Allergies, infections cause red, itchy ears

Greg Martinez, DVM, has worked at Gilroy Veterinary Hospital with Dennis Harrigan, DVM, for more than 30 years, and with Marc Van Every, DVM, for three years. Over the last 10 years, he has become very interested in the natural role of nutrition in treati

Many pets come in daily because they are shaking their heads, scratching ears or have gooey, waxy stuff coming out of red, painful ears. Pet owners always ask, “What could be wrong?” “Could it be infection?” “Is there something down in there?” “Do they have ear mites?”
Red, itchy ears are a very common medical problem in dogs and cats. However, it is a bigger problem in dogs, and especially common in Labradors. Ear problems can be mild. You may only notice an occasional scratch or shake, and the ear won’t look that much different. Moderate to severe problems can cause redness or an ear filled with gunky wax.
The ear canals should always be checked for mites, ticks and foxtails. This often takes a bit of cleaning and a look down in the ear canal with an otoscope. Dipping a Q-tip in a cat’s ear and spreading the wax on a slide may show ear mites, a common cause of ear problems in cats. If ear mites or other critters aren’t found, there isn’t a foxtail or tumor in the canal and the ear is red, gunky and painful, then infection and irritation is the culprit.
The hairy canals of toy breeds and other pets can cause moisture and wax to build up. Once this wax builds up and becomes soupy, lots of bugs can grow and cause the painful signs we see. Bacteria and yeast will overgrow in a warm, moist, soupy ear and will cause redness, swelling and pain. Trimming or pulling the hair from inside the ears and bi-weekly ear cleaning solutions may be necessary to keep the wax from building up and providing a home for bacteria and yeast to grow. Removing hair to allow more air to circulate and dry the ear, and cleaning out built-up wax may help prevent ear infections.
Allergies are the largest cause of ear infections. Reactions to pollens, molds and food ingredients are the most common cause of ears that never seem to clear up despite repeated treatments with antibiotics and ear cleaners. If your dog scratches his or her ears and chews at their feet, they are suffering from hay fever. When the pollen count rises, ears and feet itch. Itchy ears produce more wax and can become infected with the bugs mentioned above. Weekly shampoo and conditioner, a daily rinse or moist wipe of the feet, body and ears may help remove irritating pollens. During the times the pollen count causes itching, an antihistamine like Benadryl or an anti-inflammatory prescription from your vet may help.
One of the most common causes of allergic ear infections are food allergies. Dogs are affected much more than cats, but I’ve seen a few cats with itchy ears that responded to a change of food ingredients. Both ear and skin problems can result from allergies to wheat, beef or chicken. The best hypoallergenic ingredients are duck or fish, and potato combinations. If you are going to try a limited ingredient food trial to see if food allergies are the cause of ear infections, you have to feed a hypoallergenic diet and avoid wheat in all treats, biscuits or chews. It usually takes at least a couple months to see if a limited ingredient diet will help. The diet usually will really help in at least half of all chronic ear issues. (A hypoallergenic diet may also help with skin, bowel, anal gland and seizure problems.) If a pet produces lots of wax, regardless of the cause, then ear washes once to twice weekly may help prevent chronic ear infections.
If your dog has painful ears and needs temporary relief, you can use Dawn detergent to wash the ears with a vinegar rinse. You can also use Aspirin (dogs only) and Benadryl for pain and itching. This is only a temporary treatment until you can see your vet (but these painful episodes always seem to happen night, weekends and holidays when treatment can be more expensive!) You can also Google and download “Dr. Greg’s 11 Practical Home Remedies,” for temporary treatment of common medical issues.
Greg Martinez, DVM, has worked at Gilroy Veterinary Hospital with Dennis Harrigan, DVM, for more than 30 years, and with Marc Van Every, DVM, for three years. Over the last 10 years, he has become very interested in the natural role of nutrition in treating chronic medical problems and to prevent future ones.

Leave your comments