Caring For Your Dog’s Ears

August 11, 2019

​He’s your best friend. Exercising, feeding, grooming, are all part of your daily and weekly dog care regimen. You probably enjoy these tasks. But what about those ears? Mysterious, slightly scary, a chore you probably pay a vet or groomer to do, but you may have always wondered, “Is this a job I could be doing myself? If so, where do I even begin?”

Ear cleaning is an important part of keeping your dog healthy and comfortable. If you are not taking your dog to a groomer or vet regularly, this is a job that is most likely being neglected. By not cleaning your dog’s ears, wax and oils will build up, increasing the risk for ear infections or hearing damage.

While cleaning a dog’s ears is not a difficult job, you need to know that a dog’s ear canal is shaped differently than a human’s. You need to understand the safe and proper way to clean the ear as well as the right products to use. Products will differ if you are simply providing maintenance or if your dog is suffering from an ear infection.

Knowing and understand some key points will make your job go easier and smoother for both you and your pet.

​What is Flushing and How Do I Know When to Flush?

​Flushing is the process of cleaning a dog’s ears with a solution. It is a fairly easy process although not all dogs are big fans. Before flushing is done, make sure your dog actually needs his ears cleaned. Overcleaning can lead to irritation or infection.

Look inside your dog’s ears. If they are pink, have no odor, and they are not dirty or inflamed, you probably don’t need to clean them. Make checking your dog’s ears part of your grooming regimen. When you notice them turning brown, or there is a yeasty or stinky odor, that means wax and debris is building up and it may be time for a flush.

The frequency of ear cleaning will vary with each dog. If your dog is predisposed to ear infections or spends a lot of time wet and around water, ears may need cleaning more often. Look for symptoms that an ear issue may be present. These will include:

  • Any unusual odor coming from the ear
  • The inside of the ear looks red or inflamed
  • Unusual shaking of the head
  • Loss of appetite
  • Your dog appears to be in pain
  • Scratches or wounds around the ear area

Once you have established your dog’s ears do need to be cleaned, flushing is a simple and easy process. You will need to pick a cleaning solution and get some cotton balls and a towel. If you have a dog with long hair, remove and mats and trim around the ear to make the cleaning process easier.

​Can I Use Saline to Flush My Dog’s Ears?

​You’ve established your dog’s ears need to be cleaned and now it’s time to flush. The purpose of an ear cleaner is to soften, loosen, and remove excess dirt and wax. A simple and easy product you can use at home is saline eyewash. It can be purchased at a pharmacy, vet clinic, or online.

Here is the easiest way to flush your dog’s ear with saline. The American Kennel Club (AKC) offers these simple ear-cleaning guidelines.

  1. Sit in a level and comfortable position with your dog’s head. Attempt ear cleaning when your dog is calm and relaxed. Don’t be afraid to have treats on hand to make the experience more pleasant.

  2. Saturate a cotton ball with the saline solution. Place the cotton ball gently into the ear canal. Close the ear and hold it in place while you gently massage the base of the ear for 30 seconds. You may hear a squishing sound as debris is dislodged.

  3. Release the ear and allow the dog to shake his head. Gently remove the cotton ball and gently wipe out the ear canal no deeper than half-an-inch. Use a towel to wipe any mess.

If you prefer using a product recommended specifically for dogs, ​consider one like Zymox Pet King Brand Optic Pet Ear Treatment

​How Often Should I Flush My Dog’s Ears?

​While the frequency of how often you should flush your dog’s ears may vary, research by the AKC indicates that regular maintenance of your dog’s ears is important for the following reasons.

  • Dogs are more prone to ear infections because of the unique L shape of their ear canals.
  • 20% of all dogs have some type of ear disease
  • Prevention is the key to preventing ear problems
  • If regular flushing does not produce results, see a vet immediately

How often you need to clean your dog’s ears is going to depend on your dog. Cleaning them too often can cause irritation, too little might lead to an infection. Some dogs’ ears need to be cleaned monthly while others may require weekly cleanings.

​If your dog has short hair, doesn’t spend a lot of time in the water, and isn’t prone to ear infections, you are probably good with a once-a-month cleaning. Stay alert to any foul odors or yeasty smell, redness, head shaking, or scratching. This may be the first sign of infection.

If the ears look clean and don’t have an unusual odor, stick with a regimen that maintains your dog’s ears without overcleaning them. If your dog does contract an infection it is very important not to get or administer any medication before getting a diagnosis from a vet. The wrong medication could make the infection worse.

​What Can I Use To Clean my Dog’s Ears At Home?

​If you are nervous about cleaning your dog’s ears at home, you can go to a vet or groomer to watch how it’s done before trying it yourself. Or, you can watch videos on cleaning a dog’s ears like this one on YouTube.

