Maintaining your pet’s ear health

dog - cat

Sore ears are an extremely common reason for a veterinary visit. Do you know how to help maintain your pet’s ear health, and spot any developing ear issues?

Day-to-day ear care

Many dogs and cats require very little specific ear care - like our ears, their ears are ‘self-cleaning’ with the natural release of wax from the ear canal. If ears are healthy, they are best left alone, although you can gently wipe away any visible wax with a cotton ball or tissue.

However, some pets do require regular ear cleaning. This is more frequently the case in pets with:

  • Droopy ears e.g. retrievers
  • Hairy ears e.g. poodles
  • Naturally waxier ears e.g. some cocker spaniels
  • Narrow ear canals e.g. shar-peis
  • Allergies that cause frequent ear infections
  • Special skincare requirements e.g. sphynx cats

Only clean your pet’s ears if they actually look dirty, as unnecessary cleaning can cause irritation. Ask your veterinarian for further advice, including advice about a safe effective ear cleaner to use, and a good technique for gently cleaning your pet’s ears.

Should I pluck my pet’s hairy ear canals?

The hair inside your pet’s ear canal is best left alone unless it is matted or your pet suffers frequent ear infections, as plucking ear hair is uncomfortable for them and can irritate the ear lining. However, it is okay to get a groomer to gently clip fur from around the opening of your pet’s ear canal to encourage aeration.

Can swimming or bathing cause ear infections?

Whilst water down your pet’s ear will generally not ‘cause’ infections, having constantly moist ear canals can irritate your pet’s ears and make it more likely that bacteria or yeast will proliferate.

If your pet is known to have sensitive ears, it is recommended to keep their ears dry wherever possible. When bathing, try to cover their ear canals with your hand when cleaning or rinsing around their head. Some dogs may be okay to swim, provided they only go in shallow water and their ears are carefully wiped dry as much as possible after. However, if your pet gets ear issues after swimming even with these precautions, it may be best for them to be kept out of the water altogether.

How to spot developing ear issues in your pet

Ear infections are very common, particularly in dogs, and most commonly cause symptoms such as:

  • A sore ear – your pet may either react negatively when touched around their head (yelping, jumping or snapping), or may rub their ear (or have you rub it for them!) to relieve discomfort
  • Ear redness – particularly around the ear opening
  • Ear discharge – you may notice excessive wax which returns quickly after cleaning, dark brown discharge, or even pus (the discharge may smell)
  • Intermittent head shaking or head tilting

Pets with ear infections are also more likely to develop an aural haematoma – this refers to when the pinna (ear flap) becomes swollen with blood. This occurs due to ear blood vessel damage from the animal shaking their head or pawing at their ear.

Keeping an eye on your pet’s ears is important for their health and comfort. Ask your veterinarian if you have any concerns. If you notice any of the above signs, or have any other questions or concerns regarding your pets ears, book a consultation with your local vet.