Ear infections are one of the most common medical issues for both cats and dogs. Dogs and pups with floppy ears, like Cocker Spaniels, are more prone to ear infections than dogs with erect ears, like German Shepherds. Outdoor cats have a higher rate of ear infections than indoor cats, although indoor cats are not immune.

What are the signs of ear infections?

Dog StrokeThe first signs that your cat’s ears are bothering her include head shaking, scratching ears and rubbing ears against furniture. You may notice inflammation and discharge from your pet’s ear. If your dog cries or groans when rubbing or scratching, the infection is already serious and you need to visit your veterinarian immediately. If you ignore the signs and your pet continues to scratch, they could damage the skin around their face, neck and ears.

You may also notice dry eyes, abnormal pupil size, head tilting and imbalance. Their ears can also smell rank.

If left untreated external ear infections can lead to infections of the middle and inner ear, which are very painful. Swelling narrows the ear canals, sometimes to the point when facial nerves are paralyzed and deafness results.

Most common types of ear infection in pets

Otitis externa is inflammation of the external ear canal. Otitis interna is inflammation of the middle or inner ear canals. There are a number of things that cause ear infections in cats and dogs. The most common include grass, leaves, buds and seeds from walking in fields, moisture from swimming, and bacteria, yeast and ear mites.

The most common cause of ear infection in cats is ear mites. Ear mites are responsible for around 50% of all ear infections in cats. Luckily ear mite infections are quite easy to treat after a visit to your veterinarian. Your vet may also pick up some other problems, such as allergies, which maybe the cause of your itchy ears and swelling.

Treatment depends on cause

Veterinarians usually first test for ear mites, which cause a dark-brown colored discharge. Simple infections can be cleared with an ear cleaning and a course of antibiotic drops for the ear canal. Oral antibiotics sort out bacterial infections. Serious ear infections may need to be flushed out while your pet is sedated. X-rays and other diagnostic tests are often carried out while your pet is under anaesthetic to check for middle and inner ear infections. Anti-fungal and anti-parasitic solutions are used to treat yeast and mite infections.

Diagnosis and procedures

checking for ear infections

Your vet will probably also check your pet’s skin and coat, as ear-related problems can show up outside of the ear. Veterinarians use an otoscope to examine your pet’s ears. It identifies masses and polyps, foreign bodies and other abnormalities.

Your vet may do an ear cytology, which involves swabbing the inside of your pet’s ear to see if there are abnormal cells, yeast or bacteria. The results of the ear cytology determine the course of treatment. If the cytology indicates a bacterial infection, treatment usually involves antibiotics. However, infections may not respond to the medication and an ear culture is then advised. Ear cultures identify the type of bacteria in your pet’s ear. Different antibiotics are tested on the bacteria to test their effectiveness at treating the infection.

Problematic underlying conditions like thyroid disease or sebhorrhea can cause complications which have to be addressed to ensure the infection is successfully treated and future infections prevented. Your pet’s ear canals can be permanently narrowed, or closed and only surgery can drain residual fluids and discharge. A particularly severe ear infection can permanently deform your pet’s ear.

Home remedies and preventative care

cat ear vetAlways take your dog or cat to the vet at the first sign of infection and follow their expert medical advice. You can complement their medication with some proven home remedies but speak to your veterinarian about your intention to do so, as some remedies may counteract the prescribed medication.

To prevent ear infections or recurring infections it’s important to clean your pet’s ears regularly and ensure their environment (your home) is pest-free. You can clean your pet’s ears gently using a damp piece of cotton wool. Remember not to push it too deep into the ear. If you’re too nervous to clean your pet’s ears yourself, you can always take them to the vet.