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Let’s talk ears! Dogs and cats have extremely good hearing but, unfortunately, they often develop problems with their ears that we, as owners, need to address.
It is common for dogs and cats to develop infections or parasite infestations in their ears. One such infestation are ear mites. It is common for cats, especially barn or outdoor cats, to have ear mite infestations.
These parasites are small white bugs that live in the ear and produce a dry, dark discharge in the ear. Often this creates a very itchy ear. Dogs can also have ear mite infestations, but it is not as common as in their feline friends. Ear mites are generally seen in younger animals, it is uncommon for older pets to have this issue. If one has very good vision and looks carefully in the ear of a pet it is possible to see these mites, although diagnosis is often best done with a microscope. Most treatments for ear mites involve drops or lotions that are applied in the ear for a course of treatment. It is possible to have mite infestations reoccur. Currently, some topical flea preventatives can also treat ear mites, so for cats that get reoccurring infections this may be the best treatment/prevention for your pet.
Ear infections are generally one of two main types, yeast or bacteria. Yeast infections are seen more often in dogs that like to swim, such as retrievers. Yeast likes to grow in dark damp areas. An ear that often gets wet and hangs down, limiting airflow is more likely to develop a yeast infection. This type of problem often produces a thick dark brown and odoriferous substance. Treatment entails cleaning and anti-fungal topical medications. Although cats can get yeast infections, it is not seen often in that species, perhaps because they don’t swim as much.
Another common source for ear infections is bacteria. There are many types of bacteria that can be infective to the ear canal. Often these infections result in a painful ear with a smelly discharge. Treatment may involve topical and /or oral antibiotics and possible anti-inflammatory medications. In addition to meds you use at home there are some newer treatments that are done in the doctor’s office so you don’t have to treat at home.
Some pets can have a mixed infection of mites, yeast and/or bacteria. If you feel your dog or cat has problems with his ear, you need to have him examined by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can determine the type of infection/infestation your pet has and provide the appropriate medications.
Most routine ear problems can be resolved with appropriate treatment. If treatment does not resolve the problem, your veterinarian may need to do other tests or procedures These could include, but are not limited to, a culture and sensitivity of the infective agent, ear flushes, injections of medications, remember that when an ear infection is resolved, it can reoccur at a later time, so it is important to check your pets’ ears on a regular basis. It is not “normal” for pets to get recurring ear infections. Often there is an underlining problem that is resulting in recurring infections. If your pet does get frequent infections your veterinarian may look for the underlining cause, such as allergies or thyroid issues.
Another common ear problem seen in pets involves the floppy (or stand up) part of the ear, known as the pinna. This problem is called an Aural Hematoma. This is when blood/serum fills the space between the skin and the ear cartilage. This creates a “puffy” or “pillow” look to the ear. It is uncomfortable and a pet may hold his head to the side or shake his head. The swelling can involve a small part of the pinna or most it. Treatment can involve medications or possible surgery. It is something that should be examined by your veterinarian. She will recommend the best plan of action for the well-being and comfort of your pet.
Your pet has a highly-developed sense of hearing, but with aging he can lose the ability to hear certain frequencies. Often this is a gradual process starting in the geriatric years of our companion animals.
To ensure the health and comfort of your pet, check her ears on a regular basis. Ask your veterinarian about an appropriate ear cleaner. Remember, our pets often don’t let us know there is a problem until it is uncomfortable. When it comes to ears, “on ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Dr. Nancy Schenck, D.V.M., of Four Loving Paws Veterinary Services, Inc., can be reached at 812-448-1415.
If you have a question or pet-related topic for Dr. Schenck to discuss in an upcoming article, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.