Ear infections are very common amongst cats and dogs and can cause severe irritation and discomfort for your beloved pet. The normal flora of the ear canal (the natural bacteria and yeast that lives in the ear) requires a balanced environment for optimal functioning. Any disturbance to this environment, such as inadequate ventilation due to floppy, hairy ears or inflammation of the ear canal due to dietary intolerances, upsets this balance and an overpopulation of the bacteria and yeasts naturally resident in the ear canal results. The ear reacts by secreting more wax which further compounds the problem and thus begins the cycle of ear infections.
Common signs of ear infection are:
- Shaking of the head and ears
- Scratching or rubbing the ears and face
- Discharge or even bleeding from the ears
- Foul smell coming from the ears
- Sensitivity to touching in the ear area
- General irritability
- Head tilt
There are a number of causes of ear infection and common culprits include overgrowth of bacteria, yeasts and mites. Less commonly, allergies may have a role to play in inflammation and subsequent infection of the ears. The ears are an extension of the skin and pets with skin complaints such as skin allergies and other hypersensitivities often suffer from ear infections. An odd phenomena is that dogs with blocked anal glands often have ear problems too, so a possible link from one end of your dog to the other!!
Ear mites, or Otodectes cynotis, are small, parasitic creatures that usually live in the ears of your pets causing severe itching and inflammation. These mites can also live on the head or body of dogs and cats - with the same effects. They are often large enough to see with the naked eye, can live off a pet’s skin for some time and are very mobile - allowing easy movement between host animals. These mites are highly contagious and will spread between pets in the same household very easily. They may affect both cats and dogs and even humans may pick up these little critters.
Secondary infections in pets with ear mites are common and generally involve bacteria or yeasts.
Conventional treatment of ear infections in pets involves antibiotics and, in the case of mites, medications and products also used for flea control. In severe infestations and multiple pet households, insecticides are sometimes used for treating the house or living environment.