Ear problems are a common source of irritation and pain in dogs and cats.
The long, curved shape of dog and cat ear canals can lead to an accumulation of wax and fluid deep in the ear canal. This debris, combined with other factors, can result in an infection. Dog breeds with heavy pendulous ears are prone to ear infections because of the shape of their ears.
Routine Ear Cleaning
Routine ear cleaning should be done once monthly and after baths with a gentle ear cleaner available from your veterinarian. Squirt a generous amount of the solution into the ear canal, and then rub vigorously under the ear opening. If you see dirt or wax on the earflap, use a tissue or cotton ball to clean just the visible areas.
Ear mites are common in kittens and adult outdoor cats, and are occasionally found in puppies. Ear mites are very itchy and will produce a large amount of dry brown discharge. Treatment may include professional cleaning, injections, and medications to put in the ears at home. Since these mites are very contagious to other pets, medication may be sent home for the treatment of all dogs and cats in your household. Treatment with ear drops must continue for at least three weeks to kill all the mites. Concurrent use of flea control products will help kill any mites that may be outside of the ears.
Allergic Ear Disease
It is common for pets with skin disease due to flea, food or in haled allergies to also have ear problems. These allergies may cause the ears to become red, produce excess wax, and become infected. Resolution of allergic ear problems requires treatment of the ears, skin, and allergies. Occasionally pets may have only allergic ear disease and apparently normal skin.
Ear Foreign Bodies
Foxtails are common grass awns that often become lodged in pets' ears and can sometimes bore through the eardrum. These awns may cause sudden intense pain or chronic ear in fections. Keep pets, especially those with long coats that hold foxtails, away from these plants.
Other foreign bodies found occasionally in ears include ticks, fleas, pebbles, and other plant material.
Ear infections are caused by a variety of bacteria and fungi. Depending on the organisms involved, the ears may be swollen, ulcerated, red, smelly, and have a light or dark colored discharge. Cytology or culture of the discharge may be done to assist in selection of proper medications. Treatment may include a thorough, professional ear flushing (which may require sedation), administration of anti-inflammatory and antibiotic injections and pills, home ear cleaning, and ear medication. Recheck examinations are very important to monitor progress. Your pet's ears will be reevaluated, and may require additional flushing or an adjustment in medications. Ear infections can take weeks to resolve so don't give up.
Chronic Ear Disease
With time, ear infections may lead to ruptured eardrums, middle ear infections, growths due to the inflammation, hearing loss, and scarred, calcified, narrow canals. Once these changes have occurred, it becomes very difficult to prevent recurrent ear infections. Long term, potentially continual, ear cleaning and medications may be required to control the infection.
In extreme cases, surgery (ear ablation) may be required to remove the affected tissue to control the infection and pain.
Ear Flap Hematoma
Vigorous head shaking or other trauma may cause the layers of tissue in the earflap to separate and fill with bloody fluid. When this happens, the earflap can look like a water-filled balloon. Appropriate therapy includes surgery and medical treatment. Recurrence or development of a hematoma in the opposite ear is common.
Biting flies land on the top portion of the ear flap and suck blood. The affected portion of the earflap will be hairless, covered with dried blood, and painful. Treatment involves gentle cleaning, frequent application of a good fly repellent, and possibly an anti-inflammatory-antibiotic cream.