Beagle at the veterinarianThey may be small, large, floppy, or pricked, but all of our pets have ears. Most of the time they are cute, expressive, and nice to stroke, but for some pets, ears can be the source of big problems. Learn what you should know about pet ears and how to steer clear of issues.

The Anatomy of an Ear

A cropped Doberman ear, a floppy Basset Hound ear, and a cat ear may all look very different, but they have more in common than you would think.

All pet ears share a common basic anatomy consisting of:

  • The pinna (outer ear flap) protects the inside of the ear and aims sounds into the canal
  • The external ear canal is an L-shaped tunnel that ends at the eardrum
  • The middle ear lies on the other side of the eardrum and contains tiny bones and hairs that help to transmit sound
  • The inner ear is housed inside the skull and contains fluid, helping to maintain balance

For a seemingly simple body part, the ear has a lot of complex parts.

Form Follows Function

The ear itself is brilliantly formed to serve a few very important functions.

Of course, hearing is the most obvious purpose that the ear serves. Pets function best when their hearing is intact. Puppies and kittens are born deaf, but begin to hear within just a few weeks. Hearing plays an important role in how a pet interacts with the world and stays safe.

A lesser remembered function of the ear is to provide a sense of balance and orientation. The vestibular apparatus within the inner ear helps to communicate to the brain how the body is positioned in space. A problem in the inner ear often leads to the loss of balance.

The Problems with Pet Ears

Sometimes pets develop problems with the ears. Ear issues are actually one of the most common reasons for a vet visit. Some of the more commonly diagnosed pet ear problems include:

Inflammation – Sometimes the ear canal or pinna will become irritate and inflamed. This can be quite uncomfortable and even painful.  A common cause of ear inflammation is an allergy.

Infection – Sometimes yeast or bacteria will overgrow in an ear. This is often secondary to another issue such as allergic inflammation or an ear growth. Unlike an ear infection in people, an ear infection in a pet normally involves the external ear (although middle and inner ear infections can occur).

Foreign bodies – A growth, polyp, piece of plant material, or even hair can cause irritation in the ear and disrupt its normal function.

Ear mites – These irritating little parasites make their home in the external ear canal, feeding on ear wax.

A pet who is suffering from an ear problem will often show signs of pain when the ear is touched and may hold the ear or head in an abnormal position. Sometimes he or she will shake the head or scratch the ear a lot. You might notice redness, increased discharge from the ear, or a foul odor.

If your pet is having ear trouble, it can be quite uncomfortable. Don’t forget that Animal Internal Medicine & Specialty Services is here for you no matter the day or time to help get your dog or cat feeling better faster.