Q: How do I clean my dog's ears?
I probably should be cleaning my dog’s ears, so his ear infections don’t come back. Can I clean his ears at home, without damaging the eardrums?
Dogs’ ear infections (from bacteria and/or yeast) are often complicated by build-ups of dirty earwax. Cleaning your dog's ears regularly at home can help avoid infections — or alert you to a worsening infection before serious damage occurs. With instruction in the proper technique, ear cleaning is doable at home.
A dog’s ear canals, whatever the size of the dog, are basically L-shaped. Avoid Q-tips or other pointy probes, and just use your littlest (pinky) finger, soft cotton (from cotton balls, wrapped around the end of your finger), ear-cleaning fluid (such as Epi-Otic brand) from your veterinarian; and a towel, because this is going to get messy.
Gently hold the dog’s head and squirt a few drops of ear-cleaning fluid in each ear. This will make the dog shake his head — so watch your eyes — but the shaking will distribute the fluid and maybe loosen earwax and other gunk. Again holding the dog’s head, reach your little finger with the cotton wrap as far into the canal as possible (the bottom of the L if possible, but not around the bend to the ear drum) and carefully pull the finger outward. If you’re getting a lot of blackish wax and other gunk, repeat the fluid and cotton routine.
If ear cleaning causes the dog great pain (beyond moderate discomfort and grumbling discontent) an infection could be brewing and you’ll need to see a veterinarian immediately. Serious infections can damage a dog’s hearing, and require professional medical treatment.
Towel-dry the dog (and yourself) and reward dog a treat for enduring this ritual. (If you’re nice, you rewarded a couple times along the way.) If you have to do ear-cleaning regularly, you want the dog’s cooperation in the future.
Head-shaking and/or ear-pawing can be a sign that the dog needs attention to his ears. Get to know the smell of a healthy ear canal — a neutral-to-sweet, beeswax kind of smell in most dogs. An infected ear smells much, much worse.
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