Ear Infection in Dogs & Cats
Published April 16, 2021
Content Reviewed by an Essentials PetCare Veterinarian
1. What: Ear health issues are common in both cats and dogs, and generally refer to either otitis—an inflammation of the ear canal—or mite infestation. Both can be irritating and painful conditions for the pet.
2. Why: In addition to pain and inflammation in the ear canal, these conditions may lead to facial paralysis, deafness, and signs of vestibular disorder such as head tilt, dizziness, loss of balance, circling, or stumbling.
3. When: Pet ear infections are often secondary to allergies or excessive moisture in the ear canal. A veterinarian should be consulted as soon as a pet displays signs of ear discomfort, such as head shaking, itching, scratching, pain to the touch, odor, redness, swelling, and discharge.
4. How: The veterinarian will perform a thorough examination and diagnostic testing to determine the type of infection and/or parasite affecting the ears. Treatment may require topical medication, regular cleansings, oral medications, and even surgery in severe or chronic cases.
What Is an Ear Infection?
Ear infection in cats and dogs most commonly refers to otitis, or inflammation of the ear canal. This inflammation is typically caused by either bacteria or yeast or a combination of both. There are three categories of otitis: externa, media, and interna. These categories each reflect how deep into the pet’s ear canal the inflammation is. Otitis externa is the most common type of inflammation affecting the external portion of the ear canal.
Otitis media and interna are serious health issues manifested in the middle and inner ear canal, respectively. These conditions may cause facial paralysis, deafness, and signs of vestibular disorder, such as head tilt, dizziness, loss of balance, circling, or stumbling.
Otitis is more frequent in dogs, especially those with floppy ears like Basset Hounds, Beagles, and Cocker Spaniels. Cats can experience otitis as well, but more commonly are affected by ear mites as kittens. Ear mites can affect puppies as well but rarely affects adult dogs.
Ear mites appear as microscopic parasites covering the pet’s outer ear canal, where they feed on dead skin and wax. Ear mites may lead to inflammation, itchiness, and swelling of the ear canals. All cat breeds are susceptible to ear mites. Lifestyle plays a role with infestation. Cats who spend more time outdoors and in close contact with other cats tend to be more prone to ear mite infestation.
How Dogs and Cats Develop Ear Infection
Otitis is most commonly associated with allergic skin disease but may also affect pets that swim frequently. The canine ear canal is generally shaped like a vertical “L.” This may contribute to trapping fluid and moisture, making dogs more prone to moisture-induced ear infection than cats or humans. Dogs with floppy ears may be more predisposed to ear infection than other breeds.
Other factors that may lead to ear infection in pets are structural issues, autoimmune diseases, and endocrine disorders. In addition to health issues, foreign objects and injury to the ear canal may cause serious ear problems as well.
Pets can contract mites anywhere. Mites only survive in the environment for a short period of time, so the main form of infection is from pet to pet. Mites spread to the pet’s fur and migrate to the ears where there is an abundance of food supply.
Symptoms of Ear Infection in Dogs and Cats
Ear infection may be first manifested as a simple redness of the ear flap and canal. The presence of abnormal and/or malodorous discharge may signal a more severe case. These conditions can be painful for your pet, as a result, you may notice the following signs:
• Constant whining, especially when scratching the ear and panting—even through the night
• Crusting or scabs in the ears
• Dark discharge within the outer ear canal
• Head shaking
• Itchiness and scratching
• Pain to the touch
Essential Tip: Call your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of the symptoms above. Essentials PetCare offers an Ear Package including a doctor’s exam, relevant diagnostics, treatment recommendations, and a portable prescription for medication if necessary, for only $45. Book a visit now.
Diagnosing Ear Infection in Your Pet
In order to diagnose an ear infection or mite infestation, the veterinarian will perform a visual exam of your pet’s ear canal. An otoscope will be used to see the lower ear canal and eardrum. The doctor will also look for any swelling or discharge and will assess your pet’s pain level. Samples of the buildup in the ears may be collected for microscopic analysis. Very serious ear infections can be so painful that your pet may need sedation to withstand the examination and cleaning, depending on the severity of the disease present.
The doctor will ask you several questions to help the diagnosis, examples are: Does your pet have a history of allergic skin disease? Does your dog swim a lot? Does your cat spend a lot of time outdoors? What is the hygiene routine like? Could any object have caused the injury? Is this a recurring issue with your pet?
Let the veterinarian know if your pet has had ear infection before and whether the prescribed treatment helped resolve the previous issue. Allergies or other underlying health issues may cause your pet to have recurrent episodes of ear infection. The veterinarian will devise a plan to treat and prevent both.
Ear Mites in Cats and Dogs
Ear mites will not bite your pet, but their presence will make your pet’s skin very itchy, causing persistent scratching that could eventually cause severe skin damage and consequent infection. If you suspect your pet is suffering with mites, seek veterinary care immediately to avoid exacerbation of the problem as time passes by and your pet suffers.
Symptoms of Mite Infestation in Cats and Dogs
• Persistent scratching of the head
• Abrasions or scabs around the ears
• Excessive accumulation of black discharge in the ears
• Reddish-brown discharge resembling coffee grounds
• Mites migrating to other parts of the pet’s body
Treating Otitis and Ear Mites in Cats and Dogs
Following the pet’s examination, the veterinarian may recommend a thorough cleaning of the pet’s ears using a medicated ear cleanser . In severe cases, the pet may be such pain that the inflammation will be treated with oral medications before a thorough exam can be conducted.
If there is a mite infestation, the veterinarian will prescribe medicine suitable to exterminate mites. Mite infestations are generally treated with a topical medication applied to the skin. The veterinarian will be able to advise you on the most appropriate product and application for your pets.
The pet may need to receive oral anti-inflammatory medication for a certain period of time, depending on the severity of the condition. It is important to administer all the medication, even if the pet seems well, as failure to do so may lead to lingering inflammation and prevent resolution of the problem.
In some chronic and severe cases, the pet may need to undergo surgery to remove the ear canal. It is crucial to follow up with rechecks and proper hygiene to avoid recurring infections.
Home Remedies for Ear Infection in Dogs and Cats
It is important to take your pet to a veterinarian as soon as you notice signs of ear infection or mite infestation. Refrain from trying any home remedies as they will likely be ineffective, and the condition may worsen with time. In addition, be aware that using the wrong product in your pet’s ears may be dangerous. Don’t delay proper treatment as this can become a very painful condition for your pet.
Preventing Ear Infection in your Dog or Cat
You can avoid ear infections by learning how to properly clean your pet’s ears. Pet owners should avoid wax buildup, but also avoid excessive cleaning as both may predispose to ear infection for the pet. Consult your veterinarian to learn proper pet hygiene, how often to clean your pet’s ears, and what products to use. This varies from pet to pet depending on lifestyle, breed, ear conformation , and underlying health conditions. For example, dogs who swim often or have floppy ears may need more frequent cleaning.
General recommendations are to prevent water from entering the ear canal during bathing and keep ears free of wax and debris. Overall, you want your pet’s ear canals to be dry and well-ventilated because excessive moisture can lead to an ear infection. Follow all of your veterinarian’s recommendations
The visit to treat an ear infection in your pet at Essentials PetCare takes 15 minutes on average. Book a visit now. We are conveniently located at Walmart.