December 26, 2016

General Medical Issues

The Better to Hear You With My Dear: Ears and the Common Problems We See With Them

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

ear problems for pets, countrycare animal complex

Our pets’ ears come in all different shapes and sizes – from the long and furry to the short and upright and everywhere in between. No matter what shape or size, ear problems are common in both dogs and cats.

Signs of Potential Ear Problems

Dogs will normally scratch their ears or shake their heads on occasion, and cats will groom themselves as part of their normal behavior. However, certain behaviors, if done repeatedly, can indicate medical problems might be affecting your pet. Watch for these tell-tale signs:

  • Shaking the head
  • Pawing at the head/ear
  • Brownish-black debris coming from ear
  • Abnormal smell or bad odor coming from ear
  • Holding the ear down against head
  • Painful when touching near the ear
  • Swelling of the ear pinna (the pinna is the part of the ear you see from the outside, the ear flap)
  • Tilting of the head

Common Ear Problems

ear-scratching-felineThe symptoms mentioned above may indicate any number of problems.  Some problems may be fixed with ear drops and others may require surgery.  If you see symptoms of ear problems, consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis. Some common ear problems include:

  • Infections (typically yeast, bacteria, or a combination of both)
  • Mites
  • Hematomas (blood under the skin causing swelling of the ear pinna)
  • Ruptured ear drum

Causes of Ear Problems

Ear problems can occur for multiple reasons, some of which may surprise you. Did you know that food allergies can cause ear infections? Most people never associate ingredients in pet food with their pets’ shaking and scratching of the ears.  Various causes of ear problems include:

  • Allergies or hypersensitivities
  • Excessive moisture in the ear after swimming or grooming
  • Masses or polyps in the ear
  • Rough play in which the ear was bitten or scratched
  • Anatomically abnormal ear/canal


Treatment of an ear problem depends, of course, on the source of the issue. For an ear infection or ear mites, we will take a sample of the debris inside the ear and evaluate it under the microscope. Based on what we see, we can determine the best treatment or medication for the patient.

In the case of an ear hematoma (solid swelling of clotted blood), depending on the severity, the best treatment may be surgery. Ear hematomas can be very uncomfortable for your pet. Surgery allows us to drain the blood that is trapped in the ear pinna and relieve your pet’s discomfort.

Allergy testing may reveal that your pet is allergic to his food. If this is the case, changing your pet’s food may eliminate his ear problems. Cleaning your pet’s ears more often or giving him medicated ear drops won’t permanently cure an infection that stems from ingredients in his food or treats, we must also treat the underlying cause.

Please consult with your veterinarian before using any ear medications or over the counter products. These items can potentially make your pet’s ear problems worse. Some products may cause increased discomfort while others may cause hearing loss.

As you can see, there are many causes of ear problems and the treatments depend on the proper diagnoses. Your veterinary team can pinpoint the problem to give your pet maximum relief in the shortest time possible!