Dr. Al Townshend
It is estimated that approximately 20% of dogs have some form of ear disease. Fortunately, cats have far fewer issues with their ears. The most common ear problems for dogs and cats is infections.
Preventing problems begins with your daily observations of the pet and regular inspection of the ears.
Problems are more frequent in dogs because of the anatomy of their ears. The human ear canal is a straight canal that angles down from the eardrum. The ear canal of a dog has a bend or curve, which prevents the canal from draining or discharging any debris that may occur. Dogs with floppy ears seem to be at greater risk because there’s often poor airflow around the ear canal.
Damp, dark areas are great places for bacteria to set up residence. Therefore, it’s important to adequately dry the ears if they get wet.
Recognizing the signs of a problem is important; hair loss on or around the ear, head shaking, scratching at the affected ear, dark discharge, odor, redness and swelling of the ear canal or ear flap, pain, itchiness, crusting or scabs in the ears can be signs there is a problem. Close daily observation, regular examinations and cleaning, when necessary, can prevent more serious issues.
Cats also have a curve in the ear canal, but the bend is not as acute, so there is better drainage. The ears of most cats stand straight up, so there is good airflow around the ear. Infection does occur, but it is frequently as a result of an infestation of ear mites. The mites are tiny, but they are visible with proper lighting. As you can imagine, the mites can be very irritating, so recognizing there is a problem quickly is important in preventing more serious infections.
A black or yellowish discharge, redness or swelling of the ear flap, a waxy buildup on or near the ear canal, discharge from the ear that resembles coffee grounds (a symptom of ear mites), or a strong odor can all suggest a problem.
Cleaning a Pet’s Ears
Cleaning a dog or cat’s ears should remove any visible material from the surface of the ear or the ear canal. Trying to clean deeper with a Q-tip or other instrument should only be done by a trained veterinary technician or the veterinarian.
Like most children, dogs and cats are reluctant to have their ears cleaned. Encourage the pet with treats and to reward and praise after the procedure. Having a second set of hands can make cleaning less stressful and easier.
Cotton balls and a specific cleaning solution designed for pets is all that is needed. Often cats require some restraint, so bundling in a towel is an effective method of controlling a kitty (see Additional Resources below).
Below are detailed videos describing the proper procedure for the actual clearing of both a dog and cat’s ears. Your veterinary clinic can provide proper instruction and many professional groomers are also good resources.