6-9 March 2025, The NEC Birmingham

Ear infections in cats and dogs

Dog being brushed

Ear infections, also known as otitis externa, are more common in dogs than they are in cats but can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort for our furry friends. If left untreated, they can even lead to hearing loss and other serious health issues. So, what are the causes of ear infections and how can we help prevent them? 

Common causes of ear infections 

  • Allergies: If your pet is allergic to certain foods, pollen or other environmental factors, this can lead to inflammation in the ears, which can increase the risk of infections 
  • Anatomy: Certain breeds of dogs, such as those with floppy ears, are more prone to ear infections due to the way their ears are structured 
  • Moisture: Moisture in the ears can create a breeding ground for bacteria, yeast and other microorganisms that can cause infections 
  • Injury: Trauma to the ear or foreign objects in the ear can increase the risk of infections 
  • Wax build-up: Too much wax or any debris in the ears can create an environment for bacteria to grow, which can lead to infection

Clean your dog's  ears regularly 

Regular cleaning a dog’s ears is essential, particularly for dogs with floppy ears. Cats shouldn't need to have their ears cleaned unless advised to by a vet. Use a pet-specific ear-cleaning solution and some cotton wool or cotton pads. Steer clear of using cotton buds, as these can push wax and debris further inside the ear, which is less than ideal. Use the swabs to remove any excess wax and debris, and then dry off the ears. If you spot early signs of infections, such as redness, swelling, or discharge, take your pet to the vet instead.  


If your pet isn’t used to having their ears handled, try to have a friend help you, and keep some treats handy to reward them. 

Pay attention to allergies 

Allergies can contribute to ear infections in pets. If your pet has allergies, work with your vet to manage them effectively. Your vet may recommend a special diet or prescribe medication to help reduce your pet's allergic reaction and inflammation. 

Keep their ears dry 

Excess moisture in the ears can also contribute to infections, particularly in dogs. If they have a bath or go swimming, make sure you dry their ears off thoroughly. You can also buy ear-drying solutions too, which draw moisture from the ears.

Visit your vet 

Regular check-ups with your vet can help catch any signs of ear infections early and prevent them from getting worse. Your vet can examine your pet's ears and recommend treatment that may include medication or cleaning under anaesthesia.

Ear infections: signs to look out for 

If you notice any of these symptoms in your pet, it’s worth taking them to the vet for a check-up:  

  • Scratching at the ears or shaking their head 
  • Redness or swelling in the ears 
  • Discharge or a bad smell coming from the ears 
  • Sensitivity or pain when their ears are touched