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Does your pet have smelly ears?

Last week we published an article about seasonal allergies in cats and dogs. In that post, we described a condition called “atopic dermatitis.” Atopic dermatitis often occurs secondary to allergies and is characterized by skin irritation, inflammation, and infection. If you missed this post, click here to catch up.

Atopic dermatitis can manifest in a cat’s or dog’s ears, causing ear infections and inflammation. Many dogs and cats with allergies get chronic ear infections, especially in the spring and fall (many ear infections are related to pollens or mold). Ear infections (aka “Otitis”) are usually caused by bacteria or yeast. Environmental allergies cause increased inflammation of the skin and ear canals, creating an environment where normal amounts of bacteria and yeast can take advantage of the inflammation and multiply.

Not all ear infections are due to environmental allergies. Cats in particular have a 50% or greater chance of ear infections being secondary to food allergies. For this reason, it’s very important to evaluate a cat’s diet when assessing whether food allergies or seasonal allergies are the culprit.

Symptoms of an Ear Infection

Dogs and cats with ear infections will often shake their heads and scratch their ears in an effort to relieve discomfort. It’s also common for infected ears to look red and inflamed. Sometimes a pet’s ears will have a funky smell (especially with yeast infections) and discharge/debris.


If left untreated, ear infections can lead to aural hematomas. An aural hematoma occurs when a cat or dog shakes their head too vigorously, causing a blood vessel in the earflap to rupture. This causes bleeding in between the cartilage layers of the ear flap. Blood builds up and creates a puffy lump on the ear pinna.

Ear infections that go untreated can also lead to scarring and permanent swelling of the ear canal, making any future infections more difficult to treat.

Your veterinarian will most likely prescribe a medicated ear ointment and possibly an ear cleaner to treat an ear infection.


You can protect your pet from developing ear infections with a few simple measures. The first and most important step that pet owners can take is to address any underlying causes of ear infections, namely allergies. As we mentioned previously, environmental allergies make a dog or cat more likely to develop infections of the ear. When allergy symptoms are controlled, ear infections are less likely to develop. Refer to our post about seasonal allergies from last week for more information about allergy treatment options.

Regular ear cleanings also help to prevent ear infections by removing any bacteria or yeast buildup in the ear canal. Some over the counter ear cleansing solutions are appropriate for weekly or bi-weekly use. Dogs and cats with a history of chronic ear conditions may need a medicated ear cleaner to control and prevent infection; these types of cleaners can be found through your veterinarian. For dogs who get ear infections and swim in lakes and ponds in the summer, a squirt of an ear cleaner that dries the ear canal out can be very helpful in preventing infections.

Environmental allergies present a wide range of symptoms in cats and dogs. So far, we’ve addressed itchy skin and ear infections as issues that are secondary to allergies. Stay tuned for our next post, which will address upper respiratory symptoms like sneezing and congestion.

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