Ear cleaning

Proper ear cleaning is essential in the management of ear disease. Debris and secretions can accumulate in the ear and this may prevent treatment from reaching deep inside in the ear and some medication may not work in the presence of secretions. It is also necessary to keep the ear canal clean so that your vet can examine your dog’s ear properly if there is a problem.

A dog’s ear is quite a different shape to ours. Humans simply have a horizontal tube that runs straight from the side of the head into the inner ear (auditory canal). In the dog however, the outside opening of the ear canal is high on the side of the head. The canal runs vertically down the side of the head and makes a sharp right angle into the inner ear.

Additionally, some dogs have an ear flap which can partially cover the canal opening. As a result, the ear canal can become very hot and sweaty. There are a variety of things which may irritate your dog’s ear. Foreign bodies (usually grass seeds) can get stuck in the ear canal and infections may develop.

Most animals tolerate routine ear cleaning well but if you are finding it very difficult to clean your dog’s ears do not struggle alone. If you are unable to clean your dog’s ears easily you will not do a very good job, and may in fact damage the ears more and you may make your dog afraid of you handling its head. If your dog’s ears are very sore, or if your dog is difficult to handle, your vet may need to sedate or anaethetise your dog in order to be able to clean its ears effectively.

It is easier to restrain your dog for ear cleaning if you have someone to help you. Ask someone to hold your dog either lying down on its tummy or sitting up. The head should be held tightly against the handlers body so that it can be held securely and there is no chance of the dog shaking its head.

Once the dog is restrained lift the ear flap and introduce some ear cleaner. Gently massage the ear canal which runs straight down the side of the head below the opening. As you massage the ear canal you will loosen all the debris in the ear canal. If the ear canal is sore your dog might not like the massaging at first so be as gentle as you can.

After massaging wipe away the cleaning fluid with cotton wool. Never use cotton buds or poke anything into the ear canal – if you do you will only push debris further into the ear and may damage the ear drum. Repeat the whole procedure if necessary then rinse the whole ear canal with water to remove any residual cleaning fluid and dry with cotton wool.

Once the ear canals are clean you can apply any ear drop medications that have been prescribed by your vet. Once the drops have been applied to the ear you should gently massage the ear canal again to spread the drops over the surface of the canal.

Your vet may also prescribe some tablets to help treat the ear disease. It is important to give all the tablets that your vet has prescribed – even if you think your dog is getting better.

Unfortunately it is impossible to prevent ear disease coming back in some dogs. In fact, if your dog has had one ear infection it is highly likely that they will have repeated bouts. You should check your dog’s ears regularly and contact your vet if the ears become red or sore looking.

Regular ear cleaning can be helpful in removing debris and wax within the ear, but excessive cleaning may damage the inside of the ear and make infection more likely. Unless advised otherwise by your vet, clean your dog’s ears about once a week. If your dog has hairy ear canals the hair should be plucked to allow good ventilation.

Regular ear examination, and cleaning when necessary, can help to keep your dog’s ears healthy. If you have any concerns about your dog’s ears you should contact your vet for further advice.