There is a great video entitled Cleaning A Dog’s Ears – Veterinary Training. This comprehensive video will outline the steps to safely clean your dog’s ears at home. While this video is prepared for veterinary support teams, it provides step-by-step instructions on the safest and most comfortable way to clean ears for the canine patient.

Some of the benefits of cleaning your dog’s ears at home include:

  • It’s less expensive
  • You can monitor the amount they need to be clean
  • Early detection of ear infections
  • Take more responsibility for your pet’s health

Cleaning your dog’s ears at home also gives you the opportunity to check for other problems. You will be able to detect if your dog has mites, yeast infections or bacterial infections. These could all be symptoms of other health issues.

​Can I Use Hydrogen Peroxide in My Dog’s Ears?

​There are many uses for hydrogen peroxide. While it does destroy bacteria, it can also damage the tissue in a dog’s ears if used at full strength or too often. Only use this wash diluted after infections or if directed by your veterinarian.

The recommendations for using peroxide for dog ear cleaning solutions are 1 teaspoon 3% hydrogen peroxide with 1 teaspoon clean water. Follow the protocol for using a cotton ball bathed in a solution. Place it gently in the dog’s ear and fold the ear over the cotton ball. Gently massage the bottom of the ear to disperse the solution.

This homemade recipe should kill fungus while cleaning your dog’s ear. Carefully remove any debris dislodged by the peroxide. Use a towel to dry the dog’s ear well and remove all of the peroxide around the ear.

Like peroxide, vinegar and boric acid can also be used as an ear wash. The recipe is as follows:

  • 4 tbs vinegar
  • ½ tsp boric acid
  • 5 drops rubbing alcohol
  • 5 drops iodine (optional)

Mix the boric acid and vinegar until the boric acid is completely dissolved. Add the alcohol and iodine. This solution will also kill bacteria but it has a tendency to stain everything brown. If you have a dog with white fur, you may want to consider another solution.

​Is Coconut Oil Good for my Dog's Ears?

​Coconut oil has been shown to be beneficial when used for dogs. There is growing research that indicates the lauric acid found in coconut oil is an antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial compound.

While any dog can have a reaction to a certain substance, if you administer coconut oil carefully, it is safe for most dogs. It is not only good for their ears but their skin and coat as well.

Coconut oil probably isn’t the best solution to flush ears with for maintenance as it would add more oil to the ear. The time to use it would be if the dog is suffering from an ear infection. It could be used to ease the discomfort and could be part of the treatment in conjunction with other medications.

It is best to have the infection properly diagnosed by a vet and discuss the use of the coconut oil with him or her. Since ear infections can turn serious, you might not want to rely on a simple home remedy for infection. If after trying it a few times, it works successfully, you can apply it with more confidence.

There are many online tutorials for using coconut oil to treat a dog’s ear infection. Do some research on the proper solutions and applications before attempting to use it on your dog.

​Is It Okay to Put Olive Oil in My Dog's Ears?

​There are ear cleaning homemade recipes that use simple ingredients such as olive oil. Just add a couple of drops to water. It can help loosen wax and clean dirt and debris from the ear and provide easy removal.

Apply the oil solution to the visible parts of the ear. Then, allow the dog to shake his head and spread it around. Wait for a couple of minutes, then simply clean the wax and oil with a cotton ball or towel.

Some tips to remember when you are cleaning your dog’s ears with this type of solution.

  • Be gentle, no intense scrubbing or pushing the cotton ball too deep into the ear.
  • Don’t let the water get inside the ear as this can lead to fungus and bacteria forming that can lead to an infection.
  • Never use a syringe as this may push the liquid too far into the ear.
  • Never go deeper than half an inch into the ear canal as this may cause damage to the dog’s ear.

It’s not difficult to clean your dog’s ears. If you follow the rules it’s easy to get accustomed to the procedures. There are many products on the market for this purpose, but some people prefer the simplicity and purity of using homemade products.

​How Do I Clean My Dog's Infected Ears?

​An infected ear requires a different level of treatment than a dirty ear. There are telltale signs your dog has an ear infection. Scratching, head shaking, whining, and obvious pain, are the first signs of an infection.

Unfortunately, ear infections are quite common in dogs. Dogs with floppy ears are more prone to infections than dogs with upright ears. Treating the infected ear is so important because infections can spread to other parts of the ear and be damaging enough to cause hearing loss or facial paralysis.

It’s important to provide your vet with a history of the problem, if this a first-time infection or if you are seeing a new vet. The first step is to clean the dog’s ear with a medicated cleanser. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics and or anti-inflammatory products.

The cleaning procedures for infections are the same as when you use regular cleaning products. It is important to follow the same rules about being gentle, not pushing cotton balls more than a half-inch into the ear.

