We love our dogs and want them to have the best and healthiest possible life! A common concern with many dogs is ear health. You want to ensure you are maintaining your dog’s ear health on a regular basis, and you can recognize the signs of any potential health concerns to ensure any problem is caught and treated early.
The crucial first step to caring for your dog’s ears is understanding the anatomy of the ears to ensure you are caring for them properly, and that you do not cause injury by cleaning or handling them incorrectly.
Dogs have a vertical and a horizontal ear canal. This anatomy makes it harder to damage the ear drum, but also provides an ideal environment for dirt and bacteria to gather. Checking your dog’s ears regularly is important to being able to identify something out of the ordinary, as well as get your dog accustomed to their ears being handled for when they do need a cleaning.
Checking your dog’s ears regularly is important to be able to identify something out of the ordinary, as well as get your dog accustomed to their ears being handled for when they do need cleaning. At least once a week, you should massage your pup’s ears, and look in them to make sure there is no foul smell or drainage in the ear canal. If your pup usually likes ear rubs but begins to shy or pull away, it may mean they are in pain or sore, which can be signs of an ear infection. How often you should clean your dog’s ears varies depending on the breed, however, EVERY dog should have their ears checked weekly to ensure they are healthy and normal.
The best way to prevent ear infections in your pup is regular ear inspections and cleaning. Your dog’s ear canal is much different than yours so it’s important to understand how to clean them, and what tools are acceptable to ensure you don’t injure your pup. We have provided the “beginners guide” to cleaning your dog’s ear and identifying an ear infection but the safest bet is to contact your vet if you have any questions, or do not feel confident in cleaning their ears safely.
You should talk to your vet about how often to clean your pup’s ears, as some breeds are more prone to ear infections and other ear problems than others. Dogs with long droopy ears are more prone to ear infections because it provides a warm, dark place in the ears that can more easily harbor bacteria. Dogs with small perky ears do not get water and dirt trapped in them as easily and therefore need ear cleanings less often.
The place you live can also be a large factor in ear health. Warm, moist climates can contribute to more bacteria gathering in the ears, and thus you will need to clean them more often to keep them healthy. It is important to discuss the frequency of ear cleanings with your vet as over-cleaning, or under-cleaning can cause pain and irritation for your dog.
Once you know how often to clean their ears, it can seem like a daunting task to undertake on your own. Most often if you request, your vet can clean them with you the first time to ensure you are doing it properly, and as comfortably as you can for you and your pet.
To clean your dog’s ear, you will need cotton balls or pads, a towel, and a vet-approved ear cleaner. Be sure not to use household chemicals like alcohol or hydrogen peroxide as this can irritate and dry out their ears, causing inflammation and infection. Also NEVER use cotton swabs or Q-Tips to clean them, these tools can shove dirt and debris deeper into your dog’s ears, causing infections, and can even lead to trauma to the inner ear.
Try to do this when your dog is the calmest. Some dogs (particularly those who get their ears checked and handled frequently) do not mind this process, but for others, it can take some getting used to.
Once you have your supplies and your pup, lay the dogs head down on your lap or a pillow next to you. Drip your pet approved solution into the dog’s ears filling the ear canal. Be careful not to touch their ears with the bottle, this can get bacteria on the sterile surface.
Massage your dog’s ears for 30 seconds, you should hear a swishing sound. This dislodges the dirt and debris in their ears.
Now you can let them get up and shake their head (here is where the towel comes in) and once they’re done, take a cotton pad and wipe the outside of their ear canal. Do not stick anything into the ear.
Repeat with the other side! If your pup seems to be in pain throughout the process, stop immediately and consult your vet.
If you suspect your dog has an ear infection you should contact your vet for professional care and cleaning.
Common signs of an ear infection are:
- Rubbing the head and ears on the floor or furniture
- Obsessive scratching of the head or ears
- Crying or groaning as they rub and scratch ears
- Obsessive shaking of the head
- Discharge from the ears, which can sometimes have a foul odor
- Redness of the ear canal and ear flap (the ears may also feel warm when touched)
- Ear hematoma, evidenced by a severely swollen ear flap
- Aggression or avoidance when the head or ears are approached
They can make the infection worse by scratching their ears with their dirty paws, so make sure you get them checked out as soon as you see these signs.
Obsessive scratching may seem like a normal behavior but if your dog does it often, there may be an underlying cause so you should get them checked by a vet.