Ear Health – Can you hear us now?

Living with pets, you become familiar with their habits and personalities. Fido is a couch potato, but will do amazing tricks for a toy. Spot lives for his daily walk, but could care less about treats and tricks. Fluffy’s favorite hangout is on the windowsill in the sunshine, but Socks likes to perch on top of the fridge and survey her kingdom. We get to know their food preferences, their favorite toys, and their bathroom habits. If it were necessary, we could distinguish their bark or meow in a room full of dogs and cats. We know the squeak of their toys, the pad of their step, and the jangle of their collar as they scratch an ear. And scratch… and scratch… and scratch. Since we know our pets, hearing that extra jangling and seeing the relentless scratching of an ear tells us that something is wrong.

Frequent scratching or pawing at the ears Opalmay be a sign of an ear infection, which is a common problem in pets, especially in dogs. Other signs that you may notice at home are rubbing the ears, tilting or shaking the head, or even something as subtle as carrying the ears lower than normal. The ears may be painful when touched. In cats, “airplane ears”, flattening the ears out to the sides like the wings of an airplane, may indicate that their ears are causing discomfort. If you lift the flap, or pinna, of the ear, you may see that the skin is red or appears thickened and you may notice an unpleasant odor from the ear canal. The pinna may become very swollen from frequent shaking or scratching. Animals whose ears are painful may also exhibit behavior changes, becoming aggressive or even snapping in response to the pain they are experiencing.

If you notice any of these signs, your first stop should be at your veterinarian’s office. Over the counter products may be effective at cleaning ears, but will likely not effectively treat an ear infection, and may actually increase your pet’s discomfort if used improperly or in the wrong situation. During the examination, your veterinarian will look into your pet’s ears to determine the extent of the infection and to check the structure of your pet’s ear canals and ear drums. If signs of infection are there, your veterinarian will likely swab the ear for microscopic analysis so that they can choose the correct treatment. Once the course of treatment is complete, keep any recheck appointments that your veterinarian schedules to be sure that the infection has completely resolved. Ear infections that are incompletely treated may return and may become resistant to medications or cause lasting damage to your pet’s ears.


Ear infections have a variety of causes. Parasites such as ear mites are often blamed by owners for their pets’ ear problems, although they are not the most common cause of ear infections that we see, especially in animals who are on monthly parasite control products and live primarily indoors. Ear mites are diagnosed by microscopic examination by your veterinarian. Often, the inflammation in the ear canals caused by the mites can lead to a secondary yeast or bacterial infection, prompting the need for additional treatment. Pets who suffer from food or environmental allergies are prone to recurrent ear infections until their allergies are under control. Breeds with heavy ears like cocker spaniels or dogs who like to swim may have more frequent ear infections due to moisture retention in the canals. Frequent ear infections and inflammation can also be caused by a polyp or mass within the ear canal that may require removal.

20160408-NOLA-Ridge-00406Early detection and treatment of ear disease can make a huge difference in the health and comfort of your pet. Left untreated, ear infections can lead to damage of the ear drum or hardening or swelling of the ear canals, sometimes to the point that the ear canal is permanently closed, reducing your pet’s ability to hear. For some pets, severe ear disease requires surgical intervention to provide any relief. If you suspect your pet may have an ear infection, talk to your veterinarian. Not only will they treat any current infection, but they can show you how to clean and medicate your pet’s ears and can advise you on the best preventative care for your pet. Don’t let an ear infection cause lasting damage to your pet. Our veterinarians at the Community Clinic are always glad to discuss your concerns and to get your pet back on the road to good ear health.

Dr. Sarah Reardon has been a veterinarian with the Louisiana SPCA for 3 years. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Reardon has 3 dogs, all Louisiana SPCA rescues. If you have a question for Dr. Reardon, email askthevet@la-spca.org or visit la-spca.org/clinic. dr-sarah-r-1