 In addition, be sure to follow the recommended number and time period for the treatments. Not cleaning your dog’s ear before the full course of treatment is finished may lead to additional problems.

The AKC reports that best way to prevent ear infections is by providing preventative cleanings as needed. By cleaning your dog’s ears on a regular basis, you not only reduce the chance that your dog will get an ear infection, but you may also catch one early enough that you can nip it in the bud before it gets any worse.

​What’s the Brown Stuff in My Dog’s Ears?

​WebMD for dogs tells us that there can be several causes for the brown stuff in your dog’s ears. Some are more serious than others. The brown discharge can have all kinds of color shades, smells, and consistencies. If there is obvious pain, swelling, odor, or redness, you should probably talk to a vet.

Some of the common causes and treatment for that brown stuff is the following:

  • Ear mites. These tiny creatures can be a big problem for your dog. Brown stuff from mites is usually blackish-brown and crusty. It is sometimes described as looking like dried shoe polish. Your dog will probably be scratching a lot and shaking his head.

    The treatment for mites should include a product that kills the adults and the eggs. There are many products available online or you can ask your vet for a recommendation.

  • Otitis Externa – outer ear infection. This will produce a reddish-brown discharge that tends to be waxy with yellow tones. This is an indication that the ear is infected. It can be the result of mites, allergies, polyps, or excessive ear wax. Too much time in the water either swimming or bathing can ear infections.

    Treatment for this type of infection will usually require antibiotics or antifungal lotions, ear cleaning or drying solutions, and sometimes oral medications.

  • Otis interna, otis media (inner or middle ear infections). Infections in the middle or inner ear can easily spread to the outer ear if left untreated. The symptoms are similar to otitis externa. Inner ear infections can cause a dog pain when opening his mouth and may cause balance issues. Dogs can walk in circles or suffer from nausea with these types of infections.

    Treatment for otis interna and otis media is the same as it is for otis externa.

    Other factors that may mean your dog is predisposed to ear infections include allergies (allergic skin diseases, food sensitivities), endocrine disorders (thyroid disease), autoimmune disorders, a build-up of wax, foreign bodies in the ears, ear canal injury, and too much cleaning.

​How Do I Unclog My Dog’s Ears?

​First of all, one of the main reasons your dog’s ears will get clogged is if he has a lot of hair growing around the ear canal. You can pluck out the hair prior to unclogging the ear. Please note, your dog may not be a fan of this process.

Groomers and vets can give your recommendations on how to accomplish hair plucking from the ears. There are different techniques such as using your fingers to pluck small amounts out at a time. Another technique is to use blunt-nosed tweezers.

Dog experts believe that plucking may be uncomfortable but not particularly painful for the dog. If the dog’s ears look red or irritated after plucking some hair out, wait for the skin to calm down before applying a cleaner so you don’t further irritate the skin.

Once you have successfully roved the mats and excess hair, you can begin the flushing regimen. There are many choices for flushing so take a look at them all. Once you have flushed the ear and loosened the dirt and wax that has caused the clogging, you can gently wipe the outer ear flap. This process should make your dog’s ears unclogged, and pink and healthy again.

Even if your dog does not have an ear infection, cleaning them out regularly before they get clogged and messy is a good idea. This will help prevent more serious issues from arising and keep your dog happier and healthier.

​Understanding the Importance of Ear Cleaning

​Because the canine ear canal is in an L-shape and more vertical than a human ear, dogs are at a greater risk for an ear infection. Infections can be caused by several factors such as ear mites, bacteria, yeast, or a combination of these factors. Cleaning your dog’s ears regularly will help eliminate infections so make it part of your weekly or monthly grooming regimen.

The factors that may make your dog susceptible to ear infections are exposure to moisture, allergies, wax build-up, excessive cleaning, or no enough cleaning. Finding the right amount of cleaning for your dog’s ear will require assessment and inspection on a regular basis.

Take notice of your dog’s behavior. If you see him in pain, scratching, whining, or shaking his head, check his ears. If there is redness, odor, discoloration, or swelling, take the measures to treat for a possible infection.

At the first sign of an ear infection, contact your vet if this is the first occurrence. Giving your dog the wrong type of medication may make the infection worse. If infections are common, you may have developed a solution to treat the problem at home.

Your dog’s overall health and wellness depends on keeping his ears clean and healthy. You can make products at home to keep the ears clean, or find one from a pet store, vet or online. There are many educational videos on ear cleaning and how to make your own ear cleaning products at home. Check some of them out for instructions and great ideas.

Keeping your dog’s ears clean will make you and your dog feel better. You will know you are doing everything you can to keep him feeling his best and helping to prevent painful and potentially dangerous ear infections in the future.

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