How old is your pet in human years?

If your dog or cat is scratching or shaking their head, chances are there’s more going on than just “thinking”.

You’re a bit alarmed: your pet is scratching at their head… a lot… and shaking it more than usual. Something’s obviously bothering them. If you take a closer look at their eyes, do you see any secretions? Do you smell an unpleasant, even sickening odour when you get closer to their face? If you answered yes to any or all of the above, chances are they have otitis, an ear infection.

“A healthy dog or cat doesn’t have visible or heavy secretions on the auricle part of the ear, explains Dr. Marie-Hélèbe Laporte, from the Le Gardeur Veterinary Hospital. “You had better consult with your vet to see if it’s wax or a symptom of disease… even if the dog isn’t scratching. Unfortunately, some pets let infection—otitis—go on too long before showing signs of discomfort.”

In humans, otitis is usually internal. The infection lies buried deep within the ear. But in dogs or cats, otitis is often external and manifests in the outer canal or along the auricle.

Now, you might be asking yourself how to ensure ear hygiene in your pet. “Not with a cotton swab! Declares Dr. Laporte. “If you do that, you’ll only push the secretions further into the ear and maybe even block the canal. This will lead to infection. Instead, use an approved cleanser that you can pour directly in the ear, which will get rid of the wax. Then, when the dog shakes their head, they’ll be getting rid of the cleanser and the secretions themselves. After that, simply wipe the ear with cotton or a cloth, without penetrating the canal.”

Every time your dog goes swimming, in order to reduce their risk of getting an infection, Dr. Laporte recommends applying the cleanser. It won’t irritate your pet and its drying effect will prevent the humidity that’s a breeding ground for infection.

This product doesn’t require a prescription, and you can pick some up at your vet.

How often should you clean your pet’s ears? According to Dr. Laporte, for dogs only, the frequency varies according to breed and lifestyle. A weekly preventive cleaning for dogs at risk (a lot of outdoor activities, often in the water, etc.) or monthly for those not at risk (sedentary, live in apartments), is recommended. Prevention is best.

On the other hand, cats don’t get the same type of infections as dogs. Cats can suffer from otitis caused by parasites when they are very young, or the infection is a side effect of another problem in grown cats. In any case, otitis is unusual.

If your vet diagnoses otitis, it is very important to see the vet again about ten days later to make sure your dog’s infection has cleared up. “If the infection hasn’t completely healed, warns Dr. Laporte, it could just start up again…and worse! People often underestimate the importance the seeing your vet again at the end of treatment. It’s not normal for a dog to have three infections a year. It really isn’t!”