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Itchy ears are a common occurrence in our pets. It is normal for our pets to shake their head or itch their ears occasionally. However, if the pet is constantly scratching or rubbing their ears (or both), or is continuously shaking their head, we get concerned.

There is a multitude of issues which can cause itchy ears, or otitis as it is called. Otitis just means inflammation of the ear, which is uncomfortable for the pet. The pet will try to alleviate the discomfort by shaking their head or scratching.

In puppies and kittens we often find parasites as the reason for the inflammation, specifically: ear mites. Those creatures live inside the ear canal. Taking up residence inside the ear comes with all the activities you would expect from a tenant: eating and discarding of waste products, as well as reproduction. All inside the ear canal! This will create a significant amount of debris, often visible as dark, crusty discharge.

Fortunately, in this case it is fairly easy to evict the nuisance tenants: your veterinarian will apply an anti-parasite medication after cleaning the ears. This treatment will have to be repeated at least once after 3-4 weeks, to make sure that the critters have left, and that there are no eggs left behind that can hatch and start the cycle all over again. Usually this treatment is curative.

But not all ear inflammation has parasites as the cause. Often the inflammation sets the stage for bacteria and yeasts to move in and cause havoc. Just like parasites, the yeasts and/or bacteria will take up residency in the inflamed tissues. Unlike parasites, most of those organisms already live there, but the inflammation allows them to overgrow and do damage. Once started, the infection will get worse if not treated, and can even lead to rupture of the ear drum and/or an ear infection of the middle ear, which is more difficult to treat.

Once your pet has been presented to your veterinarian, a sample from the ear canal will be taken to better understand which organisms are involved with causing the itch. Then the ear will be cleaned, and often a topical medication will be prescribed to treat the infection. Sounds pretty easy? In most cases it is, if the problem is addressed early on.

In some cases it is not quite as easy, as is with recurrent ear infections. Those are ear infections which occur frequently despite being treated regularly. However, there is a reason for this to happen, and we will gladly help you track down reasons and suggest treatment options, to help make the life of your pet better (and yours as well).

– Dr. Susanne Krägeloh

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