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Ear Infections and Your Pets

Dog breeds with floppy ears are very susceptible to ear infections

What to do if Your Cat or Dog has an Ear Infection

It’s not uncommon for your pets to experience ear infections. The major causes are otitis, which is an inflammation of the ear canal, or it can be a mite infestation. Regardless, ear infections can be extremely annoying and painful for your pets.

While these ear inflammations can be extremely uncomfortable, they should be treated right away. Any type of infection in the ear canal can cause a variety of problems such as facial paralysis, deafness, as well as vestibular disease which can include a tilted head, dizziness, balance issues and stumbling.

Symptoms can include excessive head shaking, itching, scratching, pain to the touch, abnormal odors, swelling, redness, and discharge.

Different Types of Ear Infections


Otitis is the common term used for the inflammation or infection of the inner ear. It is usually caused by excessive bacteria, yeast or, in some cases, a combination of both. There are three subdivisions of otitis: externa (also known as “swimmer’s ear”), media (affects the middle ear, behind the ear drum, and interna (which can affect balance). Each one of these subdivisions help define how deep the inflammation is in the pet’s ear. Of the three, otitis externa is the most common inflammation, which affects the external section of the ear canal.

As for otitis media and interna, these are both very serious health issues that affect the middle and inner ear canal. Media and interna, if not treated, can lead to some of the issues mentioned above.

Otitis appears more frequently in dog breeds with large floppy ears (Basset Hounds, Beagles, Cocker Spaniels). Cats are also susceptible to otitis, yet it often appears as ear mites during their kitten period. The same ear mites can also affect puppies, but not adult dogs.

Ear Mites

Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are microscopic parasites that can appear on your pet’s external outer ear canal, where they often are drawn to dead skin and earwax. These nasty creatures can cause extensive itching, as well as inflammation, itchiness, and swelling in the ear canals.

Unfortunately, ear mites are able to spread quickly, and can transmit from one animal to another with even the slightest physical contact. These mites can affect all cats, especially ones who are outdoor and have contact with other cats, as the infestation can spread. They can also affect dogs, but to a lesser degree than they do with cats. It’s very rare for humans to be infected.

Infected animals will often have excessive dark, crumbly brown debris in their ears. The mites are microscopic, so they can barely be seen as they make their way into the ear canal.

While ear mites are annoying, they will not bite your pet, but they can cause your pet’s skin to become itchy. This can lead to extensive scratching than can lead to skin damage as well as infection. If you suspect that your pet is experiencing ear mites, contact your veterinarian right away.

The following symptoms are often associated with an ear mite infestation:

  • Constant head scratching
  • The appearance of scabs, bruises and abrasions near the ears
  • Heavy buildup of black discharge in the ears
  • A red/brown colored discharge that resembles ground coffee
  • Ear mites moving to other parts of your pet’s body

How Ear Infections Start in our Pets

While otitis is commonly related to allergic skin disease, it may also affect your pets, mainly dogs, if they like to swim. A dog’s ear canal has a vertical L shape, which can trap external fluid and moisture, causing a moisture induced ear infection. If you have a dog with very floppy ears, that may be even more inclined to face ear infections, compared to other breeds.

Ear infections can also be caused by autoimmune diseases and endocrine disorders. Debris and other objects as well can enter the ear, damage the ear canal and cause significant problems.

Ear mites are not exclusive to a specific part of the US; they can be contracted anywhere. They have a short life span, yet that can jump from pet to pet. They burrow in the pet’s fur and gradually make it to their ears, which serves as a food supply for them.

Some Ear Infection Symptoms

Initial signs of an ear infection in a cat or dog may first appear as redness in the ear canal and the ear flap, or pouch, that sits at the base of the ear (which is also known as Henry’s Pocket), which is a common area for parasites to congregate. Abnormal ear discharge may be the sign of a severe infection.

As infections can be extremely painful, be aware of the following signs:

  • Excessive whining while scratching, and panting
  • Scabs and crust in the ear
  • Discharge in the outer ear canal
  • Head shaking
  • Itching and scratching
  • Foul odor
  • Obvious pain if their ears are touched
  • Redness and swelling

Determining if Your Pet has an Ear Infection

If you suspect any type of ear infections in your pets, it’s best to bring him or her in to your Austin vet for an ear exam. The veterinarian will examine their ear canal and ear drum using an otoscope, which is a standard tool to help investigate any potential ear issues during a check up.

Here, the vet can check for any type of swelling or discharge and will collect and samples for a thorough analysis. Ear infections can be so extreme and painful, that your pet might need to be sedated during an exam. This would involve a cleaning of the ears and an analysis of how extensive the infection actually is.

Keep your Austin vet informed of any previous ear infections and if any treatment has been prescribed in the past. In some cases, your pet may just require an ointment to help curb the infection, while others may need more in depth treatment, such as surgery. Be aware of any allergies or possible health issues that may play a part in such infections. The vet will work with you to find the best course of treatment available.

Treatment of Otitis and Ear Mites

Some treatments of ear infections in our pets may involve a thorough cleaning of their ears with various medications. Depending on how extreme the inflammation is, oral medication may be used before a thorough exam can take place.

Mite infestations are usually treated with a topical ointment applied directly to the infected parts of the skin. Some pets may need an oral anti-inflammatory medicine for a lengthy spread of time based on how severe the inflammation is. Your pet should be given all of the medication, even if your pet appears to be improving. This will help curb the spread of the infection and help prevent any further inflammation while helping to resolve it at the same time.

For those cases which appear to be more severe, surgery may be required to help solve the issue. Any type of surgery should be followed up with your vet for a review and possible treatments to prevent any future infections.

It’s very important to let your vet handle any type of ear infections. Do not use any type of home remedies, as they will not be effective and may actually harm your pet over time. If you find a product that you think may help, consult with your vet before using it.

Preventing Ear Infections

It’s not terribly difficult to help prevent ear infections in our pets…but it may not be fun. Your vet can walk you through how to properly clean and care for your pet’s ears. Helping them be free of excessive wax buildup is a good start, but it’s not a good idea to clean them at the slightest sign of earwax. Much of this will depend on the breed or dog or cat, as each pet is different. It’s good to know the warning signs of an ear infection and to help them keep their ears clean to avoid any problems down the road.

Should you have any questions about any of these issues regarding ear infections and your pets, please reach out to us at ATX Animal Clinic. We can help you understand your pets ears and show you the proper way to keep them clean, dry and how to prevent any infections and inflammations they may encounter.