March 2019: Vet Blog

February 25 2019

Why does my pet have itchy ears?

One of the top reasons for pets to be brought into the vets is an ear problem. In recent studies “ear problems” normally come in at 3rd place in the top reasons to trigger a vet appointment; shortly behind “stomach problems” and “skin problems”. In general, if your pet is not having any issues with their ears then I advise that they are left alone- no cleaning, plucking or poking. I find that you can cause problems by interfering with healthy ears. However, sometimes their ears start to cause problems and your pet starts shaking their head, scratching or showing pain. The problem can be in just one ear or both ears. It can be a quick fix, one off issue or unfortunately an ongoing lifelong disease.
I have listed the main causes of itchy ears.
1) Ear infections- bacteria and yeast can start to overgrow down the ear canal. The ear may start to discharge, smell and can get very sore if left untreated. A swab from the dirty ear can be looked at in the practice and antibiotic ear drops can be prescribed. In particularly bad cases, the ear needs to be flushed and cleaned when the pet is sedated.
2) Debris in the ear- if your dog or cat suddenly starts to shake their head they may have got something stuck down their ear. In the summer months, grass seeds very commonly fall down the ear canal and are very itchy. If we see your pet quickly, we are able to get these out before they cause problems to the ear drum.
3) Ear mites- young animals are prone to ear mites. These mites make your puppy or kitten ears very itchy and very dirty. Mange is another parasite that can cause itchy ears but it affects the actual ear flap rather than down the ear canal.
Some pets will be predisposed to developing ear problems. Pets with allergies are prone to itchy ears and, in some dogs, a diet change is all that is needed to cure ongoing ear problems. Some dogs with pollen allergies will get ear infections during the summer months only. Dogs with long, floppy or hairy ears are prone to infections because the ear is a nice warm home for bugs to thrive in. Dogs who spend lots of time swimming can get ear infections because their ears never dry out!
For these dogs, ear cleaners are prescribed to try to prevent getting ear infections.
A ‘normal’ ear should be clean with little or no wax to see, not red or pink and not smelly. If you are unsure whether your cat or dog has healthy ears please do come in and see us for an ear check.