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Animal Skin and Allergy Clinic Blog

An Earful About Pet Ear Care

pet ear careOur pets rely on their hearing more than we do as humans, and caring for their ears is quite important. They may look different from patient to patient, but the ears are responsible for hearing, balance, and communication. Learn what the Animal Skin and Allergy Clinic needs you to know about pet ear care.

Knowing the Anatomy

Some ears may be floppy and big, while others are small and alert, they all have the same parts. Understanding a little bit about the anatomy of the ear can help pet owners better care for their pet’s ears. All animals have:

  • A pinna (outer ear flap)
  • External ear canal (L-shaped tunnel from the pinna to the eardrum)
  • Middle ear (space between the eardrum and the nasal and oral cavities)
  • Inner ear (located next to the brain on the other side of the eardrum, above the middle ear)

Learning About Function

The ear is a pretty amazing organ. Sound is channeled into the pinna and directed down to the eardrum. It vibrates against the eardrum, vibrating tiny bones which connect the eardrum to the inner ear. The vibrations are then transferred to tiny sensory hairs and fluid within the inner ear. These vibrations are picked up by the auditory nerve, which signals the brain to interpret the sound.

The ear is also important when it comes to balance and orientation. Fluid in the vestibular apparatus in the inner ear helps the brain communicate with the body. Dysfunction in this area can lead to vertigo-like symptoms and loss of balance.

Our pets also position their ears in different manners to express emotion and intent. When your pet’s ears are affected changes in how they hold and move their ears can alert you to unseen ear problems.

Pet Ear Care Primer

The ears are prone to many problems. Inflammation or infection of the external ear, middle ear troubles, parasite infections, foreign bodies, and even growths or tumors can result in the impairment of one or more of the ear’s basic functions.

It’s important to have your pet’s ears examined at routine wellness visits, as well as if your pet is exhibiting signs of trouble. These may include:

  • Shaking or pawing at one or both ears
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Increased or changed color in ear wax
  • A foul smell
  • Holding the head or ear in an abnormal manner
  • Other dogs in household licking at the ear(s) of dogs with unseen ear problems
  • Loss of balance

Likewise, it’s important to take a peek at your pet’s ears at least once a week. It’s also a good habit to clean the ears with a recommended ear cleansing solution to become familiar with your pet’s ears so that you are more aware of early changes. After application of ear cleanser you should wipe out the external ear with a soft tissue or cloth. The residue left on the cloth from wiping out the ears should have no color, or only a slight yellow color. Any dark color, brown or black, is very abnormal. Also, pay attention to the color and texture of the ear flaps as they should be smooth and not red. There should also be no odor.

Going Pro: Ear Care at the Vet’s Office

One of the biggest difficulties about pets with ears problems is that they will often not exhibit any signs and look completely normal. However deep down in the ear there are major problems that can only be found by a qualified professional as visibility deep in the canal requires specialized equipment. The usual hand held otoscopes often do not give adequate view of the deep ear and most often general practice veterinarians are not trained in the subtle signs of ear disease. If left untreated, chronic ear problems can lead to changes in the ears that might be irreversible.

One sign that something is being missed is when your pet has ear infections that return frequently. Constant recurrence means two things are not being addressed: one, a problem within the ear and two, the underlying cause of the ear disease. It is common in general veterinary practices to treat ears problems like any other infection. However, to properly treat ear infections, adequate cleaning and using the correct medication is extremely important.

To make sure that the correct medication is selected for treatment a cytology, which is a microscopic exam of the exudate in the ear, should be performed. Also, before starting the medication, the affected ear should be thoroughly cleaned. Ear cleaning is often done too infrequently and, when it is done, it is very superficial which fails to remove all the debris from the ear canal.

These two missteps, inadequate cleaning and improper medication, leads to frequent recurrence of ear disease. If your pet is experiencing frequent ear infections it is best to seek out a specialist in ear disease, which in veterinary medicine is a veterinary dermatologist. General practice veterinarians are usually not trained to recognize and treat ear disease.

Your pet’s hearing and balance are very important. If you have questions or concerns, please let us know right away. We are happy to take a look, if your pet is having problems, or just discuss pet ear care with you. After all, the health of pet skin and ears is our specialty!