Ear problems in pets
Ear problems are quite common in pets but they can be painful so it's best to get them sorted with a trip to the vet.
Dogs with allergies or those with floppy outer ears can be predisposed to developing ear infections. Excessive hair growth in the ear canal can also make some pets more susceptible to ear infections.
Help! My pet has a sore ear, what should I do?
Signs that your pet may have an ear problem are:
- Itching their ear or shaking their head
- Red, swollen and sore looking ears
- Their ear might leak pus or wax
- Some ear problems can cause your pet's ear to smell strange
- In some cases, loss of balance.
If you notice any of these signs, it's best to take your pet to the vet as soon as possible. Get your pet properly checked over by a vet before you buy any over-the-counter treatments. These treatments might make your pet's ear seem better without solving the underlying problem, so the problem keeps coming back.
- Step 1 – tools. You’ll need cotton wool (not buds), a pet safe ear cleaner and gloves. You might need a second person to help you keep your dog still!
- Step 2 – check for any nasties. Before you clean your dog’s ears, check for any redness or discharge. A small amount of light brown wax is normal, but lots of dark brown wax, yellow crusty discharge, pus or a nasty smell could all be signs of an infection, so your dog will need to see a vet.
- Step 3 – ear cleaner. Gently lift your dog’s ear and insert the nozzle into their ear. Squeeze a bit of the ear cleaner inside the ear canal. Be careful not to push the bottle too far in. Massage the cleaner in to loosen any dirt or discharge inside the ear. Your dog will probably want to shake their head after that – let them! This will help bring material from deep in the ears to the surface.
- Step 4 – wipe. With your cotton wool around your finger, gently wipe all the wax and excess cleaner from the outer part of your dog’s ear. Be careful not to put your finger into the ear canal as reaching in too far can damage your dog’s ear.
- Step 5 – repeat on the other side! If you need any extra help, watch our video above to make sure you have the right technique. Your vet may also be able to give you advice and tips on cleaning your dog’s ears.
What causes ear problems in pets?
There are lots of different things that can cause our four-legged friends to suffer from painful ears. Here are some of the most common causes and how they're treated:
Ear mites are a common parasite for cats and dogs to pick up. They live inside your pet's ear and feed off their ear wax and skin oils. These tiny mites can easily pass from one pet to another, but it's very rare for humans to catch them from their pets.
Your vet will check for ear mites by looking inside your pet's ear with a special tool called an otoscope. Many spot-on flea treatments also treat ear mites. Ear drops can also help treat the problem. Your vet can speak to you about which treatment is best for your pet.
Ear infections can be caused by bacteria and yeast. They're very painful for your pet. If you've ever had an ear infection yourself, you can sympathise with how much discomfort your pet might be feeling!
If your pet has an ear infection they'll need treatment to reduce the swelling in their ear. They might also need pain killers to help keep them comfortable, and antibiotics to tackle what's causing the infection. Your vet or vet nurse will let you know how to give your pet their treatment and can walk you through how to do this the best way. Make sure you finish all the treatment, even if your pet seems better after a day or two.
Extra ear wax
If your pet is producing a lot of ear wax, this can build up and become really uncomfortable.
It’s important to visit your vet so they can rule out anything else that might be making your pet produce too much wax, like ear mites, an allergy or an infection.
Your pet will need two types of ear drops:
- A drop to help break up all the extra wax in their ear
- A drop to treat the cause of the problem.
These drops will help to bring down the swelling in your pet’s ear and make it less painful for them. It’s important to give these drops to your pet properly so they go right into their ear. If you’re having trouble getting your pet to stay still or with the drops leaking out, speak to your vet for advice.
Something stuck in their ear
Our pets are usually very curious about the world around them and this can sometimes get them into a spot of bother. It might be that your pet has accidentally got something stuck in their ear, like a grass seed or sticky burrs. It’s best to get this removed by your vet.
Serious ear problems
Sometimes, our pets can develop serious ear problems that don’t go away easily with treatments like ear drops or tablets. If you pet’s ear problem doesn’t clear up after treatment, you vet might want to have a proper look at the inner ear and try to flush out the problem with a water solution. They’ll probably send your pet to sleep for this using general anaesthetic, like they would for an operation. This is because this sort of examination can be very sensitive and painful, and they wouldn’t want to cause your pet any discomfort.