Bark All About It!
If you had to rank a dog’s senses in order of importance, hearing would come only second to smell. They are exquisitely sensitive, much more so than ours. And even the briefest observation will show just how actively a dog uses its ears to take in its surroundings. A dog’s ears are constantly in motion—they can be turned and aimed separately, each controlled by 18 different muscles that allow for a range and control completely outside of a human being’s experience. A dog uses its ears to take in the world and to send social signals in the same way that people use their eyes. If the eyes are the windows to a person’s soul, then the ears are the passageways to a dog’s.
A dog’s ears are incredibly sensitive organs, which makes them vulnerable to contamination and infection. This is especially the case with dogs that have floppy ears, as this allows moisture and debris to build up. This is also the case with dogs that have seasonal allergies. It can be easy to miss the beginnings of an ear problem, so it’s important to pay close attention to your dog’s behavior. Headshaking and frequent scratching are common cues that something is amiss.
But waiting for your dog to tell you something is wrong means that won’t catch a problem until it starts. This is why prevention – frequently checking and cleaning your dog’s ears – is the best policy. To help you get started, here’s a quick overview on how to keep your pup’s ears in good shape.
Before we get started: It’s always a good idea to have a trained vet or groomer show you how to safely clean a dog’s ears. And, just a quick warning: NEVER use Q-Tips around a dog’s ears, as you can cause serious injury.
Establishing Comfort and Confidence
Dogs are never thrilled about having their ears handled, poked, or prodded. If you’ve never cleaned your dog’s ears, you’ll likely have to gradually familiarize them with the process first. You can look at our post on cleaning your dog’s teeth to get an idea of how to gradually acclimate a dog to unpleasant procedures. You’ll want to build your dog’s confidence and comfort by starting with short sessions, and extend the duration of these sessions over time.
Diving In, So to Speak
To start, find an area where you can sit next to your dog while he sits or stands. You want to be as stable as possible, in order to avoid losing your balance and causing pain or injury to your dog. Starting with one ear, inspect the inner surface of the ear, beginning at the tip and working your way down to the base. Look for evidence of dirt, wax, fleas and ticks, plant material, and any other foreign matter. Loose debris can be gently removed by hand as you go.
Secondly, look carefully for evidence of drainage, discharge, or irritation—dark fluid from the ear canal, brown or black ear wax, bad odors, or swollen, red, crusty skin. If you discover any of the above, stop immediately and take your dog to your veterinarian. It may be that a foreign object is lodged deep in the ear, or your dog has an ear infection or a case of ear mites. Any of these requires inspection and treatment by a vet, and cannot be easily remedied at home. Don’t risk your dog’s hearing by trying to handle these issues on your own.
Chances are that a lot of dirt and other debris lodged in your dog’s ears can’t be easily removed by hand, due to hair and the many nooks and crannies formed by the complex structure of the ear. These necessitate the use of liquid cleaning solutions to remove more entrenched contaminants. If your vet has provided you with an ear cleaning solution and/or an applicator for the solution, follow the instructions provided to you carefully.
The normal tools for cleaning a dog’s ears are pretty simple: cotton balls (not cotton swabs!) and a mild rinse, such as vinegar, rubbing alcohol, mineral oil, hydrogen peroxide, or any one of a number of commercial products. Please note that these are not appropriate if your dog’s ears are infected or have any sort of open wounds or other injury. Consult with your vet if this is the case.
Soak a cotton ball in the liquid, and squeeze out any excess fluid. The cotton should be moist, but not dripping. Starting at the tips of the ears, work your way inward, carefully stroking to remove any contaminants stuck to the skin, as well as build-up lodged in crevices and creases. Always use outward movements in order to avoid brushing debris into the ear canal. Be slow and gentle.
“Ear-igation”: Irrigating Your Dog’s Ears
Your veterinarian may also recommend occasionally irrigating your dog’s ears, especially if it’s prone to infection caused by heavy earwax or other buildup. Carefully follow any specific instructions that your veterinarian provides you. Usually, irrigating solution is applied using a small squeeze bottle with a long tip. Place the tip at the opening of the ear canal, and squeeze fluid into the canal until it’s thoroughly drenched. Hold your dog’s head so that the fluid doesn’t run out, and massage the back of the ear where it meets the skull for about one minute. Then, use cotton balls to remove any debris loosened by the irrigation. After you’ve done this, allow your dog to get up and shake his head in order to clear out the fluid. Then take another cotton ball and remove any additional dirt and gunk dislodged by the shaking.
Benefits of Regular Ear Maintenance
If you clean your dog’s ears on a weekly basis, you’ll be able to minimize unpleasant treatments to the vet. Though it can be a challenging process for pup and owner alike, regular ear maintenance is far preferable to having to treat a serious ear infection.
Regular ear cleaning is also important because it will allow you to be quick to notice serious problems. If you ever come across any evidence of infection, ear mite infestation, or irritation caused by a foreign object in the ear canal, immediately take your dog to the vet for treatment. Your dog’s ears are one of the key senses it uses to understand you and your world, so they should be treated with the same caution and care as you would your eyes.