Pets can frequently suffer from itchy or smelly ears.
Ear problems affect all species from guinea pigs to Great Danes and although the causes can be very different, the signs are very similar. Head shaking, scratching, holding the ear down or the head to one side, having a smelly, painful or hot ear are all signs that your pet could have a problem. The earlier you pick up these signs and make an appointment to see the vet, the easier the condition will be to treat.
Depending on the cause, just one or both ears can be affected. Your vet will always check both. Sometimes the cause of the problem is quite obvious. The vet will examine the ears with something called an auroscope allowing examination of the ear canals and the eardrum. Unfortunately, this is not always possible if the ear is very painful or the pet is very naughty! When looking in the ears, the vet will check for discharges, foreign bodies such as grass seeds, ear mites and any rupture of the eardrum.
If the ear infection is very bad, the vet may want to take a swab and send this to the laboratory so they can find out exactly what type of bacteria are growing. Unfortunately, ears are often hot and sweaty and once an infection gets established it can get very nasty as the conditions are ideal for the infection to develop. Pets with very hairy or droopy ears have even more problems because there is less air circulating.
Sometimes an ear infection will clear up easily with a course of drops. These get antibiotics straight into the ear to kill the infection. Unfortunately, if there is a lot of discharge it stops the drops from working so antibiotics by mouth will then be prescribed. Oral antibiotics are also used if the eardrum is ruptured as drops can damage the delicate structures of the inner ear. Needless to say, oral antibiotics are also prescribed when the pet will not let drops be put down the ears! With severe infections, some antibiotic courses can last for weeks or even months.
If ears are very painful the animal may need to be sedated for a proper examination. This allows the vet to remove any foreign bodies without damaging the ear or to syringe the ear canal to clean it out.
To avoid ear problems, check your pet’s ears regularly and, in the case of hairy or droopy ears, clean them weekly.