Ear Care for Pets
May 29, 2009
Hot, humid days are rapidly approaching as summer slowly begins.
The season means finally diving into the neighborhood swimming
pool, children on summer vacation running through the streets, and
grass lawns growing at seemingly breakneck speeds. But summer could
also mean painful ear infections for your pet. Heat, moisture and
even grass clippings could cause serious problems for your furry
friend's ear canals.
"Allergic skin disease affecting the ears and the ear pinnaes,
ear mites, foreign bodies such as plant material like a grass awn,
or ectoparasites such as a tick are all probable causes of ear
infections," explains Dr. M.A. Crist, a clinical assistant
professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine &
Biomedical Sciences. "Hair can grow deep in the ear canals causing
the build-up of wax and moisture leading to bacterial growth and
The causes range from a variety of factors, but one fact seems
to remain the same. Our pets often contract ear infections on a
regular basis. Crist explains why our pets are so susceptible to
contracting these problems.
"The basic anatomy of the cat and dog ear canal has a vertical
and horizontal section that predisposes them to ear infections.
Waxy debris must work its way upward and outward instead of just
straight out," says Crist. "Irritation to the ear usually results
in overproduction of waxy debris."
An ear infection can sometimes go unnoticed, as our pets cannot
always tell us when something is wrong. Fortunately, there are a
few warning signs that can let pet owners know when an ear
infection might be present.
"Early signs that your pet may be developing an ear infection
may include them scratching at their ears, shaking their head,
redness of the ears, holding one ear flap slightly dropped to one
side or the animal may exhibit signs that ear or ears are painful
when you pet or touch around the area," notes Crist. "Debris or a
discharge might be noted in the ear canal and an odor from the ears
may become noticeable."
If symptoms go untreated, ear infections could become very
painful and cause the animal to have more severe clinical signs,
sometimes requiring the pet to be sedated or put under general
anesthesia to have the ears examined.
"Severe infections of the middle ear can lead to facial nerve
paralysis, which gives a 'droopy jaw' appearance on the affected
side of the face," describes Crist. "Another complication is an
aural hematoma and needs to be corrected surgically."
If you suspect that your pet has an ear infection, it is
important to visit your veterinarian to receive a full examination
"If a pet owner believes their animal to have an ear infection,
it is recommended that they visit a veterinarian for a general
dermatological history and full examination, complete with a
thorough physical examination of the ear, otoscopy and cytologic
examination," says Crist. "A sample of the discharge will be
obtained, examined and identified. Once a diagnosis has been made,
medications are selected and home treatment is usually continued
for several weeks. The ears need to be rechecked to make sure the
infection has been resolved."
Fortunately, there are several preventative measures that can be
taken to keep your pet free from pain and your wallet from becoming
"Prevention is key," urges Crist. "Heat and moisture are enemies
of the ear canal and allow bacteria and yeast to flourish. Keeping
the animal's ears clean and dry is important. It is also important
to check your pet's ears regularly as part of their regular
grooming routine to avoid ear infections. Giving their ears a quick
glance daily could help prevent ear problems from arising."
While it sounds simple enough, many pet owners are uninformed of
the proper methods of ear care and some ignore ear care
"Routine ear cleaning is a simple method of providing ear
therapy," notes Crist. "A variety of ear cleaners are available and
your veterinarian will prescribe the most appropriate ear cleanser
for your pet to use during their regular grooming routine. The
frequency of cleaning will also be determined by your vet."
Ear cleaning is easy and can prevent major problems down the
road and save your pet from extensive damage to their hearing
"You want to begin an ear care regimen before your pet keeps you
up at night shaking their head, scratching at their ears or before
the smell of their ears reaches you before your pet does,"
emphasizes Crist. "Every moment that your animal's ears are
inflamed and infected causes damage to the ear canal. It is
important to seek veterinary care right away and to follow through
with the treatment regimen."
Don't let an ear infection put a damper on your summer fun.
Following a few preventative measures and being aware of the
warning signs will help ensure that your furry friends are both
happy and healthy.
About Pet Talk
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be
viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk.
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Angela G. Clendenin
Director, Communications & Public Relations
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