Once we grow out of our childhood years, we tend to outgrow the chances of getting an inner ear infection. As children, our anatomy makes us more prone to painful inner ear infections because of the size and shape of our Eustachian tubes. For our four-legged children, anatomy also plays a role in the development of ear infections.
If you’re lucky, your pet will never be troubled by ear infections, but for many pets and their owners, ear infections are par for the course. Dogs and cats have long ear canals, and they are warm, dark, and moist – a perfect environment for yeast and bacteria to thrive! For this reason alone, you should peek into your pet’s ears each time you engage in their normal bathing or grooming maintenance.
You’ll want to check in on your pet’s ears more frequently (at least weekly) if your pet has any of the following predisposing traits:
- A history of allergies, whether it be food allergies, contact allergies, or seasonal inhaled allergies.
- Floppy ears. Dogs like Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds and Bloodhounds come to mind immediately, but any dog with long, floppy ears is more prone to infection.
- A history of ear infections. Some infections are recurrent after they’ve been cleared, and some are under-treated, so that they come back after treatment ends. If your pet has had an infection in the past, be vigilant about monitoring ear health.
- Increased ear wax production. Some dogs and cats just produce a lot of ear wax. This debris can trap bacteria or yeast and may contribute to increased ear infections.
- Excess ear hair. Dogs with hair in their ear canals (Poodles, I’m looking at you!) are prone to infection. If your pet has excess ear hair and is getting ear infections often, have your veterinarian or groomer pull the hairs to keep the ear canals clean and healthy.
When examining your pet’s ears, be sure to observe both the ear flap (or pinna) and as much of the inner ear as they will allow. Be on the lookout for:
- Increased discharge. Ear infections are typically accompanied by thick brown or yellow discharge.
- Foul odor. Both yeast and bacterial infections result in a particularly stinky ear.
- Crusty ears. Crusts on the pinna or inside the ear are abnormal.
- Sores on the pinna, especially in cats. Outdoor cats are prone to squamous cell carcinoma (a kind of cancer) on the tips of their ears.
- Painful, red, or ulcerated ears.
- Swollen ear flaps. Hematomas can form in the ear flap due to excessive head shaking that sometimes accompanies ear infections.
If you think your pet has an ear infection, you’ll want to get to the vet as soon as possible. There, they will determine the type of infection, clean your pet’s ears, and send you home with appropriate medications to treat the infection.
If your pet just has a case of dirty or waxy ears, you can clean them easily at home. You can use a variety of things to clean your pets ears, ranging from ear cleaning solutions sold at your veterinary clinic to mineral oil to plain warm water. Your veterinarian probably has a favorite, so don’t hesitate to ask. Fill the canal with cleaning solution and massage your pet’s ear gently at the base. Your pet will likely love this part and may groan with pleasure. Next, use a cotton ball (or anything very soft) to gently wipe out the ear until mostly dry. Note that the skin inside our pets’ ears is very delicate; only use extremely gentle materials to wipe and never use force.
One final note: in puppies and kittens, ear mites are very common. Ear mites result in a crusty, black discharge, and it usually comes from both ears. Ear mites are insanely itchy, so you’ll likely notice your new addition scratching at his or her ears. And while they’re also insanely contagious, take solace in the fact that you and your two-legged family members are safe! If you suspect ear mites, get your youngster into your veterinary clinic ASAP so the mites can be treated.