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The Role of Allergies in Pet Ear Problems

Allergies are not only uncomfortable for your cat or dog, they can also contribute to the development of ear infections. In this post, our Orange Park veterinary dermatologist explains the connection between allergies and ear infections, and discusses how ear infections due to allergies are diagnosed and treated. Plus: How to care for your pet's ears.

Cats and dogs with environmental allergies often suffer with uncomfortably itchy, irritated skin/ In addition, they are also more prone to secondary conditions such as staph or yeast infections, fleas and other parasites, and food allergies. 

Did you know cats and dogs with allergies are also more susceptible to ear infections? Ear infections often develop as a secondary symptom of underlying allergies, especially to molds, dust mites, pollens, and dog food that contains animal proteins such as chicken. 

Some dog breeds (including Basset hounds, poodles and cocker spaniels) with floppy ears also have a predisposition to ear infections due to the shape of the structure of their ear. Foreign bodies in the ear (like dirt or a foxtail), trauma to the ear, and hormonal imbalances within the body are other common causes of ear infection in our four-legged friends. 

Causes & Symptoms of Ear Infections in Pets

Though both cat's and dog's ears have a natural balance of yeast and bacteria, ear infections happen when moisture and inflammation develop. The amount of wax and discharge produced also increases, which allows the yeast and bacteria to multiply and become unbalanced, overwhelming the immune system's ability to control the infection.

Your cat or dog may have an ear infection if you notice the following symptoms:

  • Scratching the ears frequently 
  • Shaking their head more often than usual 
  • Dragging the side of their face along carpet, furniture, or grass 
  • Brown or yellowish discharge 
  • Fluid or buildup of waxy substance within the ear 
  • Bad odor originating from one or both ears 
  • Redness on the inner ear flap or in the ear canal 
  • Vocalization of pain 
  • Discomfort in the ears when touched 
  • Self-harm due to excessive itching 

If the ear infection progresses to an advanced stage, your pet may experience hearing loss and loss of coordination and balance. 

Types of Ear Infections 

Ear infections can be categorized under the following three classifications: 

  • Externa - Infection of the outer ear canal 
  • Media - Infection of the middle ear 
  • Interna - Infection in the inner ear 

Diagnosing Ear Infections & Conditions in Pets

If your dog or cat has been scratching their ear excessively or you've heard them whine or meow more frequently, contact your vet to schedule an appointment. Stopping an ear condition such as an infection from progressing to the middle or inner ear is important since untreated ear infections can lead to serious consequences such as a ruptured eardrum. The ear canal (the tubular portion of the outer ear that carries sound to the eardrum) may also thicken in the case of infection, which can lead to hearing loss. 

Your veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist will start by performing a comprehensive physical examination (assessing your pet's pulse, respiration, and weight), and will ask you questions about any symptoms or recent illnesses your pet may have been experiencing to date. Travel and dietary changes within the past few months are also relevant. The veterinarian will also examine your dog's skin for redness and irritation. Your vet may refer you to our veterinary dermatologist, or you can contact us directly for diagnosis and treatment. 

Our veterinary dermatologist will use a video otoscope to examine your pet's ear. Since ear infections and diseases can be quite painful and our team wants to do our best to avoid further damage or injury to the ear, many examinations our veterinary dermatologist performs are done while your pet is comfortably under anesthesia. Deep cleaning of the ear canal can also be performed at this time. 

Biopsies and mass removals can also be performed through the otoscope when required. During a biopsy, a sample of cells from your four-legged friend's ear will be examined under a microscope to determine whether yeast, bacteria, or mites may be present. A culture may also be done to further pinpoint the issue. Allergy testing to identify any contact, environmental, food, or other allergies may also be done to determine which allergies, if any, may be the underlying cause. 

Treating Ear Infection Due to Allergies in Pets

If a specific allergy is causing your pet's ear infections, your cat or dog will need to be treated for both the ear infection and allergy. Here are a few treatment options, which may vary depending on the nature of your pet's condition: 

Deep Ear Cleaning 

Your veterinary dermatologist will likely perform a gentle deep ear cleaning as part of treating your pet's infection. Depending on the severity of infection, this may have to be repeated within a few days. 


Based on the results of the biopsy or culture, medications such as antibiotics or antifungal drugs in the form of antihistamines or anti-inflammatories may be required. Topical ointments are another potential treatment option. 

Allergy Treatment 

Treatment of any allergies based on testing is often another key component to treating ear infections effectively. 


This special test is typically performed for middle ear infections in dogs and cats. The procedure involves making an incision into the eardrum (tympanum) to obtain a sterile sample of fluid in the middle ear for culture and analysis. The middle ear cavity (bulla) will also be flushed. 

Recovery of Ear Infections Due to Allergies in Cats & Dogs 

Ensuring your pet's ears are properly treated and cared for on an ongoing basis will be critical to their recovery from an ear infection caused by allergies. Your veterinary dermatologist may prescribe a gentle cleanser for you to use regularly at home. Follow the instructions carefully and complete the course of any medications as prescribed. Stopping before you should may result in the infection reoccurring. 

Additionally, never use any medications not prescribed by your vet or veterinary dermatologist - including medications intended for use by people - to treat skin or ear infections in your pet without consulting your vet. While human medications are effective for us, they can be toxic to our pets. 

Preventing Ear Infections in Cats & Dogs With Allergy Testing & Regular Cleaning

Similar to many other health issues, preventing an ear infection is preferable to treating one. 

While ear cleaning, allergy testing and treatment can be done to help treat ear infections in pets, they can also be used as measures to prevent infection in the first place. Ear care for dogs and cats is an important component of their overall healthcare. You may also want to clean your dog or cat's ears at home on a routine basis. For dogs, it might be easiest to clean their ears after their weekly bath. 

Your veterinary dermatologist can show you how to correctly clean your cat or dog's ears to help you feel more comfortable doing it at home. As a rule of thumb, avoid using Q-tips, since these can cause damage to your pet's ear, puncture the eardrum, and push debris further into the ear canal. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you suspect your pet may have an ear infection? Ask your vet about a referral. Our veterinary dermatologist will work with your primary care vet to ensure your pet receives the best possible care. 

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