Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats

ear infections

Yesterday I saw one of my favorite patients, a cute, red poodle named Charlie. As a baby, his bone marrow shut down for some unknown reason but ultimately recovered. Last summer and fall, he had a much more mundane problem: recurrent ear infections. Because of his chronic ear infections which would clear up with drops and then immediately relapse, I referred him to the Animal Medical Center’s dermatologist. The prescribed treatment for allergies has kept the ear infections under control. Since it is spring and the beginning of allergy season, your pet may be one of the unlucky ones to develop an ear infection secondary to allergies.

Ears are Really Skin
Because the ears are really part of the skin, dogs with allergies to substances in the environment, like pollen or dust, may have itchy skin or just have recurrent ear infections. Some dogs incessantly lick at their feet. The current theory of why ears and feet are the most commonly affected body parts stems from how dogs behave. Outdoors, your dog has his nose and head to the ground, stirring up pollen and other nasties which adhere to the face and ears; and of course, their feet tread in this same milieu. In normal dogs, the skin protects against the allergens, but in dogs with allergies, the skin barrier is in some way defective. The defect in the skin barrier allows allergens to enter the body, where they stimulate an allergic response.

Inflammation Leads to Infection
An allergic response can lead to itching, redness, and swelling which in turn changes the environment of the ears, leading to infection. Yeast and bacteria are the most common organisms identified in association with an ear infection. Typically, veterinarians wipe a cotton swab inside the ear to collect material which is then rolled on a microscope slide, stained and examined as part of the diagnostic testing. Occasionally, a sample of the discharge is submitted to the laboratory for identification of the causative organism to help treatment be as focused as possible since yeast and bacteria are treated with different medications.

Mighty Mites
Allergies are a much less common cause of feline ear infections than canine ones. Kittens, especially those raised outdoors, frequently contract an ear mite infection. These multi-legged parasites cannot be seen by the naked eye, but the little buggers can produce buckets of grainy black ear wax, clearly visible inside your cat’s ear flap. Another reason you can’t miss ear mites in your cat is the constant head shaking and ear scratching induced by their presence in the ear canal. Fortunately, a bit of black wax viewed under the microscope will readily identify mites, which are easily eradicated with ear drops.

Signs of an Ear Infection
If your pet has folded ears, you might not see the infection right away, but a bad smell coming from your pet’s head might clue you in to the problem. Head shaking, ear scratching or even shying away from a friendly pat on the head may be another clue to a brewing ear infection. If you look closely, you may notice the ear flap is swollen, red or scabby from scratching and there is a buildup of waxy or other material in the canal. If you notice any of these signs in your dog or cat, call your veterinarian’s office immediately to schedule an appointment.

Why Your Dog Smells “Doggy”

dog smell

Ask a veterinarian what is one of the best smells in the world and many will answer without a moment’s hesitation: puppy breath. Hardly anyone can resist the fresh scent of a new puppy, kind of like the smell of a new car. But, as your dog grows up, he loses that delightful smell and sometimes can smell, well, a bit like a dog. Doggy smells may indicate a problem needing more than just a dog deodorant. Consider the following problems if you whiff the dog smell.

Hound Halitosis
While your dog is always kissable, a bad case of hound halitosis may make you want to avoid a smooch from your pooch. Doggy breath is not normal and is a sign of tooth or gum disease. Daily brushing and special dental products can help. But your dog may need a professional cleaning to eliminate the smell. Keep in mind, bad breath has been included as one of the 10 warning signs of pet cancer. A serious case of bad breath should send you and your dog to the veterinarian’s office pronto.

Stinky Ears
First you notice your dog scratching at his head and then you catch a stench wafting from his ears. Ear infections are one of the most common reasons dogs see their veterinarian and frequently are associated with a bad smell. Flip up the ear flap. If your dog winches, has a red flap or gook coming from the ear canal, you may be dealing with an ear infection as the source of the unpleasant doggy smell. Both bacteria and yeast can be at the root of stinky ears. Your veterinarian can do testing to identify the culprit and prescribe the appropriate medication.

Reeking Rumps
The anal sacs sit on the right and left sides between the layers of muscles making up the anal sphincter. Each one has a duct traveling out from the sac to the skin. Why dogs (and cats too) have this anatomic structure is somewhat of a mystery. Why about 10% of dogs have recurrent impactions and infections of the anal glands is also a mystery. There is no question however, that the smell of anal sac secretions can clear out large areas of a veterinary clinic and send the assistants running for room deodorizer. When your dog slides his rump on the floor or licks that area excessively, he may be trying to telling you he has an anal gland problem.

If your Fido is a bit fragrant don’t worry, a trip to veterinarian can have him smelling as fresh as a bunch of daisies.