A veterinarian tells how to spot ear problems—and natural ways to care for your pet’s ear health By Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ
Ear health issues such as infections or allergies are among the most common reasons cats and dogs are brought to a veterinarian. But it’s difficult for your pet to communicate if they are in pain or discomfort. Some signs to look for:
- Scratching around the ears, face, or neck
- Head shaking
- Head tilt
- Ear flap or canal redness, swelling, discharge, or odor
- Avoidance of having the head or ears touched
- Decreased appetite
- Whining, barking, or meowing more often than normal
Pets that swim, are bathed frequently, live in areas with allergens, have open ear canals, or are prone to ear diseases, are especially vulnerable to ear problems. Fortunately, with early diagnosis and care, a variety of ailments affecting the ear can be managed and resolved. Additionally, there are numerous preventive measures owners can take to keep their pets’ ears healthy.
Common Ear Problems
The ears are essentially an extension of the skin. As a result, nearly any problem affecting the skin of your pet can also impact the ears. For example, environmental and food allergies, infections, toxic reactions, trauma, hot or freezing temperatures, and too much sun can all harm pet ears.
Ear infections caused by bacteria and/or yeast are some of the most common reasons for pet ear problems. These organisms may already exist on the surface of the skin inside the ear, and flourish when the environment is made friendlier to their growth (darkness, moisture, etc.). They can also enter from an outside source (e.g., from a lawn or another animal’s mouth).
Internal organ abnormalities often manifest with skin and coat changes, so the ears can also be negatively impacted by metabolic conditions like hypothyroidism (under-functioning thyroid), hyperthyroidism (over-functioning thyroid), hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease, or over-functioning adrenals), diabetes, kidney and liver disease, and others.
Did you know...
Nearly any problem affecting the skin of your pet can also impact the ears.
Most canine and feline ear issues primarily affect the outer ear, are generally simple to diagnose and treat, and aren’t life-threatening. Middle and inner ear ailments are more serious and are also more challenging to diagnose
Many ear issues can be prevented through routine care, such as flushing with an appropriate irrigation solution and keeping fur near the ear canal plucked or trimmed short (provided no trimmed hairs accumulate in the canal). Rinsing with an ear cleaning solution, and application of topical antibiotic, antifungal, or anti-inflammatory medication is a common treatment for most cases of inflammation. There are natural herbal treatments for infected or itchy ears that inhibit the growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi made with ingredients like aloe vera gel; calendula, rosemary, and myrrh extracts; chamomile; and cinnamon leaf, tea tree, and clove oils. These can be applied with a cotton swab or dropped into your pet’s ear canal. Natural washes that clean ears and ease scratching, redness and soreness due to waxy buildup, and guard against swimmer’s ear can be helpful for long-eared dogs. More severe ear disorders may require oral or injectable medications to address the problem from the inside out.
Dietary supplements that aim to reduce tissue damage and have an anti-inflammatory effect include fish-oil-based omega-3s, antioxidants (vitamin E, vitamin C, etc.), turmeric, and ginger. Look for supplements specially formulated for pets.
Additionally, feeding a commercially available or home-prepared whole-food diet and treats made with simple ingredients helps many pets suffering from skin disorders potentially relating to food or environmental allergies.
Did you know...
Fish-oil-based omega-3s specifically formulated for pets can help to deter the development of ear ailments.
Ascenta Health Canine Omega 3 and Feline Omega 3
Ark Naturals Ears All Right
Vet’s Best Ear Relief Wash + Dry