By Dr. Karen Burgess
Before discussing how to clean your pet’s ears, it is first important to understand the basics
- In most cases a healthy dog’s ears should not require “cleaning”. The normal ear’s anatomy and physiology should stay clean on its own.
- In some situations, ear cleanings are medically recommended. Examples would include predisposition to ear infections (due to breed, anatomy, or underlying medical conditions), history of skin allergies, in the treatment of an existing ear infection, or to assist in drying out a wet ear (ex. after swimming or bathing).
- Cleaning a diseased or infected ear is often painful and may require medications to help with this discomfort.
- Signs of ear problems include head shaking, pawing at ears, bad odor, visible debris, or resentment of head petting.
- Nothing, whether it be liquid or solid, should be placed in a pet’s ears without first consulting a veterinarian. Some over the counter ear products are not only ineffective, but may actually be harmful.
Understanding the ear
- The ear is really just a canal or tube lined by skin. If a pet has underlying skin disease it is common to also have ear issues and it is fairly uncommon for a pet to just “get an ear infection”. Instead it is often a sign of underlying skin disease or systemic allergies.
- The anatomy of some breeds can affect the ear’s ability to stay healthy. Whether it be a too narrow passage or an ear with excessive secretions these are typically lifelong issues.
- The ear canal is L-shaped with a vertical and horizontal portion. The vertical portion is visible to the naked eye, the horizontal portion is visible only via a veterinarian’s otoscope. The tympanic membrane (TM) lies at the end of the horizontal canal. Often a pet owner may see a normal appearing vertical canal while the otoscope may reveal a completely occluded horizontal canal. To address ear disease both the vertical and horizontal portion of the ear must be treated while protecting the TM. The TM or eardrum can be damaged by disease, medications, or objects placed into the ear (i.e. Qtips). While the eardrum can heal, damage can also potentially affect hearing longterm.
- If you feel you are not able to safely clean your pet’s ears, do not proceed. Ear cleaning can be scary and painful which could potentially make a normally docile animal become aggressive.
- Before starting, gather supplies: ear cleaner, cotton balls, towels, treats, old clothing.
- Location, location, location-find an area where your pet can be confined. An elevated surface or corner of a room often work well. Having an extra pair of hands is often helpful. For smaller animals a towel can be used to “burrito” wrap and better control the process. For some really messy ears, cleaning outdoors may be preferable.
○ Place cotton balls lightly into the visible vertical canal. They will not get lost!
○ Hold the ear flap (also called the pinna) closed like a resealable bag. Massage the base of the ear for 1 minute.
○ Allow pet to shake head, this will cause the cotton balls, some cleaner, and typically abnormal ear debris to come flying out. The act of shaking and the centripetal force involved are far more effective at cleaning out the ears than any wiping could ever be.
○ Dry outer ear lightly.
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