In a 2008 pet health study conducted by the VPI pet insurance company, ear infections were the number one reason dog owners sought veterinary care. Thorough and regular ear cleaning and maintenance can help your dog avoid ear problems and infections.
Many dogs do not like having their ears cleaned, which makes doing a good job very difficult. It is helpful, before you even begin cleaning your dog’s ears that you learn how to make this grooming experience pleasurable for your dog.
Practice handling your dog’s ears gently. Give delicious treats while you massage the outside of and eventually the inside of the ear. Repeat this until your dog really enjoys having his ears handled. Once your dog accepts all kinds of ear manipulation with your hands, repeat the procedure using a cloth and then with cotton balls.
Dogs with heavy, floppy ears generally need to have their ears cleaned more frequently than dogs with prick ears (which stand upright and allow for better air circulation), and dogs that have a lot of hair in the inside of their ears may require additional maintenance (increased cleaning and for some, plucking of hair growing in the ear).
If your dog is itching his ears a lot, if the ears smell funny, are very red or inflamed, if your dog is constantly shaking his head, it is best to visit your veterinarian as these may be indications of an existing ear infection or other ear problem.
Frequent ear cleanings (weekly) will keep the ears free of wax and debris, and will also allow you to understand what your dog’s ears look like when they are healthy. This enables you to more easily recognize any abnormalities in the ear should they arise.
Consult with your veterinarian about recommended dog ear cleaning products. To clean your dog’s ears well, you will need an appropriate ear cleaner, a number of cotton balls, and if possible, a helper – someone who can feed the dog treats and keep him calm during the process.
Some dogs have a lot of hair on the inside of the ear. This hair can serve as a reservoir for dirt, debris, and accumulations of earwax. Ask your veterinarian or groomer whether plucking is recommended for your dog. Plucking takes a bit of skill and finesse and can cause discomfort when done incorrectly, so is best left to professionals who have experience on plucking ear hair in dogs. Watch your vet or groomer closely as they pluck the dog’s ears, asking any questions you may have about the procedure. Be well prepared with some yummy treats while the vet is plucking the ears, to make this a positive experience for your dog.
Once the ears are free of hair, it is time to begin cleaning. Wash your hands well before and after ear cleaning, and have your supplies ready.
Squirt a small amount of ear cleaning solution into the ear canal. Do not force the nozzle of the bottle into the ear canal as you can cause significant damage this way – only the tip of the bottle should be inserted into the canal. Once you have the solution in the ear, massage the base of the ear to encourage distribution throughout the canal. Be prepared for your dog to shake his head after you apply the solution.
Take a cotton ball and rub the inside of the ear to remove any discharge or any accumulated wax. You may use a Q-tip to get in the crevices at the base of the ear, but do not insert the Q-tip into the ear canal itself. When the base of the ear is clean, you may use soaked cotton balls or a soaked wet cloth to clean the ear flap out toward the tip.
The College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University has published great how-to instructions with photos. The restraint methods shown at the top of the article will likely be unnecessary if you have trained your dog to love having his ears manipulated in advance.
If your dog will not tolerate ear cleaning or if you are unsure of how to go about cleaning your dog’s ears, you may want to consult with your veterinarian and have her do the cleaning for you. It’s always easiest to learn a new skill if you have someone well experienced in its practice to coach and guide you so that you can learn the correct way to implement the task.