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Published on January 7th, 2019 | by Debbie Martin


Skin and Ear Disease – How Can Help

Vets say that one of the most commonly seen problems in pets is skin and ear disease of one kind or another. And whether mild or severe, the issue for most animals can be distressing.

Most pet owners know that one of the key issues which helps to keep their animals healthy and happy lies in regularly checking skin and ears, particularly in breeds prone to such problems, in order to spot concerns before they become worse. For this reason, vets are always happy to offer advice to owners during consultations.

What Can Cause Skin And Ear Problems In Dogs And Cats?

There is a veritable multitude of things that can cause problems in these areas and these can also vary according to the breed, because some breeds of dog especially are more prone to skin and ear disease, and also according to the animal’s everyday habits. Food, medication and allergies to pollen, mould or house dust mites can also play a part in triggering a problem. Allergens work by penetrating the skin to trigger the body’s defensive reaction which, just like hay fever in humans triggers the release of histamine to cause itching.

Fleas And Parasites

Unsurprisingly fleas are a huge trigger for skin problems. Where a flea infestation is left untreated the resulting misery for the host animal can be compounded by hair loss and extreme itching. Fleas can be easily dealt with by the regular application of a product which kills fleas on the body and prevents further infestation plus the application of a product which you can spray onto carpets; this kills fleas and their eggs which can survive for some time in carpet fibres and in other nooks and crannies. If you spot the telltale signs of fleas on your dog or cat (tiny black droppings and small brown insects) seek advice from a suitably qualified person (SQP) who will point you towards the appropriate flea treatment for your situation. You can contact one of our SQP’s on 01829 734098.

With the use of central heating in our homes fleas can appear and thrive all year round and can affect dogs, cats and any indoor pets whatever their breed and age. Some will experience only a mild itchiness but for others, the consequences can be more serious. Fleas can trigger a hypersensitive reaction to flea saliva in some animals which can potentially result in dermatitis and/or bacterial infection. Cats are especially sensitive to flea allergy dermatitis and just a single flea bite is enough to trigger a reaction. SQPs are the first line of defence against this with timely advice on appropriate flea treatments plus shampoos and foods to help soothe irritated skin. In some cases omega3 and fatty acid supplements may help and, again, this is something an SQP can advise on.

Other so-called ectoparasites that can affect pets include mites and, less commonly lice. Mites are particularly horrible things which burrow under the skin to cause Sarcoptic or Demodectic mange. These mites are usually diagnosed during a veterinary consultation by taking a scraping of skin for examination under a microscope.

Signs Of Skin Problems

One of the most frequently seen symptoms is when the animal starts to excessively scratch, chew or lick themselves, on the feet, face or underside. Other signs to watch for are:

  • Hair loss becoming worse over time
  • Bald patches
  • Flaky, red or scaly skin
  • Excessive scratching
  • Excessive licking and chewing of the skin (especially in cats)
  • Scabs or matting felt under and on the fur
  • Loss of condition and dullness of the coat

How Can Help With Skin Conditions

We can help you choose the right flea treatments for your pet and your home if this is the cause of your pet’s skin problem. Where the problem is caused by other parasites such as mites help and advice is available for this too.

Shampoos, particularly oatmeal shampoo is good for soothing and moisturising itchy skin and an SQP can advise when and when not to use these – after applying a topical parasite control treatment for example.

SQPs can discuss with you what kind of anti-allergy diet could benefit your itchy pet.

They can also advise you about the benefits of regular grooming, both to remove loose fur and debris and to check the condition of the skin at the same time.

Ear Mites

Ear infections are frequently seen by vets in both dogs and cats. Certain breeds of dogs are especially susceptible to ear infections, typically long-eared breeds like spaniels and bassets but any animal can be affected. Dogs that suffer from allergies can have frequent ear infections due to the associated inflammation but most ear infections in dogs and cats are typically caused by bacteria and yeast or simply through a build up of dirt and wax. Ear mites are a common cause of infection in kittens and puppies so be especially vigilant with these.

Spot The Signs of An Ear Infection

The first indication that your dog or cat has an ear irritation will be frequent shaking of the head from side to side. Other signs to look for include:

  • Scratching or pawing at the ear(s)
  • Rubbing the ear(s) along the ground or the wall
  • Redness inside the ear flap
  • Swelling of the ear
  • Abnormal smell or discharge coming from the ear(s)



If you see any of these signs it’s important to get advice and treatment straightaway. Your vet will need to examine the ear to assess the severity of the infection and to find out the cause. This will determine which treatment is required and will often take the form of topical ear drops and sometimes a steroid treatment to deal with any inflammation.

SQPs can advise on how to regularly check ears to look for potential problems as well as:

  • How to keep long fur around the ears untangled to prevent irritation and facilitate air circulation
  • How to treat against fleas and avoid an irritation trigger
  • How to clean ears, vital if a pet goes swimming, likes to explore the undergrowth while outside or is bathed, in order to remove excess moisture and prevent irritation or infection
  • How to use ear cleaning solutions to prevent a build-up of dirt and wax to aid the proper clean functioning of the ear
  • The importance of parasite control for healthy ears
  • When to seek advice from your vet

How To Do A Routine Ear Clean

Only do this if you’re confident in being able to do this correctly and without hurting your pet. If not, or if your pet finds it painful or uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to seek veterinary advice.

Have cotton wool – never cotton buds – and ear cleaning solution ready.

  • Gently holding the ear flap out of the way, place a couple of drops of ear cleaner into the opening of the ear canal.
  • Gently massage the ear canal which is located just beneath the entrance of the ear – this feels like a tube.
  • Massage for around 20 seconds to ensure thorough distribution of the cleaner deep into the ear canal.
  • Carefully massage the cleaner back up towards the outer ear then remove any excess that you can see with the cotton wool. Be sure to wipe the ear flap as well.
  • Do this 1-3 times daily until the fluid you’re cleaning out no longer looks dirty.
  • Clean both ears.

If you see anything during the procedure that doesn’t look right, or if your pet is showing obvious signs of pain or discomfort during it, don’t hesitate to contact your vet for further advice.

Be aware that stress and boredom have been shown to play their part in causing or exacerbating skin conditions in pets. This is down to constant and persistent grooming, chewing, biting or licking which can quickly become a habit in bored and under-stimulated animals. Always make sure that you supply plenty of fun, stimulation, play and activity to keep your pet content and healthy.

If you are in any doubt at all about whether your pet is suffering from skin or ear problems, or you need advice on how to deal with it, or if your pet’s condition is not improving be sure to contact your vet for help.

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About the Author

Debbie Martin has worked at Beeston Animal Health for over five years, having previously worked as a nurse in equine and small animal practice. Although generally involved with aspects of marketing these days and putting her psychology degree to good use, she still has a great depth of up to date knowledge in all creatures great and small. Debbie lives at home with her partner and two children and spends much of her spare time looking after her horses, dogs and cats or at the home farm with the cows, sheep and turkeys.

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