Ear Infections

Ear infections, also known as Otitis Externa, are a common problem seen in pets. Dogs and cats both have long ‘L’ shaped ear canals, which make it perfect for debris to build up and cause an infection.

Foreign objects

Sometimes pets develop an ear infection due to a foreign object that becomes trapped in the ear canal. Grass seeds are notorious for this! If left untreated the foreign material can rupture the eardrum and potentially lead to hearing loss. Pets may shake their ears excessively to try and remove the object, in doing so they can cause an Aural Haematoma.


Ear mites can cause infection and inflammation. Some pets can be hypersensitive to mites causing them to scratch their ears resulting in damage.


Allergies from the environment and food can cause irritation and inflammation to the ears, which forms an ideal environment for an infection to form. Some particular causes can include pollens, dust and food allergies.

Bacteria and Yeasts

The more pets scratch their ears from irritation the more likely they are to develop a warm moist environment in the ears. Scratching can produce heat and release moisture from the skin. Dogs with long floppy ears are prone to developing ear infections. As the environment of the ear changes bacteria and yeast forms, producing a wax like discharge that can be brown or yellowish in colour.

Symptoms of an ear infection

  • Ear scratching (pets my yelp)
  • Redness of the ear pinna (ear flap), warm to touch
  • Brown or yellowish wax like discharge
  • Pets hold their head to one side
  • Hearing loss

Treatment and Diagnosis

When symptoms arise it is important to seek veterinary treatment. Ear infections are painful and can cause extreme discomfort for your furry friend.

Never place cotton buds down your pets ears to free any debris, if there happens to be a foreign object in the ear it will only get pushed down further causing damage to the ear drum.

Your veterinarian will examine your pet’s ear and if they suspect an ear infection a sample will be taken with a swab to perform cytology, viewing the sample under a microscope. This will assist the veterinarian to diagnose your pet’s ear problem and prescribe the most effective medication and treatment plan.

Treatment options prescribed may include:

  • Anti-inflammatory or antibiotic medications
  • Ear drops
  • Ear cleansers or flush
  • Dietary modifications

The veterinarian is likely to recommend a follow up appointment to ensure the infection is improving. It is important to follow through with these appointments to prevent a long-term ear infection.


Aural Haematoma

What is it?

An aural haematoma is a large blood filled ear flap, or pinna. They are a common complaint for pets visiting the vet, especially following an ear infection or dog fight.

Aural haematomas form when a dog shakes or scratches their ears vigorously generally due to an irritation in the ear. As a result, the small blood vessels in between the two layers of skin and cartilage of the ear flap burst. As the vessels bleed a small pillow like lump forms between the two layers and can continue to swell potentially occluding the ear canal. This condition is mainly seen in dogs but on occasion we have treated cats with the same problem.


  • Swollen ear, or a lump on ear flap
  • Shaking head
  • Scratching ears
  • Hanging head to one side

How is it treated?

Depending on the severity, there are different treatment options for aural haematomas.


Initially, the vet may want to attempt to drain the earflap through a process called aspiration to relieve the pressure in the ear. The vet will insert a needle and syringe into the lump and drain the fluid out. This procedure is done while your dog is awake and causes minimal if any pain, just a little prick from the needle. They may be given an injection of cortisone into the ear to reduce the risk of the lump forming again.

Aspiration is a relatively inexpensive procedure and is often the first step in treating the haematoma. Unfortunately however, many aural haematomas will reform and therefore require surgery.

Surgical Repair

Your dog will be placed under a general anesthetic and the ear clipped and cleaned for surgery. The haematoma will be cut open to allow drainage and the skin and cartilage of the earflap will be sown together with many sutures. The sutures will need to be removed 2-3 weeks later.

Whilst under the general anesthetic they will also investigate the cause of the aural haematoma, such as looking for a grass seed or other foreign body in the ear canal.

