Ear problems in cats and dogs are common. They can be distressing for the pet, owners can find scratching and head shaking irritating and there can be a bad smell!
What causes ear disease?
There can be multiple causes but we basically split them into two types, primary and secondary. Primary ear problems are things that directly affect the ear such as ear mites, foreign bodies, growths and allergies. Secondary causes are those things that come in after the ear is damaged by a primary cause and make things worse. These are bacterial infections and yeasts but also the damage done by scratching and head shaking.
To make things worse, once the ear has been damaged it never fully recovers and the permanent changes make it easier for future ear problems to happen, so it becomes a bit of a viscious cycle. On top of all this there are breed differences. The original canine ear was like that of a wolf, upright and pointed, but breeding has changed the shape significantly, compare that to the ear of a spaniel for example. Some breeds are prone to allergy which shows itself in the ears, in fact a dog can be allergic to house dust, for example, but only show it by having one itchy ear. Dietary allergies can also cause sore ears.
Signs of ear disease
It is important, if your dog shows signs of a sore ear, usually head shaking or scratching, to get it treated as soon as possible. The ear can look red and sore. Early treatment decreases the chances of long term changes having taken place as well as stopping your pet from having a painful ear. Once ears get very bad, we can always help but it may be impossible to get a cure and we look more at managing the problem.
Care of your pets (normal) ears
If your dog or cat doesn’t have an ear problem then it is best to leave them alone.
You can wipe off any excess wax that appears at the outside of the ear and if your dog is groomed, keeping the hair short around the entrance to the ear canal is a good idea.
I am not a fan of regular hair plucking from normal ears, it is painful and regrows within about 6 weeks. It can also contribute to your dog scratching at the ear as you make it sore. Regular ear cleaning (apart from wiping excess wax as above) is also not a good idea, pretty much any ear cleaner can cause the ear to get a bit sore.
Treatment of ear disease
If your pet develops a sore ear then it is essential to find out what primary and secondary factors are responsible and deal with them. this can involve ears drops, pills, cleaner, taking samples to be examined, sedation and ear cleaning, and, in advanced cases, surgery to make the ear more comfortable.