Ears are very sensitive organs that are not only necessary for hearing, but are also responsible for maintaining balance and in some animals they play a very important part in communication.
Ear problems can be accompanied by a number of symptoms; if you see anything out of the ordinary you should contact your vet as soon as possible, because if the cause of the problem is not found and treated quickly there is a risk of secondary complications, including ruptured eardrums and middle-ear infections.
- Head shaking
- Scratching or rubbing the ears
- Redness of the flap/pinna and also the ear canal
- Crusty buildups on the ear flap or in the canal
- Excessive wax – usually thick and brown in colour
- Discharge from the ear canal
- Yeasty or unusual smell
- Swelling up of the ear flap (aural haematoma)
If your pet is showing any of the above signs it is a good idea to have their ears checked by a vet as soon as possible
Common causes of ear problems
Ear problems in pets can occur for a variety of reasons, but some of the most commonly seen problems are caused by:
- Excessive wax production: Some animals, like humans, produce too much ear wax which causes discomfort and pain. Once your vet has checked that the problem is just excessive wax production, you may be advised to clean your pet’s ears a few times a week with a special pet ear cleaner.
- Poor Air Circulation: Dogs with long or hairy ears can be prone to lots of ear problems. The hair on the inner ear flap can be clipped short and the hair inside the ear canal can be plucked out by yourself, or a dog groomer, to allow more air to circulate; however, care needs to be taken to avoid making the ear canals sore.
- Ear Mites: These tiny little mites live in the pet’s ears and are fairly common, although we tend to see them more in younger animals. Signs of ear mite infestation include scratching and dark reddish-brown or wax throughout the ear canal which can have a similar appearance to coffee grounds.
- Grass Seeds: These are commonly seen in pets and can be a real nuisance. The seeds get lodged in the pet’s ear and can gradually work their way down the ear canal and further in some cases; they can casue a lot of discomfort and pain to the pet and need to be removed quickly (see our Grass Seed article for more information)
- Allergies: Skin allergies in pets will often include the ears. Pets can be allergic to many things but the most common are dust mites, storage mites, grasses, trees and dietary. Fortunately there is a lot your vet can do to relieve allergic symptoms in your pet, including special medications and immunotherapy vaccines.
- Infections: Bacterial and fungal ear infections can happen for many different reasons. Bacteria and fungus thrive in warm, moist environments like ear canals and are often seen in pets who have very hairy ears, narrow ear canals and pets that swim a lot.
- Aural Haematoma: Sometimes the ear flap is damaged and this allows the flap to fill up with blood. This is usually the result of ear scratching or head shaking because of an ear problem, rather than being the cause itself. Aural haematomas can be very painful and need immediate veterinary attention.
Cleaning your pet’s ears
It is a good idea to check your pet’s ears every couple of days to ensure they are free from wax and dirt. If necessary you can clean his or her ears using pet ear wipes or a pet ear cleaner and cotton wool – never put cotton buds into your pet’s ears!
Get your ear cleaning equipment ready; you will need
- Pet ear cleaner
- Cotton wool balls/pads or a soft cloth (muslin cloth used for babies works well)
- Cotton buds (if necessary)
- Tasty pet treats to reward your pet afterwards.
- Small towel
- Have someone else gently restrain your pet if necessary.
- Gently hold your pets ear flap with one hand (you can fold ear flaps back on long eared dogs).
- Squeeze a few drops of ear cleaner into the ear canal.
- Gently massage the base of the ear canal for a minute or so (it is normal to hear a squelching noise from the liquid).
- Using a small ball of cotton wool or a piece of cloth wrapped around your finger, wipe any wax away from the parts of the ear you can see. You can add a few more drops of cleaner to the cotton wool or cloth if necessary.
- You can use a cotton bud to clean wax out of any crevices on the ear flap but NEVER push a cotton bud into the ear canal as not only do you risk loosing the end of your cotton bud down there, but you may also impact any wax at the bottom of the canal and/or damage the ear drum.
- Let your pet shake his or her head to get rid of any excess cleaner and wax in the canal; you may want to do this outside or you can have a towel up next to your pet’s head to catch anything that flys out!.
- Reward your pet with lots of yummy treats or a game.
- Clean the other ear.
If you would like to make a free appointment with one of our veterinary nurses, they will be happy to demonstrate ear cleaning for you and talk to you about appropriate ear cleaning solutions.