Dog ear cleaning at home is a skill set you can learn to keep your dog healthy. Keeping your dog’s skin and coat healthy is an important part of dog care maintenance. Did you know that the lining of the ear canal is an extension of your dog’s skin? Any condition that affects your dog’s skin, such as food allergies or inhalant allergies (atopy), can also affect the lining of their ear canals. Certain breeds are known to have more sensitive skin or be prone to allergies. One example is the West Highland White Terriers, they have a higher incidence of ear infections, but this is because they have sensitive skin. Bacteria and fungus are much more likely to grow on irritated skin. In these situations, the infections are said to be “secondary” because they are likely there only because of skin irritation. This also means that the infection is likely to keep coming back until the skin condition is resolved.
An important thing to remember about dog ear cleaning at home is that most dogs do not require any kind of regular deep ear cleaning. Most dogs only require a surface cleaning that you would give during normal grooming. More extensive ear cleanings are typically only necessary if your dog has some type of active ear condition.
Any dog can develop an ear condition at some point in their life, however, some breeds are more prone to ear conditions because of
1) the structure of their ear canal
2) their lifestyle
3) the presence of hair in the ear canals
Ear canals that are narrow like you see in Shar-Pei dogs or English Bulldogs are more prone to ear infection or “otitis”, because even a small amount of debris can block the canal, reduce airflow and create an environment where bacteria can grow. Dog breeds with heavy ear “flaps” or pinna, like Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, and Beagles are also more prone to infections.
Dogs that spend time in the water such as Labrador Retrievers, can also be more prone to infections, due to water collecting in the ear canals.
Hair in ear canals
And finally, dog breeds that have hair present in their ear canals like poodles, golden-doodles, or labra-doodles have a higher incidence of ear infections. In comparison, breeds with “pointy” ears such as Corgi’s, German Shepherds, or Akitas generally have a lower incidence of ear infections.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that any dog can get an ear infection. The main reason for this is that all dog breeds have an “L” shaped ear canal, which when combined with lifestyle and hair in ear canals can often lead to infection. So what can you do to keep your dog’s ears clean and healthy at home?
Here are 2 simple ear care steps you can follow:
Check your dog’s ears on a regular basis
This may seem like a fairly simple step, but many people are surprised when they lift up their dog’s ear flap or ear pinna and see what is underneath. It’s very important to become familiar with your dog’s ears when they are healthy, so that you can identify changes. Check your dog’s ears a few days after cleaning them. You can also ask your veterinarian to show you how to check your dog’s ears at their next checkup. Try to memorize what they smell like, as one of the indicators of infection is a change in the smell or unusual odor. A healthy dog’s ear should also be clear of debris, soft, non-painful to touch, and not have any redness or irritations. You may want to take some notes or pictures for reference. We recommend that you take a look inside their ear once or twice a month.
At-home routine cleanings
Only clean your dog’s ears when they need cleaning. Overcleaning can cause irritation, which then increases the risk of infection. When you do clean your dog’s ears, use specially formulated over-the-counter ear cleaning solutions that your veterinarian recommends. Your veterinarian may recommend a specific product that works better for your dog’s specific needs. Do not use homemade recipes from the internet as it is difficult to determine if they are safe or effective. If your dog has ongoing or recurring ear issues, they likely have a skin condition or infection that requires prescription medications.
Only use cotton balls, gauze, or tissues to clean your dog’s ears. Do not place swabs or anything else down into your dog’s ear canal for a routine cleaning. Ear cleaning can get messy; do it in a bathroom or other easy-to-clean room as your dog may shake their head vigorously during the process. Here is a great video by the American veterinary Medical Association that demonstrates proper ear cleaning techniques.
Things to watch for:
Discomfort when lifting the earflap.
Dark or malodorous discharge.
Swelling and redness at the ear opening.
Behaviors such as scratching at the ear and shaking of the head.
There are many potential causes of ear infections in dogs, so partnering with your veterinarian when you see any of these signs will help in diagnosing the problem and providing relief to your pet. There are also many new products that have become available in the last few years for treating both infections and the underlying causes, like allergies. If your dog has chronic or recurring ear problems, you may want to consult a veterinary dermatologist to see if there are any tests or treatments they recommend to help diagnose and resolve your dog’s condition.
If you suspect your dog may have an ear infection, particularly if you see discharge in your dog’s ear, you can also utilize an at-home testing kit from FetchDx to help arm your vet with the information they will need to make a diagnosis.
The FetchDx test checks for various bacteria, because not all antibiotics are effective against specific bacterial species. It’s important that the veterinarian has these test results available before they put your dog on medications, as certain bacteria require special targeted antibiotics and treatments to be effective. Your veterinarian may also recommend follow-up visits and testing to ensure that the infection is eliminated since partial resolution can lead to chronic and escalating issues.