Common problems associated with Aural Haematomas

  • Ear infections (may be a cause, or effect!)
  • Foreign object in the ear, such as grass seeds
  • Allergies
  • Fleas

If you have noticed your dog or cat scratching or shaking their head it is likely they are suffering from some irritation to the ear. To prevent them developing an aural haematoma bring them in to see a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Ear Mites

What are ear mites?

The ear mite (Otodectes cynotis) is a surface living mite which lives on cats, dogs, rabbits and ferrets.  It is usually found in the ear canal but it can also live on the skin surface.  The whole of the life cycle takes place on animals.  Cats become infested by direct contact with an infested animal.  The mite is just visible to the naked eye and can be seen as a white speck moving against a dark background.

What effect do ear mites have on cats?

Ear mites are by far the most common cause of feline ear disease.  They are the second most common ectoparasite found on cats, the most common is the flea.  Infestations are most prevelant in kittens and young cats although cats of any age can be affected.  Clinical signs of infestation vary in severity from one cat to another and include combinations of:-

  • ear irritation causing scratching at the ears or head shaking
  • a dark waxy discharge from the ear
  • areas of hair loss resulting from self-trauma – scratching or excessive grooming
  • a crusted rash
  • aural haematoma – a large blood blister caused by the rupture of small blood vessels between the skin and cartilage of the ear usually on the inner aspect – caused by scratching at the ears

Skin lesions most frequently affect the ear and surrounding skin but uncommonly other areas of the body may be affected.

How are ear mite infestations diagnosed?

Typical clinical signs with a history of contagion (spread) between cats or cats and dogs would suggest the involvement of ear mites.  Over 50% of feline ear disease is caused by ear mites.  However other conditions can result in very similar clinical signs.

A vet can make the diagnosis by demonstrating the mite.  This is usually straightforward and may be done either by examination of the cat’s ears with an auroscope or by microscopic examination of discharge from the ear.  If the ears are very sore the cat may need to be sedated or given a general anaesthetic to allow the ears to be properly examined. 

How can I get rid of ear mites from my cat?

A three pronged attack is required:-

  • treat the ears of all affected and susceptible in contact animals
  • treat the skin of all affected and susceptible in contact animals
  • treat the indoor environment because the mite is capable of limited survival off animals

Your vet will advise you about which insecticidal products are suitable.  There are several ear medications licensed for the treatment of ear mites.  There are now a number of products which are applied as a top-spot that are licensed for the treatment of ear mites. These include Revolution and Advocate.

Your vet may ask you to continue the treatment regime for at least 21 days after which he/she may check the cat to ensure that the mites have been eliminated.

Some vets may prescribe ‘off label’ Ivermectin given orally or subcutaneously to treat ear mite infections.  This is a very convenient and effective way of treating ear mite infection in multicat households.  However there is some risk of toxicity when giving this drug to young cats and kittens.  They will discuss this with you prior to commencing this treatment.

Do ear mites affect people?

Ear mites may cause an itchy rash on susceptible people if there are infested animals in the household.  Eradication of the mites from the animals will cure the problem.

A Lifelearn Product from:.

Arthur Webster & Associates Pty Ltd

P O Box 438,  PYMBLE  NSW  2073  Australia

You may also like

Ear Infections

Ear Infections

What is Otitis Externa and structure of the ear Otitis externa is inflammation of the external ear canal. The ear is divided into the outer, middle and inner ear. The outer ear includes the region from the ear flap (pinna) to the eardrum. The middle ear contains a...

read more
Summer Dangers

Summer Dangers

With summer approaching, we decided it was a good time to alert our pet owners to the risk of heat stroke. Unlike people, most animals can’t sweat and have to lose excess heat through evaporation by panting. This makes it difficult for them to cool down and puts them at greater risk of heat stress on hot days and when doing strenuous exercise.

read more
Paralysis Ticks

Paralysis Ticks

Our pets love the summer just as much as we do! It’s a great time of year to be outside enjoying the warmth and sunshine but also important that you recognise the dangers of the Paralysis Tick to our pets during the warmer months. What are Paralysis Ticks and how do...

read more