Cleaning Your Dog's Ears
One of the most common sources for dog health problems is their ears. Let's face it... they are moist, warm, dark places, especially in floppy-eared breeds, so they are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, yeast, and little parasites called ear mites. Paying attention to your dogs ears and keeping them healthy can save you and your dog trouble and suffering down the road.
Before talking about cleaning, let's start with inspecting the ear. Take a good look at the inside of the outer ear (basically, the visible part). A healthy dog ear should be light pink, clean, and have no dominant foul odor. Granted, dogs may still smell doggy, even at the peak of health, but an ear infection typically will have a very foul smell. Best bet... sniff your dog's ears regularly! He may give you a funny look at first, but he'll get used to it. After a visit to the vet where his ears have been given the OK, smell his ears and get an idea of what "normal" smells like. Then, you will be more prepared to recognize any abnormal smells should they arise.
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Also, when inspecting, look for abnormal amounts of dark wax buildup. Tiny amounts of dirt or wax are not necessarily indicative of a problem, but wax buildup is often a sign of ear mites, so keep an eye out for any changes in wax production, especially combined with signs of discomfort or scratching of the ear.
Lastly, and especially if your dog has been scratching his ears, check both the inside and outside surfaces of the ear for nicks, cuts, scabs, etc. Excessive scratching may indicate infection or mites, and it also can produce skin abrasions that could themselves become infected, or develop a hematoma.
If any of the above signs lead you to suspect infection (yeast or bacterial), or ear mites, your best course of action is a trip to the vet. Your dogs ears are the window to his critical sense of hearing; plus, when they're uncomfortable, they're VERY uncomfortable, so let your vet diagnose the problem, prescribe the proper treatment, and get things back on track.
Assuming there are no signs of infection or mites, you can perform a routine ear cleaning. If your dog has never had any ear problems, many vets will recommend cleaning only the visible surface on the inside of the ear flap, removing dirt and wax. You can do this with a cotton ball or soft cloth moistened in a cleaning solution. At your next vet visit, ask your vet to recommend an ear cleaning solution... different breeds have different ears, and you vet will have the experience to recommend the best solution for your dog. Remember, no cotton swabs in the ear canal! Clean only what you can reach with a cloth.
Additionally, ask your vet about cleaning deeper into the ear. Many solutions are made to be gently squirted or dropped with a dropper into the ear canal (after which your dog will shake it out all over you!), but a common school of thought is "if your dog has no history of any ear issues, squirting a cleaner down his ear canal could actually cause problems." Again, your vet has the experience with your breed, and even the weather conditions in your area, to give the best advice on that. If you do clean the canal, though, make sure to clean the outer area afterward to remove any debris shook loose, and then give your dog's ears time to dry thoroughly. For very long-eared dogs, you may be able to pin the ears together over the head for a while. No guarantee your dog will think this is as funny as you do, but it does help the canal dry and prevent the very infections you are trying to avoid.