Otitis Externa in Small Mammals

Ear infection, also referred to as otitis externa, is a condition characterized by inflammation of the soft tissue components of the external ear canal. This type of infection is not common in small mammals but does affect a significant number of ferrets and rabbits.

Several factors may predispose your pet to ear infections, including abnormal ear conformation (lop-ears), water or hair in the ears, allergies, trauma, tumors, foreign material in the ears, parasites or other generalized skin diseases.

Infection of the ears may be due to fungus, bacteria or parasites. Laboratory tests will help determine which of these is the cause in your pet. In ferrets and rabbits, the most common cause of ear infections is ear mites.

What to Watch For


Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize otitis externa and exclude other diseases. Tests may include:

Some pets may require additional diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the abnormalities. Pets with recurrent ear infections, those who respond poorly to treatment, pets with generalized skin abnormalities, or those with other health problems may need additional diagnostic tests.

Tests may include:


Home Care and Prevention

Be sure to have your veterinarian show you how to place medication into your pet's ears. Make sure the ears are clean before applying medication, but don't use cotton swabs in the ear; these may push infection and/or discharge deeper into the ear canal.

Have your pet's ears checked at the first sign of scratching, head shaking, pain, swelling, odor or discharge.