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Symptoms of Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats

Dog and cat ear infection symptoms

If your dog or cat has an ear infection (otitis), you might notice a yeasty smell coming from your pet's ear. The ear might be red and swollen. There might also be some waxy buildup visible. Your dog or cat might be scratching at their ears, and shaking their heads more than usual. If they scratch and then smell their paw, and lick it after, or have any other of these signs, you should probably have your veterinarian take a look at the ear canal.

Over time, as the infection moves from the outer ear to the inner ear, your pet may become deaf. If the nerves running through the inner ear are affected, your pet may become dizzy, walk in a circle, and have unusual eye movements called nystagmus.

In summary, pets with an ear infection may display the following signs and symptoms:

  • Head shaking
  • Smelly ears
  • Ear discharge
  • Nystagmus (unusual eye movements)
  • Pawing and scratching the head
  • Red and swollen ear canal
  • Head tilt
  • Circling
How are pets diagnosed with ear infections?

Otitis (ear infections in dogs and cats) is diagnosed by using an otoscope and looking deep into the ear canal. The skin inside the ear turns deep red if your pet is fighting an infection. The type of discharge deep in the ear can be seen, and some can be removed to send to the lab to identify the specific bacteria and yeast creating the infection.

Because the ear canal makes a sharp turn, your veterinarian will pull slightly on the ear to straighten the canal and make it possible to see the ear drum. If there is fluid or pus behind the drum, which occurs with a middle ear infection, your veterinarian can diagnose a middle ear infection. Distinguishing whether your pet has an outer ear infection, a middle ear infection, or both helps your veterinarian choose the most effective treatment.