Does your dog shake her head a lot? Do his ears smell funny? It may be time to clean your dog’s ears!
Many breeds of dogs, such as Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, need regular ear cleaning. If your dog has heavy, floppy ears, they’re one of those breeds. Even dogs with upright ears need ear cleaning from time to time. For those that are nervous about cleaning their dog’s ears for the first time or need a few pointers to make the endeavor easier, we’ve come up with a few tips.
Supplies you’ll need:
· Ear cleaner
· Cotton balls
Ear cleaner: There are many good, commercially available ear cleaners available either from your veterinarian or from pet stores. These cleaners are what I recommend using. Some people will use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide but if your pet has any irritation of their ear canal those products can sting quite badly and make your pet more nervous for the next time. Not only that, but if your dog has an ear infection, peroxide and alcohol can cause further inflammation of the ear canal and make the infection worse or more difficult to cure.
My favorite ear cleaner is TrizEDTA. In cases of ear infections where we aren’t able to be sure there is an eardrum present, this is one of the cleaners that is still safe to use. Plus, it does a wonderful job of making the ear canal less hospitable for bacteria and yeast to grow.
Cotton balls: Use cotton balls to wipe out any visible debris. They are safer than Q-tips and can get more dirt and debris than a washcloth or paper towel. Have more than just 1 or 2 on hand, depending on how dirty your dog’s ear is you’ll probably want a handful!
Assistant: An assistant is an invaluable tool for at least the first ear cleaning. Once you’ve determined how tolerant your dog is of the cleaning, you may or may not choose to continue using an assistant for the task. An assistant can keep your dog in place while you clean her ears or just offer a distraction for wriggly dogs and puppies
Steps to a thorough ear cleaning:
1. Go outside! Or in a bathroom or laundry room. This can get a little messy when your dog shakes her head.
2. Fold back your dog’s ear and fill the canal with a generous amount of cleaner. Don’t skimp! You can’t hurt anything by putting in “too much” cleaner.
3. Massage the ear canal. This helps to break up some of the debris further down in the ear canal.
4. Allow your dog to shake his head. If you’re in an indoor space where you don’t want a mess, hold onto the pinna (ear flap) to prevent this and skip this step but if you’re outside or in an area where you don’t mind a little mess let them shake. This helps to fling out some of the debris that is lower in the ear canal so you can wipe it out.
5. Wipe out any visible debris with a cotton ball. If your finger can get a little further down into the canal, that’s ok too. DO NOT use cotton swabs to go down into the ear canal. Because of the shape of a dog’s ear canal, you’re unlikely to puncture through their ear drum with a cotton swab but it is still possible! If you want to use a cotton swab to get into the nooks and crannies of the ear flap, that’s ok. A good rule of thumb is: if you can see the cotton tip of the swab, it’s safe.
What if my dog’s ears keep getting dirty and smelly?
If you’re having to clean your dog’s ears more than once a week and he hasn’t been previously diagnosed with an ear infection, it’s time to see the vet. Ear infections are painful and can damage the ear drum.
On your visit to the vet, they will take a swab of your dog’s ear to see what is causing the ear infection. Ear infections can be caused by ear mites, bacteria, or yeast.
By determining which bug is causing the ear infection, your veterinarian can prescribe an appropriate treatment. Your veterinarian will also look into your pet’s ears with an otoscope to assess the degree of inflammation and whether or not the ear drum has ruptured.
Some dogs will be prescribed a topical ear ointment while others may require oral medication. Which your vet prescribes will depend on the cause of the ear infection and what the ear canal looks like.
What causes chronic ear infections?
Moisture and allergies are the two biggest culprits of chronic ear infections. Keeping your pet’s ear canal free of excess hair is also important. Some groomers will pluck hair from the ear canals when your pet is there for a bath and trim. This is very helpful in preventing chronic ear infections because it means there are fewer hiding spots for bacteria and yeast.
Pets who swim or get baths on a regular basis are prone to getting moisture in their ears. That moisture, particularly in pets with floppy ears, gets trapped in the ear canal and creates a wonderful environment for yeast and bacteria to overgrow. Cleaning out your pet’s ears after baths or swimming will help combat that.
Allergies are another common cause of chronic ear infections. Allergies can be due to inhaled pollens or allergens, food, or topical irritants. Food is usually the first thing we try to change if we suspect allergies because it’s the easiest to avoid. Sometimes a food change to a completely different protein and/or grain source can decrease the frequency or even eliminate ear infections. By assessing your pet’s current diet or past diets, your vet will be able to make a food recommendation for your pet. To ensure the correct new diet is chosen, your vet may recommend food allergy testing.
If a food change does not improve how often your pet has ear infections, it could be allergies from the environment whether it’s pollens or indoor allergens. There is testing for these allergens as well and pets can receive immunotherapy injections just like people do to teach their immune system to ignore the offending allergens.
Chronic ear infections can be very frustrating for pet owners as well as veterinarians. It is important to work with your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause of chronic ear infections. Having multiple ear infections in a short period of time can cause permanent damage to the ear canal which in turn makes your dog even more predisposed to MORE ear infections. Some dogs even need a special surgery to change the shape of their ear canal due to the severe amount of damage to the canal caused by ear infections. Cocker Spaniels are the most common breed that need this surgery.