Browsing tag: ear problems

Kittens with passengers: ear mites

Ear mites are very common in kittens

Ear mites are very common in kittens

When a litter of rescued kittens were brought to see me recently, a careful examination of their ears was an important part of the check-up. I introduced the tip ofthe auroscope into each kitten’s ear, and by looking through the instrument I was able to see a magnified view of each ear canal. In normal animals, the pale blue-grey of the eardrum itself can often be seen. However, in these kittens, I could hardly see any normal ear canal. My view was blocked completely by thick, brown, sticky earwax. The cause of the excessive ear wax could be seen very clearly. Tiny white wriggling insect-like creatures could be seen swarming around the inside of each ear. The kittens were infected with ear mites.

Ear mites are very common in kittens. They are very small mites, each measuring the size of a pin-head. They are very active, and they tend to move away from bright light. When examining an ear with an auroscope, ear mites can often be seen moving quickly out of the field of vision, as if running away from the vet.

Ear mites are highly infectious, and they are especially common in feral colonies of cats. The adult mite feeds on the secretions produced by the lining of the ear. Eggs are laid inside the ear. These hatch out into tiny larvae which then mature into adults, and the life cycle continues. If one cat pushes its head against the body of another cat, ear mites can easily be transferred from one to the other. Kittens are obviously in very close contact with their mothers and with each other, so it is very common to find entire litters of kittens affected by dramatic infestations of ear mites.

Most of us are familiar with the discomfort of an irritation in the ear, even from something as harmless as a small quantity of water lodging in our ears after swimming. The concept of live, wriggling insects crawling around inside the ear canal is very unpleasant! In many cases, kittens do show dramatic signs, such as repeated scratching of the ears. In other cases, an owner may have noticed the animal shaking their head more than usual,. However some cats, even with severe infestations, show no obvious external signs. Close examination of a kitten’s ears with an auroscope is essential to detect such ‘invisible’ cases.

Ear mites can also affect dogs, but they are less common. Fortunately, there is no risk to humans. Those alarming, tiny, wriggly creatures are not going to crawl onto your hand, up your arm and into your own ear. However, if you have a household of dogs and cats, you do need to treat every animal individually to ensure that you have completely eradicated the infestation.

Treatment of ear mites is not always easy. The mites are sensitive to most insecticides and a range of drops and ointments are available from your vet. The only complication is that the eggs of the ear mite are resistant to treatment, and these can remain unhatched for up to three weeks. This means that it may be necessary to continue to medicate affected kittens for an entire three week period, to ensure that all eggs have hatched with the resulting larvae being eradicated. Young kittens can be difficult to hold still, and they often learn how to escape from your grasp, so after the first few days of treatment it can become more difficult to continue.

I saw the kittens again two weeks after their first visit. They were all in wonderful form, purring, playing with each other, and growing rapidly. Their ears were clean, both inside and out. They were ready for their new homes – with no passengers included!

Is your dog a stinker? – why your dog might be smelly!

All dogs smell, anyone who owns one knows that but there is a difference between ‘Eau de wet dog’ and a proper SMELL.  Sometimes these can creep up on us unawares and it’s only after some time away from your pet or when visitors come and politely, but firmly, distance themselves from your pooch do you notice and other times they can appear overnight.  However, like any other change in your pets behaviour or health, they should always be taken seriously.

So, what could cause your dog to smell (worse than usual!) and when should you worry?  Lets look at our pets, if you will excuse the pun, nose to tail;


Ear infections are common in dogs, especially breeds with floppy, furry appendages, but any dog can develop odourous, painful problems.  They will often shake their heads, scratch at their ears and when you inspect under the ear flap you usually find a discharge, which can vary from a thick, black waxy to a creamy pus-like consistency, red, sore skin and quite a stink!  Any dog with these symptoms should be taken to a vet as soon as possible.  Ear infections left to fester can cause permanent damage and will be very sore for your pet.


I have said it before and I will doubtless say it again; Doggy breath is NOT normal!  A dog with a healthy mouth should have little or no smell coming from it and if they have, there is a problem.  Smelly breath is usually due to bacteria colonising the plaque, tartar and gingivitis on the teeth and gums.  Between them these are literally rotting your pets teeth away, which is very painful and will eventually lead to teeth loss.  Not only this, these germs will escape into the blood stream, travel round the rest of the body and put the organs under serious strain.  The heart, kidneys & liver will all suffer, sometimes to the point where they are permanently damaged.

