Ear Pain and Discharge

Every Painful Ear needs Medical Attention

Ear disease is the most common problem seen by veterinarians and there are still too many uncomfortable pets flying below radar. Redness, swelling, and nasty smelling discharges are frequent findings even when dogs and cats are brought to us for unrelated reasons. Many smolder quietly for weeks or longer. By the time the ear flapping, head tilt, and scratching starts, an infection may already be advanced. Look carefully, handle those ears to check for pain, and take a sniff. The language barrier doesn’t make it easy. If you ask a pet if her ears hurt and she shakes her head she means yes.

The ear canal of dogs and cats is a specialized extension of the skin. It’s a long tube that courses beneath the skin down the side of the head and makes a sharp bend toward the ear drum. A warm, dark environment it’s easily overgrown with yeast or bacteria. There are lots of causes for ear disease; a pet may struggle with more than one. Allergies, ear mites, ticks, mange, foxtail awns, wax accumulation, or a tumor can set the misery in motion.

You can safely wipe away scabs and discharge outside the ear but don’t try to solve the problem on the cheap. Pets with ear pain should see a doctor soon. I’ve treated many disasters that well-meaning pet owners tried to manage on their own. Leftover medications and home remedies like Neosporin only mask the cause. Yeast, bacteria, and mites are simple to find under the microscope but deeper causes require irrigation and thorough evaluation. Really painful pets should have sedation for this procedure; panic and struggle are unnecessary and potentially harmful.

Follow-up is important. Ear infections can reoccur because of incessant itching from allergies and other skin problems. Tell the doctor if your pet is scratching, rubbing, licking, or nibbling on his skin.

You can diminish the risk of ear problems. A cotton ball, lightly dampened with cooking oil, placed in each ear before bathing will help but don’t get carried away with preventive care. Frequent rinsing of healthy ears will upset the natural balance of the local host defenses and set them up for trouble. Then Mother Nature might get mad. Now, that’s scary.