Due to the anatomical structure of canine and feline ear canals, there’s a good chance that they may experience an infection at some stage. Some breeds are more prone to ear infections and many owners are often unaware that there’s a problem until the condition is quite advanced. Are you checking your pet’s ears often enough?

Veterinary nurse at Swan St Veterinary Clinic, Nicole Lewy, says that ear infections are one of the most common problems diagnosed in small animal practice. ‘Human ear canals are relatively short and straight. On the other hand, dogs and cats have a longer, almost L-shaped canal, which limits air flow and creates a moist environment – perfect for bacteria and yeast to grow. And it’s generally worse in floppy-eared breeds or animals with hairy ear canals. Pets with skin allergies are also prone to ear infections.’

There are a number of clues that indicate your pet may have an ear infection, Nicole says. ‘Your dog or cat may be scratching or pawing at the ear, shaking their head or rubbing their face/ear along the ground. The ear may also have an odour and discharge. If not picked up early, infections can progress quickly and cause significant tissue changes, such as a thickened and narrowed ear canal.’

‘Owners should check their pet’s ears on a regular basis – once a week would be ideal’

Veterinarians use a special piece of equipment to thoroughly examine the ear canal, says Nicole. ‘They will also take a sample of discharge to check for pathogens and inflammatory cells. These diagnostic tests will inform the most appropriate treatment to use. Depending on the severity of the infection, this might include ear cleaner, medicated ear drops and sometimes even systemic medications.’

‘The consequences of delayed treatment can be catastrophic – permanent tissue changes are often the beginning of a vicious cycle of ear infections followed by further tissue changes and so on. Owners should check their pet’s ears on a regular basis – once a week would be ideal. If you’re unsure how to do this, just ask for a demonstration the next time you visit the clinic.’

Signs your pet may have an ear infection

Scratching or pawing at the ear

Rubbing the face/ear on the floor or on furniture

Hair loss around the ear

Shaking or tilting the head

Discharge, redness, swelling, crusting or odour Loss of balance

Abnormal eye movements

Walking in circles

Loss of hearing