Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats

Spring is finally in the air! While we all love the warmth and sunshine it brings (and, for our canine friends, the fun of rolling in sun-warmed grass), not everything about the season is so pleasant. Pollen looks pretty dancing in the air, but for allergic dogs and cats it can be a sign of rough times ahead.  Rolling in the dirt?  There’s bacteria and yeast in there, you know.  Even water can be a problem as it can linger in the ears after a long romp in the lake, providing yet another avenue for a common canine health problem…the dreaded ear infection!  And you are the only person who can identify the symptoms soon enough to get them to the vet before real problems start.  Here’s how!

If your pet begins shaking his head or scratching at her ear constantly, you should take a peek inside that ear to check for any odor, discharge, loss of balance, redness, swelling, or scabs. Also take a look for signs of skin irritation around the exterior of the ear and around the sides of the head; sometimes dogs and cats will scratch hard enough to cause irritation in those areas as well. Ear infections are a buildup of yeast and/or bacteria, and while allergies aren’t the only cause, if the scratching of the ears coincides with the changing of the seasons you might want to talk to your veterinarian about getting allergy testing done.

Another cause of ear infection is an excess of moisture in the ear canal.  This is something that can occur from being bathed at the groomer’s, swimming, food allergies, excessive hair inside the ear (trapping moisture), and ear mites. When you take your pet into your veterinarian, the doctor will look into their ears using an “otoscope”; a device that allows them to see what’s happening inside the ear on a magnified setting. We at Plymouth Veterinary Hospital commonly take a swab of the inside of the ear, smear it on a slide, and look at it under the microscope to identify exactly what kind of bacteria or yeast is causing so much irritation. Once we have arrived at a diagnosis, the veterinarian and veterinary technicians will prescribe the appropriate medications to fight the infection, as well as demonstrate appropriate ear cleaning techniques (something you can practice at home with your healthy pets as well!).

You start cleaning the ear by squeezing a veterinarian approved cleanser (medicated if necessary) in the infected ear, followed by gently pressing a cotton ball to the ear opening. Don’t press it in, and never use Q-tips, as this will only push debris farther into the canal (and has the potential to damage the eardrum). By holding the cotton ball just over the ear’s opening and massaging gently, the cotton ball acts as a filter, soaking up excess fluid and the yucky junk within. Your veterinarian may instruct you to clean the ear several times a day for multiple days. Once your dog’s ear infection has cleared up, you may want to think to about cleaning them on a regular basis, or especially after grooming appointments or the weather is changing. Ask your veterinarian for his or her opinion on ear care.

Ear infections are much rarer for cats, but the symptoms and causes are much the same. If your cat paws at his ear or seems to be disoriented, you should call your veterinarian right away. Like dogs, food allergies, seasonal allergies, ear mites, or other foreign bodies in the ear canal could be causing pain. Again, a microscopic analysis of ear debris is our best tool for diagnosis.Ear infections are painful for both cats, dogs, and humans alike, so be sure to make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as you see the signs. As always, if you notice any change in behavior in your pooch, be it loss of appetite or unusual lethargy, you should see your veterinarian as soon as possible.  Feel free to contact Plymouth Veterinary Hospital if you have any questions about your pet’s health!

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