Ear infections are one of the most common issues vets deal with on a daily basis and many owners will admit to not checking their dog’s ears at least once a week as part of their health care routine. For some dogs, cleaning their ears is usually easier said than done; if your dog is not used to having their ears examined or cleaned then you may have a fight on your hands.
But it is extremely important that owners have a regular ear cleaning routine for their dogs. After all, the best form of cure is prevention. By preventing dirt and nasty bacteria from building up, owners can greatly reduce the likelihood that their dog will suffer from ear-related issues.
Some dogs will naturally be more susceptible to developing ear infections. Dogs with large hanging ears such as cocker spaniels and basset hounds are often more at risk, as the skin of the ear can trap dirt, providing a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
Some dogs may also have underlying allergies which leave them more vulnerable to infection. However, just because your dog seems to have clean ears now doesn’t mean that it couldn’t develop an infection in the future. It is important to condition your dog to be used to having its ears examined and cleaned on a regular basis.
How often should I clean my dog’s ears?
There is no golden rule as to how often you should be cleaning your dog’s ears – it will depend on many factors such as the breed of your dog, how dirty they get while out on a walk, and any underlying allergies, just to name a few. For example, if your dog likes to swim in dirty water then they will need their ears cleaned immediately afterwards to prevent any nasty bacteria from taking up residence.
However, cleaning more often is not always better. Your dog’s skin is covered in ‘friendly’ commensal bacteria that help fight off harmful microorganisms and their ears are no exception. Washing your dog’s ears too regularly will not only remove harmful bacteria but also healthy commensal organisms, further predisposing them to infection. 1-2 washes per week will be more than enough for most dogs; your vet will be able to recommend a cleaning schedule that suits your dog’s unique needs.
What should I use to clean my dog’s ears?
While a damp cloth or gentle wet wipe can help remove some of the dirt from the outside of your dog’s ear, these products won’t be able to reach any dirt that may have accumulated deep down within your dog’s ear canal.
Use a dog-specific ear cleaner liquid as these products have been specifically formulated for use in dogs and shouldn’t cause irritation to your dog’s sensitive skin. If you are unsure as to what to use, then your vet may be able to recommend an effective product.
You’ll also need some cotton wool or cotton wool pads to wipe out any dirt that the cleaner flushes out; avoid cotton buds or Q-tips as these can push dirt deeper down within the ear.
How do I clean my dog’s ears?
- Hold your dog’s ear with one hand to expose the opening to the ear canal, with your other hand insert the nozzle of the ear cleaner into the opening of the canal. Don’t worry about putting the nozzle in too far, a dog’s ear canal is much longer than ours, so you won’t cause any damage to the eardrum.
- Squeeze the bottle to release a good squirt of ear cleaner into your dog’s ear canal, remove the nozzle and gently massage the base of your dog’s ear where it meets the skull. This will spread the cleaner around and break off any dirt that might have adhered to the walls of the canal.
- Use cotton wool to scoop out any dirt that comes to the surface and have a good wipe around within the ear canal.
- Repeat these steps until the cotton wool comes out clean after wiping – you should then have removed most of the dirt!
- Finally, repeat all the above steps for the second ear.
As mentioned, if you see any nasty pus-like discharge coming from the ear then consult your vet before cleaning. Your vet will be able to take samples of the wax from your dog’s ear and put them on a microscope slide in order to determine what kind of bacteria is present.
Your vet can then prescribe the appropriate antibiotic drops if necessary. Never use antibiotic drops without consulting your vet first, some ear infections can be caused by a particularly nasty species of bacteria called pseudomonas. Pseudomonas tends to be highly resistant to many conventional antibiotic ear drops, and in fact, administering drops in these cases can make the infection worse. Always follow the advice of your vet if you suspect this to be the case.
In extreme cases, a dog’s ears can be too dirty to clean at home and so might require professional cleaning at the vet’s. This is usually performed under sedation or general anesthetic. Your vet can assess the infection present using an otoscope and perform a thorough flush of the ears.
If your dog is suffering from repeated ear infections, then there could be an underlying allergy predisposing them to the problem. If this is the case, there are some natural home remedies for allergies that you can try. Alternatively, your vet may be able to perform allergy testing or prescribe anti-allergy medication to help. Always be sure to follow your vet’s advice.