Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats

Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats
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Ear infections are very common in both dogs and cats, and can be caused by numerous different things. Learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatments of ear infections.

Ear infections are common in dogs and cats of all ages, breeds, and environments. The ear canal is divided into three sections: externa โ€“ external canal; media โ€“ middle canal; and interna โ€“ internal canal. Ear infections may occur in any or all of these sections, and can be caused by a number of influences. Depending on the cause of the infection, there are several preventative treatments such as application of corticosteroids like Mometamax solution for dogs, and treatments indicated for recovery.

Causes of Ear Infections

Commonly, ear infections in dogs and cats are caused by parasites, such as fleas and mites; environmental conditions, such as extreme heat; foreign objects, such as plant particles; and allergies. Other possible causes include fungus, build-up of dead skin cells, wax, moisture, fur blockage, autoimmune disease, yeast, and reaction to medication. Any irritation to the ear can cause the dog or cat to scratch. If the animal breaks the skin, and bacteria from the nails invades the abrasion, infection is possible. As the ear canal is most often obscured by earflaps and or fur, ear infections may begin undetected, but can quickly become a more serious problem.

Prevention of Ear Infections

As there are so many possible causes, ear infections cannot be universally prevented. It is important to routinely check the ear canals for infection and keep them free of debris. However, nothing, including Q-tips, should ever be poked into the ear canal because it can push debris further inside, causing inflammation and possible infection. It can also damage the eardrum, resulting in possible hearing problems and pain. Keeping the canals free of waxy build-up and parasites can positively affect ear health, but be wary of caustic cleansing liquids, as they can be damaging to your pet's health. Several over-the-counter products available are safe and effective for routine ear cleansing. Keeping an eye on your petโ€™s ear canals and good hygiene will help prevent ear infections from further damage to the ears.

Ear Infection Tests Explained

Typically, a veterinarian will be able to tell whether your dog or cat has an ear infection just by looking into the ear canals. Common symptoms of ear infections are usually easily visible to a veterinarian with the proper tools. It may be necessary for your veterinarian to take blood samples and perform allergy tests to determine the cause, along with testing the infection discharge for fungus, yeast, bacteria, and parasites. In rare cases, x-rays, CT scans and MRIs may be necessary to determine any damage. Any of these tests may require the dog or cat to be sedated or put under anesthesia.

Ear Infection Symptoms

Common symptoms of ear infections include hearing loss, inflammation, redness, irritation, discharge, and odor. If the irritation causes skin breakage, scabs may be visible near the earflap. Hair loss around the ear can indicate infection, and may be caused by scratching the affected area. There are many behavioral symptoms of ear infections, and can be obvious indicators that your pet needs veterinarian attention; darting eye movement, pushing affected ear on the furniture or floor, walking in circles and shaking head as if trying to get water out of ears.

How to Treat Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats

Often as the first round of cat or dog ear infection medicine, a veterinarian recommends is a course of systemic or topical corticosteroids. Steroids used in addition to antibiotics, like Tresaderm and Osurnia gel for dogs, are a quick and effective way to reduce swelling and keep bacteria at bay. If the infection does not subside, the veterinarian may be able to rule out root causes and move onto anti-fungal medications, and perhaps recommend ear flushing with vinegar and water. In cases of major obstruction or tumors, surgical removal may be the only viable option.

Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats

Because ear infections are common in dogs and cats of all ages, breeds, and environments, it is important to be aware of the causal factors. The ear canal is divided into three sections, externa โ€“ external canal, media โ€“ middle canal, and interna โ€“ internal canal. Otitis means inflammation of the ear. The root term Otic refers to the ear, while โ€“itis indicates inflammation. Combined, as Otitis externa, the term indicates inflammation of the external ear. Some factors may cause infections in all three parts of the ear canal, while others tend to stick to one or two areas. Most infections are highly treatable using medications such as Tresaderm antibiotic solution and Baytril topical solution for dogs, once they are detected.

Ear Mites, fleas, and ticks

The most common cause of infected ears in pups and kittens is ear mites. It is very common for them to contract the ear mites from their mother during initial bonding stages of nursing and care. At first, the mites may be invisible to the naked eye, but after a few months, the mites can be spotted by their discharge, very small dots, brownish in color. Ear mites irritate the skin lining of the ear canal, and can cause the skin to thicken, decreasing the canal diameter, and possibly increasing the likelihood for foreign particles to become trapped.

There are four main kinds of infecting ear mites, Otodectes, Notoedres, Sarcoptic mange and Demodex. Otodectes and Notoedres are both tiny, and spider-like, and they live in or on the skin, typically around the media canal. Demodex and Sarcoptic Mange mites, however, cause infection of the external flap of the ear, avoiding the ear canal. These mites bite and burrow into the skin, causing intense skin irritation and inflammation.

Fleas and ticks are similar to ear mites, in that they can infect the media canal and the external ear flap, by biting and living as parasites on the dog or cat. Fleas carry bacteria that can infect an abrasion caused by the animal scratching the irritating bite, while ticks attach to the animal, and can pass bacteria directly to the blood. Ticks and fleas can cause allergic reactions, inflaming the skin around the bites, causing the ear canals to become blocked.

Environmental Causes

It is common that the environment of the dog or cat can influence whether the animal is prone to ear infections. Extreme heat can lead to infection, by providing the perfect grounds for bacteria or yeast to grow rampantly. Both bacteria and yeast respond to increased temperature with rapid growth. Foreign particles from the environment, such as plant particles, dirt, or water can cause irritation to all parts of the ear canal if deep enough. The animalโ€™s body responds to the foreign object by swelling, which can create blockage, and hearing loss, while also possibly becoming infected from scratching. Allergies can be a factor in whether the animal is prone to ear infections. If a particle comes into contact with the ear canal, and the animal is allergic, the particle may cause the skin to become inflamed and infected.

Fungus and Yeast

If yeast or fungus particles make it into the ear canal, they can thrive and grow. The dark, moist, and warm area creates an ideal environment for growth. The growth of yeast or fungus results in a clogged, itchy ear canal, which then can become inflamed and infected from scratching or irritation. Yeast infections and fungal infections are more commonly found in cats than dogs.

Skin cells, Wax or Hair Build-up, and Abrasion

Skin cells, wax, and hair can fall into the ear canal, causing a build-up to occur. This forms a sort of plug, which can contain bacteria or fungus. If the skin around the build-up becomes inflamed from the blockage, the ear can become infected. The animal can feel the blockage and often will scratch the ear rapidly. This abrasive reaction to the annoying feeling in the ear can result in broken skin on the external canal, which can easily become infected if bacteria from nails enter the broken skin.

Cancer or Tumor

Sometimes an infection of the ear can be caused by malignant or benign tumors in the canal. The blockage they cause may cause irritation to the skin, which causes the animal to scratch. The area can become infected from the bacteria in the nails.

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.


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