Ear Infections

The ear is one of the favorite places to scratch for your cat or dog. They love your attention and affection and our furry friends always appreciate a good ear rub every now and then. As a pet parent you see Max or Whisker’s ears every day, they’re soft, they twitch in the direction of sounds, they come in all sorts of shapes, and they have a meticulous and delicate infrastructure. From the pinna (ear flap) to the vertical canal, horizontal canal, Tympanic membrane (ear drum) to the middle ear and all the little pieces in between, your pet’s ears are fascinating fully functioning structures. But unfortunately, the anatomy of a cat and dog’s ears (particularly the dog’s) also predisposes them to infection. The canal is almost like an “L” shape vs. a human’s more straight-forward canal, so debris, yeast, and bacteria can build up and become trapped. Debris cannot easily work its way out. This accumulation of debris, cerumen (ear wax), and skin oil is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for yeast and bacteria to chow down on and multiply. Eventually, this can lead to redness and inflammation down in the ear canal, varying colors of discharge, odor, shaking of the head, and scratching at the ears. If a dog shakes his head vehemently enough, this can cause a blood vessel to burst and then the blood will start to fill the interior of the pinna, creating that hallmark Sopaipilla appearance.

Ear infections (otitis externa) can be very itchy and sometimes painful. You don’t want to let an ear infection linger for too long. It is important that a doctor evaluate your pet, especially to properly identify what types of organisms are brewing via ear cytology and to ensure that the ear drum is still intact by looking through their otoscope. Certain medications can cause permanent damage if the ear drum is ruptured. Some substances will seep into the inner ear through these tiny openings and stay there, causing permanent hearing loss.

One type of ear medication is not for everyone. You wouldn’t treat a group A Steptococcus infection with an antibiotic intended for a Clostridioides defficile infection would you? In other words, you can’t treat a Strep throat with meds intended for colitis. You wouldn’t put the cart before the horse, so why would want the doctor to guess which med to give your dog? If they don’t know which organisms are growing in your pet’s ears, how can they prescribe the most appropriate treatment?

What causes the ear to create the perfect environment for these frustrating microscopic organisms to grow? One common culprit is allergies. This would be either environmental allergies or, less commonly, food allergies (being allergic to the protein source in their food). With environmental allergies, while we get an itchy, runny nose and watery eyes, our pets suffer from red itchy skin and of course itchy ears. There is no cure for allergies, just maintenance. It is important your pet is on a long term antihistamine so their allergies don’t turn around and exacerbate into a full blown secondary infection.

And if you do take your cat or dog to the vet for an ear infection, be sure to follow their recommendations for rechecks. These rechecks are not a ploy to make money, they are strictly necessary. Some infections are more stubborn than others. As a pet parent, I would want to be sure that the initial exam and treatment I paid for is still working and doing what it’s supposed to do. That entails having the doctor use their otoscope again to check the ear drums and likely run another ear cytology. If there are near not as many organisms as before, we know we’re on the right track. If the infection is still persistent, then we either need one more treatment or a different treatment entirely. More often than not, a second treatment is required.

You know ear infections aren’t fun. And your pet can’t speak and say “mom, my ears feel funny.” It’s worth to pay attention to symptoms like shaking the head, scratching the ears, inner swelling, redness, discharge, or holding one ear down when they usually don’t. They depend on us to keep their ears – a very important part of the body – fully functioning so they can continue to hear you call or enjoy the ear rubs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: