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Are Your Ears Burning?

Written by:  Sarah A. Balaguer, DVM, MS

If someone were to ask you this very same question it would likely mean that you are the topic of their discussion.  Now in the world of dogs and cats this often has a very different meaning (even if we spend most of the day bragging about how perfect our furry ones really are . . . I know I do!).  Frequently when our pets have a discomfort in their ears it is associated with an infection.  The ear infection may have been brought on by your pet’s allergies, including flea, food, or even environmental allergies.  Irritation of the ears can also occur due to the presence of foreign material within the ear canal such as plant material that has made its way into the canal after your dog has rolled around in the grass outdoors.  Sometimes ear problems can be related to an underlying neurological or endocrine disorder.  Polyps, which are similar to pendulous skin tags, can be the cause of ear disease particularly in cats.

So how can you tell if your pet is indeed having ear issues?  There are several classic behaviors to watch for that may make you suspicious such as repeatedly shaking the head side to side.  Another common sign is the rubbing of the side of the face repeatedly onto household items, the ground, or even across your lap.  A more obvious sign may be the use of the back paw to scratch the ears directly or in the vicinity like the cheek, behind the ear, or above the eye.  Pets can develop a head tilt suddenly to either the right or left side and usually the ear closest to the ground is the one affected.

The information presented in this article is a broad generalization to help you to better understand some of the questions your veterinarian or their technician may ask you when bringing your pet in for an ear examination.  Always contact your pet’s doctor or their trained staff before using any over-the-counter medications in your pet’s ears as your good intentions may lead to painful or permanent damage to structures located deep in the ear canals.  The veterinary staff will be able to teach you the safe and proper way to clean your pet’s ears including how often it should be performed and what medications are appropriate for your pet’s ear condition.  Lastly, avoid cleaning the ears prior to the examination as often a sample of the ear canal contents may be used to investigate if organisms such as ear mites, bacteria, or yeast may be lurking deep inside.