How to

Dog ears and how to care for them

Claire Dunling

Your dog’s ears should be clean, odour-free, pale pink in colour with a minimal amount of wax. This will help prevent ear mites or any infection caused by the build-up of wax and debris. Good canine ear health starts with clean ears. Ear cleaning is most effectively when done regularly, although not daily. So grab some dog ear cleaners, cotton wool and get ready.

Using an ear cleaner on dogs

Keeping ears clean is the first step to good ear health, which is easier to say than do. So, cue the smug tone…

#1 Wear something you don’t mind being getting splashed with ear drops or ear wax – it can be a messy business

#2 Read the label instructions carefully and pop the top off the bottle

#3 Make sure the bottle is room temperature. Hold it in your hand, just so it isn’t cold as this can be a shock

#4 Gently restrain your dog

#5 Apply a liberal amount of ear cleaner into the ear canal

#6 Gently massage the ear canal thoroughly and gently for 15 seconds to help work the treatment in

#7 Remove excess fluid and discharge from the entrance to the ear canal using clean cotton wool and clean inside the ear flap

#8 It may be tempting to fish out some gunk you can see but not reach by using a cotton bud. Do not do this. Never put anything solid down their ear. Any loose material will work its way out of the ear canal as the dog shakes its head. Then you can remove it with cotton wool

#9 Repeat the process in the other ear

It can be difficult to administer ear products to an uncooperative dog. That's why regular ear cleaning is a good habit to get in to when your dog is still young and more amenable!
John Campbell, Head Vet of Pet Drugs Online

Sadly a bit of “soap and water” can’t address all the ear ills of the dog world. Functionally, some dogs are far more likely to develop ear disease than others. Factors such as having low-hanging ears (e.g. spaniel, retriever) and lifestyle (e.g. frequent swimming, or darting into hedges) all affect the chances of getting ear damage and/or disease.

Certain conditions, such as a build up of wax and reduced air circulation, are conducive to ear infections starting. Such conditions keep the ear canals warm and humid, ideal for bacteria and yeast to thrive. If it impedes removal of debris and reduces air circulation, it is an ear infection winner. This is because such ‘blockages’ keep the ear canal warm and humid, which in turn promotes growth of bacteria and yeasts. In most cases of canine ear infections, these present as a pair.

Ear infections in dogs

Your vet will normally prescribe drops that contains both antibiotics for the bacteria and anti-fungal for the yeast. These will clear this manifestation but your vet will also want to check for any underlying problems such as allergy, mites, genetic or breed related problems (e.g narrow or hairy ear canals).

Dog ears might…

Dog ear mites are another common cause of ear problems. These parasites are highly contagious, and will quickly spread from pet to pet in multi-pet households. The first sign is usually excessive ear scratching and some head shaking. If you spot this, pop their ear flap back and have a look for dark, crumbly coffee grounds-like detritus in the ear. Ear mites can also be treated with medicated drops, and some spot on flea treatments will also kill ear mites.

There are two other main causes of ear problems for dogs; a bleed in the ear flap is known as a haematoma and it results in blood accumulating in the ear flap. It can be caused by over-zealous head shaking, scratching or trauma to the ear causing ruptures in the blood vessels. While foreign bodies like grass seeds or pollen’s can get deep inside the ear canals and they can prove an ideal staging ground for bacteria and yeasts.

Frontline Pet Care: How to clean your pets ears

Each of these conditions is treated differently (haematomas need draining, and grass seeds need removing) and your vet will prescribe the most appropriate treatment. They may also ask you to begin a course of ear cleaning either alongside the treatment or when it concludes, be sure to comply. Most medicines are in the form of topical liquids, which you will need to apply regularly at home.

If you’ve been asked to clean the ear, this is to start the process of wax removal and to dislodge the debris that the infection thrives in. While the prescription ear drops are usually a mix of antibiotics (to fight bacteria), antifungals (to fight yeasts) and/or anti-inflammatories to make your dog feel more comfortable.

Eyes on ears

Very bad ear problems can require surgery, and nobody wants that. So keep a close eye on their ears, keep them clean and pop to the vets the second you think something in there is not what it should be.

Regular ear cleaning is always advised once a pet has had ear disease, as by removing dog ear wax and debris, and drying the ear, the conditions become less favourable to the growth of unwanted organisms. Some cleaners like Sancerum, have antimicrobial properties and can reduce the number of bacteria and yeasts in the ear, and help maintain a normal environment.

This post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should discuss any change to your pet’s care or lifestyle thoroughly with your vet before starting any program or treatment.

If in doubt contact your veterinary practice

And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!