifungal medications (for yeast infections)||$1 - $8+||$2 - $40+|
|Required vaccinations*||$15 - $28||$15 - $28|
|Average total cost||$108 - $172+||$677 - $948+|
*Costs are based on Fetch by the Dodo data for insurance plans with a $300 deductible and 80% reimbursement rate. Vaccination rules vary by state — look up your state here — and reoccur on different schedules.
How common are ear infections?
For our four-legged friends, ear infections are fairly common. In both dogs and cats, ear canals are vertical and have an L-shape that tends to hold fluid easily. Most ear infections occur in the otitis externa, the external part of the ear.
How ear infections occur
Pet ears are dark, warm, and moist, making them a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. When fluid is trapped, bacterial and yeast infections can occur — more commonly in dogs, but cats’ ears are susceptible, too. Breeds with a lot of hair in the ear canal, floppy-eared dogs, or pets with smaller ear canals may be more at risk of ear infections.
Not all infections are due to moisture, though. Parasites such as mites or an injury to the ear can lead to an infection as well. Your vet needs to see your pet and determine the underlying cause to treat the infection properly, especially if it becomes recurring.
While most ear infections occur in the otitis externa — the external part of the ear — middle and inner ear infections can sometimes occur. When the two innermost chambers of the ear (the otitis media and the otitis interna) are infected, it often means a visit to a specialized veterinarian.
Certain risk factors increase the chances of an ear infection
Some pets are more likely to develop frequent ear infections than others, depending on a few factors:
- Certain diseases and allergies. Conditions that cause swelling in the ear, like allergies or autoimmune disorders, can make a pet more prone to ear infections.
- Injuries and foreign bodies. Particularly adventurous pets can sometimes get debris or foreign objects stuck in their ears, which can lead to an infection.
- Trapped water. When dogs swim or get a bath, water can get trapped in their ear. This can create the perfect environment for an ear infection.
Dr. Erica Irish
“Most infections are secondary to an underlying problem. Bacteria and yeast can be naturally occurring on skin and in ear canals. When inflammation happens at a cellular level, bacteria and yeast on the surface get into places where they don't normally live, creating an infection. Allergies can trigger inflammation.”
Symptoms of an ear infection in pets
The symptoms of an ear infection in pets are similar to other conditions (like a ruptured eardrum) or more serious issues that could indicate neurological problems. Here are a few of the signs that may indicate your pet is dealing with an ear infection:
- Discharge. Fluid coming from your pet’s ears, particularly if it’s discolored or has an odor, can indicate that your pet might have an ear infection.
- Swelling and redness. If the ear looks larger or redder than normal or is warm to the touch, it might be a sign of infection.
- Sensitive to the touch. If your pup avoids being touched around the ear, scratches at the area, or otherwise indicates that it might be a source of discomfort, these also might be signs of infection.
🚨If your dog is walking in circles, has difficulty standing, or is experiencing unusual eye movements, these could be signs of a more serious problem. You should seek vet care immediately.
Diagnosing your pet’s ear infection
A diagnosis might be as easy as a quick vet exam if the infection is in the outer ear. Infections in other parts of the ear or recurring infections might mean a more complex diagnosis.
Here are three things your vet might do to diagnose your pet’s ear infection:
- Start with the exam — To begin with, your vet will examine your pet’s outer ear. They’ll look for signs of injuries, swelling, redness, or an excessive amount of wax or discharge. They’ll also use an otoscope — a handheld tool with a tapered point and light at the end — to look even deeper in the ear and check for clinical signs of an ear infection and evaluate the eardrum.
- Move to a basic cytologic evaluation — Samples of the discharge coming from your pet’s ears may be used to determine if it’s bacteria or yeast causing problems. Without this step, it can be difficult to prescribe the right medication for your pet. Many vets won’t prescribe without this unless it’s a recurring infection for your pet.
- Consider further testing — If your vet suspects that your pet’s ear infection might be caused by something else, they may call for more testing to help diagnose the problem. For pets with chronic ear infections, X-rays, MRI scans, neurologic tests, and a handful of other diagnostics might be used to confirm the cause of the infections.
Treating an ear infection
Once your vet has determined what kind of ear infection your pet has, they’ll begin treatment. This typically starts with a thorough cleaning of your pet’s ears. For uncomplicated and small infections, a medicated wash might be enough. For more severe infections, your vet might prescribe your furry friend an antibiotic and some anti-inflammatory medications to help with pain and discomfort.
In rare instances when ear infections are caused by conditions like cancer or other severe ear diseases that aren’t otherwise curable, removing the ear canal might be the best course of action so your pet can have a better quality of life.
Preventing ear infections before they start
There are ways to help minimize the chance of your pet getting an ear infection. Here are some tips to prevent ear infections before they get the chance to start.
- Make sure pets stay healthy — Allergies can contribute to an ear infection and cause discomfort for your pets. A proactive way to make sure they stay happy and healthy is by discovering any potential issues and treating them before there’s a problem.
- Keep their ears clean — Use ear wipes to keep your pet’s outer ear clean, and use gauze or another absorbent material (no Q-tips!) that won’t leave fibers to clean their ear canal after baths or playing in the water. While this is less of an issue for cats, it’s important to remove as much moisture and wax build-up as you can to prevent infections.
- Be careful with foreign objects — Keep an eye on any debris that might get stuck in your pup’s ear while you play. Wood chips, sawdust, sticks, and a variety of other foreign bodies can make their way into your pup’s ears, even ticks and seeds!
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Frequently asked questions
Does dog insurance cover ear infections?
Yes, most dog insurance covers ear infections as long as they aren’t a pre-existing, chronic condition.
How much is a vet visit for an ear infection?
It depends on the cause of the infection and where it is. For simple infections covered by insurance, it could be less than $20. For more complex infections in an uninsured pets, that amount might jump to several hundred dollars or more.
Is an ear infection classed as a pre-existing condition?
Yes and no. An ear infection is a pre-existing condition, but it’s considered curable. If a pet hasn’t had one in over a year, then it isn’t something that should impact insurance.
My dog has an ear infection. Is there anything I can do to make him more comfortable?
First, make a vet appointment. If your vet has prescribed Benadryl in the recent past for your dog’s allergies, it’s safe to use that to alleviate some of your dog’s itching. It’s still important to go to the vet as soon as possible.