Do I need to clean my dog's ears?

Yes! Cleaning and caring for your pet's ears are important ways to reduce the chance for ear infections and excess wax build up. Routine cleaning and at home examination lets you detect any infections or other problems early. If you suspect your pet already has an ear problem, visit your veterinarian immediately. Prompt treatment offers a better prognosis, reduces the potential for chronic disease, hearing loss, and gives earlier relief for any discomfort your pet may have. Any discharge, odor, excess scratching, pawing or rubbing at the ears, redness, pain, swelling or masses may indicate an infection or other abnormality.

To clean normal ears, choose a mild ear cleaner specifically for use in pets. Don't use vinegar, alcohol or hydrogen peroxide routinely. These substances can be irritating to some dogs and painful to an already inflamed ear canal. There are several types of cleaners to choose from. Some cleaners break up wax while others dry the ear canal. There are combination products as well. Consult a professional groomer, pet care associate or veterinarian for the best options for your pet.

Ear cleaning starts with good general grooming. Excess, dirty or matted hair should be removed from around the ear canal and the ear flap. Heavy, matted or constantly moist ear flaps, surrounding hair and excessively hairy ear canals will decrease air flow to the ear canal, trap wax and other debris, and can lead to infection. In some pets, excess hair may need to be gently removed from inside the ear canal. This must be done carefully to avoid canal damage and minimize discomfort. Consider having a professional groomer or medical professional remove the hair if needed.

After grooming the ear area, it is time to actually clean out the ear canals. Always be gentle! The ear canals and flaps are sensitive. Overly aggressive cleaning can actually cause damage to the delicate ear structures. Pick up an ear flap and dribble a small amount (a few drops) of the appropriate ear cleaning solution into the ear. The solution should flow down deep into the canal. Massage gently at the ear base for 10-20 seconds - you will probably hear the solution "squish" around as you massage. This should not be painful for your pet. If it is, have him or her examined by your veterinarian. Repeat the cleaning procedure with the other ear canal. After massaging, stand back and let your pet shake his or her head to bring softened wax up out of the ear canals. Use clean cotton balls to gently wipe out and up the canal, removing any wax, debris or cleaning solution you see. For small dogs, you may need to use cotton balls that have been pulled in half. Avoid cotton swabs, unless your pet will be very still and allow ear care without moving the head. Even in that case, never place the swab any farther into the ear canal than you can see. A cotton swab placed too deeply or forcefully into the ear can cause ear drum damage, pain, and hearing loss.

How often your will need to clean depends on your pet's breed, hair coat, activities, age and amount of ear wax he or she produces. Most dogs with normal ears should have a cleaning at least once a month. Others may need more frequent cleanings, especially those that swim or get the ears wet regularly.