Our dog’s ears can easily become dirty and infected without regular cleaning. Especially if they’re the adorable floppy kind!
Big droopy ears can restrict airflow to the ear canal, making it a perfect breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria.
That’s why some breeds are more prone to ear problems than others. Such as the hound group, retrievers, spaniels, poodles and hairy eared breeds like my schnauzer.
Cleaning and grooming will help your dog maintain good ear hygiene, keeping infections and wax build up at bay.
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Why clean a dog’s ears
Problems most commonly occur when excessive bacteria or yeast forms in the ear. This infection causes your dog pain and itching, which makes them want to scratch that area.
Scratching is an instinctive response to itching, (humans do it too) but consequently they irritate the ear further. The only difference between us and dogs is we know when it’s doing us more harm, so we learn to resist the urge to scratch. But in dogs, this can kick off a vicious cycle which results in lesions and open wounds if left untreated.
If you’ve ever had an ear infection, you’ll know how excruciating this pain can be.
When these problems are left to escalate, the infection can progress to the middle or inner ear, which can affect your dog’s balance and hearing. So catching the problem early prevents your dog from experiencing unnecessary pain and further complications later on.
How to spot a problem
To identify an ear problem, you should watch your dog’s behaviour and check their ears once a week. If you notice anything unusual like these symptoms below, it’s time to book a vet appointment.
- Excessive ear scratching
- Redness inside the ear flap
- A musty odour
- Head shaking
- Off balance
- Reduced hearing ability
- Vomiting and nausea
How to prevent ear problems in dogs
Major problems can occur when debris is allowed to enter the ear canal, or when excessive hair restricts airflow and traps wax.
To counteract these problems, it’s advisable to remove excess hair and maintain a cleaning regime.
To clip, pluck or leave them alone
There’s much debate about what to do with overly hairy ears. Many vets advise to pluck the ear hair with your fingers or grooming forceps, others claim plucking can in fact leave the ear canal irritated and inflamed, and open to infection.
Which is what we’re trying to prevent in the first place.
Let me tell you a story.
When Loki was around 10 months of age she contracted otitis externa, which is an inflammation of the external ear canal.
The inner part of the canal seemed fine, it just looked like another dog had grazed her ear during play. She’s a sucker for wrestling! We treated the problem quickly with drops, and the ear healed nicely over 10 days.
We read lots of information online about whether to pluck the ears to avoid infection. Our vets are big advocates of plucking but I had my reservations. I don’t want to put Loki through any unnecessary pain, but I also want her to be healthy.
They advised against clipping the hair with scissors, because apparently hair can land on the ear drum and cause infection.
At a follow up appointment, the vet yanked on Loki’s ear hair. She let out a loud squeak and looked very distressed by the whole situation. Under the vet’s guidance I bought plucking powder so I could pluck at home, but she hated it. She became extremely head shy and looked terrified whenever we went anywhere near her ears.
After going back to the vets, they advised us to leave her ears alone or she’ll become even more head shy. The vet mentioned if she does have a problem in the future, she may need to go under anaesthetic to get her ears plucked.
But now with lots of positive reinforcement training, she’ll allow us to use clippers and scissors on the inside of her ear. Since then, we haven’t had any problems with her ears.
Some dogs aren’t bothered by plucking at all. Others are more sensitive and extremely upset by the process.
So the moral of the story is, if your dog has excessive ear hair do what you feel is right for your dog. If they’re not prone to ear infections, you may be better off leaving well alone.
But if you do notice any problems such as the symptoms described above, go straight to your vet. To prevent future problems, you should seriously consider which technique is the right method for you and your dog.
Cleaning the ears with wipes
Dog ear cleaning wipes are much like baby wipes. They’ll remove any debris from the ear flaps and surface wax from the ear canal.
Wipes are great if you need to clean off excess dirt around the ear opening after they’ve been rolling around in mud. They can be used every 2-5 days to keep on top of external build up.
Simply wipe the ear flap and into the ear canal only as far as your finger will go. Don’t force the wipe deep into the ear or you could cause damage.
Cleaning the ears with a cleansing solution
A cleansing solution is a liquid you squirt into the ear canal. The solution loosens and flushes out deeper wax and debris.
Not all dogs will have excessive build up to the point they need a cleaning solution. Sometimes an occasional wipe may be all your dog needs throughout their lives. But for exceptionally furry and floppy eared dogs they may need a flushing every one to two weeks.
How to clean your dog’s ears
Keep your supplies to hand. You’ll need a quality ear cleansing solution, cotton balls, a towel and treats.
Never use cotton buds – the kind we use to clean our own ears. You won’t necessarily know how deep you’re going and you could rupture the ear drum!
Set yourself up in a place that’s easy to clean, such as a bathroom. Ear cleaning can be a messy business and you don’t want ear muck and solution all over your sofa or curtains.
- First you need to create a calm environment so your dog feels relaxed. This will help the process go smoother. Pet your dog gently and offer treats for a couple of minutes while you touch their ears.
- Hold the ear flap up and insert the nozzle into the ear canal. Don’t force it down, go in just far enough to keep spillage to a minimum. Squirt the solution gently so you fill the canal with the cleaner.
- Bring your hand down to the base of the ear and massage gently for 20 seconds. This will ensure the solution reaches all parts of the inner ear and releases stubborn debris.
- After you’ve let go of their ear, your dog will want to shake their head vigorously. Flinging all the dirt and cleaner with it. At this point you can hide for cover or hold up a towel. Now you know why I suggested the bathroom!
- Now moisten a cotton bud with water and wipe away all the muck on the ear flap and around the ear opening.
- Offer a treat and praise for being such a good dog and repeat the same process in the other ear.
When cleaning your dog’s ears be gentle and offer treats while they co-operate. You always want your dog to have a positive experience. If they have a bad experience this can make life very difficult if they squirm during future cleanings.
Be sure to get all your supplies ready before you sit down with your dog. You don’t want to have to run off to the next room because you forgot your cotton balls. Your dog may move, and you’ll have to start the process again.
A good cleaning routine should help prevent those nasty infections. But you should always establish your routine based on your dogs needs. If your dog’s ears get particularly dirty and waxy, you may need to clean them once a week. Others may only need a handful of times a year.
How do you clean your dog’s ears? Are they prone to infections and need regular cleaning? Let me know in the comments below…
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