Regular check-ups with your vet will pick up any problems early and often simple chews or regular brushing will prevent further issues.  However, if your dog is particularly badly affected, your vet may suggest dental work under an anaesthetic to remove all the tartar and infection, extract any teeth which are beyond saving and restore the mouth to health.

Coat and Skin

We all know dogs love to get wet, dirty and roll in the most disgusting things (fox poo anyone?) but normally a good shampoo or just a bit of drying out will sort most problems. However, some pooches seem to carry a distinct ‘smell’ around with them wherever they go.  In some cases these can indicate significant health problems and in others just a few tweeks to their care can make the world of difference.

There are a significant minority of dogs who suffer from skin allergies, which not only make them itchy but also can make them very smelly.  The odour arises from an abnormal amount of bacteria and yeasts living on the skin and until the disease is under control, it can be very difficult to get rid of.  Medicated shampoos available from your vet can be very helpful but some pets will need oral treatments to bring the problem under control, especially in the early stages.  It also helps to keep the skin and coat in the very best condition possible.  There are several dietary supplements available for dogs which are brilliant for keeping coats and skin in tip top condition, ask your vet what they would recommend.

For dogs that just have a bit of ‘BO’ again regular baths, with a proper doggy shampoo, can be very helpful, as can dietary supplements.  In many cases it is worth investing in a regular trip to the groomers as they will be able to bathe them fully, strip and clip the coat, if it is appropriate to the breed, and dry them properly afterwards.

The bottom end!


‘Silent but deadly’ is the best description for many of man’s best friend’s emanations!  Usually it is just an occasional thing or can be related to a bin raid or unsuitable treats (!) but in some pets it can be a constant (and very unsociable!) problem.

Excessive gas production is caused by poor digestion, which can be related either to a problem with the guts not functioning properly or an unsuitable diet.  In most cases it is the latter and a change of food (or several until you find one that suits them) is all that is needed to settle the digestion.  The best diets to pick in these circumstances are the ‘hypoallergenic’ kind which tend to contain fewer additives and are usually wheat & gluten free, which makes them much gentler on dog’s stomachs.  Have a chat to your vet about what they would recommend you try.

However, some individuals have actual gastrointestinal disease and for them flatulence is usually just one of several symptoms relating to poor gut function.  These pets often need testing (which can include blood samples, faecal samples, xrays and biopsies) to make a specific diagnosis and treatments include medications, dietary supplements and, again, hypoallergenic diets.

Anal Glands

For many dogs, especially the smaller breeds, these little bottom glands can be the bane of their (and their owner’s) lives!  The anal sacs are two small, thin walled glands situated on either side of the anus (people don’t have them, thank goodness!) which produce a smelly, watery scent.  They are why dogs sniff each others bottoms and their mechanism of emptying is very simple; As the solid faeces slides past them, it squeezes the gland and forces out the liquid.  However, if the dog doesn’t poo for a while or has diarrhoea, the gland won’t be emptied and can become blocked.  This is painful, feeling a bit like a zit that needs to be popped, and will cause many dogs to display signs including chewing at their tails, licking at their bottoms or, the classic, scooting along on their bottoms.  Sometimes they will succeed in expressing the glands, which causes a truly remarkable smell (once smelt, never forgotten!) that is often described as ‘fishy’.

Most dogs with these symptoms will need their glands expressing by a vet,and trust me, this is a job best left to the professionals!  In some cases it can become a recurring problem as the glands are left thickened and scarred by repeated blocking.  For those individuals a proper flushing out of the glands under a sedation can be helpful and for particularly badly affected pets, your vet may advice removal of the sacs completely.

So hopefully now you know a few of the things that can turn your beloved family pet into a truly malodorous mutt!  Why not try our Symptom Checker for further information and if you are concerned, do contact your vet.

Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS – Read more of her blogs at

Ask a vet online – ‘My dog keeps shaking his head and scratching his ears’

Question from Amanda Shaw

My dog keeps shaking his head and scratching his ears, they feel a little bit swollen but they are cleaned often so no mites he is lively and not off his food I’m at a loss.

Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, online vet

Hi Amanda and thank you for your question about your dog’s ears. It is great that you are cleaning your dog’s ears regularly. I will discuss a list of possible causes for your dog to be shaking his head, scratching his ears and for the swelling followed by some treatment options.

Why is my dog shaking his head and scratching at his ears?

The symptoms you have described could be due to a foreign body e.g. a grass seed down the ear canal, bacterial or yeast infection, skin allergy, parasites e.g. ear mites, polyps or an aural haematoma (blood blister) all of which can be painful.

Grass seeds are a common finding down the ear canal of dogs that go for walks in the countryside. The shape of a dog’s ear canal has an upright tube (vertical canal) and then a 90 degree bend and a sideways tube (horizontal canal) at the end of this is the ear drum (tympanic membrane), this lends itself to getting things lodged inside. A foreign body like a grass seed can usually be seen by your vet with the help of an otoscope (hand held torch with a magnifying lens and a funnel). Grass seeds can usually be removed using a special pair of long grabbing forceps; some dogs will however need sedation or a general anaesthetic to allow the removal and examination to be carried out safely. We often send dogs home with antibiotic and pain relief after foreign body removal to combat any infection and pain.

Bacterial and yeast infections of the ear are conditions that affect the skin that lines the inside of the ear canals. The shape of the ear canal along with the ear flap (pinna) tends to funnel in moisture and trap germs. Dogs with a large floppy pinna such as Spaniels have the added feature of a closed lid over the ear canal all leading to a great environment for germs to breed. Infection may be present on other parts of the body and the whole animal may need treatment not just the ears. If the condition is only affecting the ears then ear cleaning solution and antibiotic drops can be a very effective treatment. If you are new to applying ear cleaner and ear drops then ask your vet or veterinary nurse to show you the best way to use them. If the condition is affecting other areas of skin then injectable or tablet medications may be given so that the drugs can travel in the blood stream to reach more areas of the body. When infections are not clearing up your vet might suggest taking swabs from the area. The swabs are sent to the laboratory for bacteriology and sensitivity. This tells us which bacteria and yeasts are present, and which drugs should be effective against them.

Skin allergy can affect the ears as the ear canals are lined by skin, diagnosis and treatment of skin allergy can involve swabs, biopsy samples and skin scrapes analysed at your vets or sent to a laboratory. Treatment of skin allergy can involve use of low allergy diets, shampoos, desensitisation vaccines, antibiotics, antihistamines and various immunosuppressant drugs.

Parasites including ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) and ticks (Ixodes varieties) can lead to irritation and then bacterial infection of the ears. Ticks are usually visible to the naked eye but ear mites are more easily seen under a microscope. Use of an appropriate antiparasitic treatment and removal of the parasites are the best method of treatment.

Aural haematoma, this is a blood blister usually found on the outer skin of the ear pinna, seen as a swollen area which often causes the ear to droop. The swelling is soft and fluid filled, it is often the result of a trauma such as a dog fight or vigorous ear shaking. The haematoma develops as small blood vessels in the ear burst and the blood leaks under the skin, this separates into a pink tinged fluid and a thicker dark red clot. Some dogs are prone to recurrence of aural haematomas and repeat treatments may be needed. There are two main methods of treatment, draining via a needle or surgical drainage under a general anaesthetic. Antibiotics, steroids or anti-inflammatory drugs may also be given in the form of tablets, injections or directly into the ear.

Ear polyps are growths of different size that occur inside the ear canal, they are usually diagnosed on examination using an otoscope. Polyps are usually not cancerous but if there is any doubt then the polyp can be sent to a laboratory for analysis after removal. Small sized and numbers of polyps may not cause a problem to your dog but if there is irritation they can be removed surgically, in more serious cases removal of part or all of the ear canal may be an option.

In conclusion it is really important to have your dog’s ears examined by your vet so that a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment can be started. I hope that my answer has been helpful and that your dog has much more comfortable ears as soon as possible.

Shanika Winters VetMB MRCVS (online vet)

If your dog has a problem with its ears please book an appointment to see your vet, or use our online symptom checker

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