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Have you watched your dog shake their head or scratch their ears repeatedly? I live with three hounds with long ears, and they’ve all been diagnosed with an ear infection at some point. They’re much more common for dogs than you might think. With that in mind, regular ear cleanings really do make a difference.
Have a conversation with your veterinarian before you get started with regular monthly or bi-monthly cleanings. As a Certified Vet Technician, I’ve seen that certain cleaners can actually be harmful to your dog. For instance, caution should be used with cleaners that contain chlorhexidine if you don’t know the integrity of the tympanic membrane—which can be discovered via a simple exam.
Choosing an Ear Cleaner
Normal saline can be used and is very safe. This includes products like Virbac’s Epi-Otic Ear Cleaner. Epi-Otic has a low pH of 2.2 and contains no chlorhexidine or alcohol. Other popular, safe options include Zymox cleanser with bio-active enzymes and ear wipes like these.
You will need a different solution if your dog has an active ear infection. If you notice discharge, swelling, redness, or other alarming symptoms, check with your vet first as a prescription solution may be in order. Ear mites, which are a related issue, also must be treated with a specialized medication.
Essential Dog Ear Cleaning Tips
Regular ear cleanings done by a pet parent should focus on the external ear canal. A professional vet tech or your veterinarian can walk you through a demonstration of the below steps.
Start with cotton balls, cotton tip applicators, and an ear cleaner.
10 Easy Steps
- It’s important to use cotton balls to remove debris that is visible in the ear canal. Debris is typically wax and sometimes excessive hair. Excessive hair is common in many breeds including terriers and poodles.
- Cleaning ears can be a two-person job, and light restraint may be helpful. Most dogs don’t love having their ears cleaned!
- Gently place the dispensing tip of the bottle just into the opening of your pet’s ear, or soak cotton balls with the cleaner (my fave tip). It may be helpful to warm up the cleaner by leaving it out on the counter so it’s at room temperature.
- Gently squeeze the cleaner (or cotton balls) until you see liquid at the ear canal opening.
- Then massage the ear while holding the pinna (flap) up so you avoid the common shaking a dog will typically do. This massage breaks down the debris.
- Next, clean out that debris. Gently wipe out the ear with those dry cotton balls. You’ll gather some of the debris as you wipe their ear canal. Continue to wipe those ears until the debris is gone. (Ear wipes are also available for a quick cleaning).
- Repeat this until all the debris is gone.
- Stand back and let them shake!
- Dry the ear with the cotton balls to make sure the entire canal is dry.
- Move onto the next ear, rinse, and repeat.
What types of ear problems affect dogs?
In the case of otitis media (middle ear infection) or interna (inner ear infection), signs may include pain when opening the mouth, shaking the head, pawing at the ear, tilting the head, or an altered sense of balance.
Routine ear cleanings not only reduce chances of infection, but you may also notice something is wrong just by going through the ear cleaning process.