How to Clean Your Pet’s Ears

A dog’s or cat’s ears are very sensitive, and can easily become infected. Ears should be checked and cleaned on a regular basis. This not only maintains good health but also provides the opportunity to look for problems.

A normal healthy ear has a slightly pink color. Some dirt and wax may be seen visually. There should be no foul odor emanating from the ear. To clean out the wax and dirt, use a cotton ball and a cleaner. There are many commercial cleaners available through pet stores, veterinarians or your boarding or daycare facility. Baby oil may be used as a substitute, but it will leave an oily residue. Saturate the cotton ball and wipe only where you can see. Several cotton balls may be needed for extremely dirty ears. Do not use Q-tips to go into the canal, since wax may be compacted deep into the canal. Lifting the earflap up straight may help provide room to clean more easily.

For very dirty ears, 1-2 tablespoons of solution may be squirted directly into the ear.  Massage the base of the ear well to distribute the cleaning solution and break up the wax.  Stand back while the dog or cat shakes out the debris. For obvious reasons, do this outside or in an area that is easily cleaned. Wipe out the visible dirt that remains.

In general, dogs with ears that flop over will need them cleaned more often than dogs with prick ears. A good rule of thumb is to check the ears every 2 to 3 weeks. Dogs with hairy ears may need the area around the canal shaved off every 4 to 6 weeks, allowing air to reach the canal.

Problem conditions

Infections occur for a variety of reasons. Excessive moisture, heredity, or swimming may play a part. And just as children seem to get ear infections for no reason, so do pets.  Head shaking, rubbing the ear on furniture or carpeting so that you might even need the carpet cleaning, or a tilt to one side may indicate an infection. The inner ear will look red and sore, and it will probably have a foul odor.  Abnormal amounts of discharge, often wet and/or bloody, accompany infection. While the pet care facility or grooming staff may be able to partially clean this ear, it will need veterinary attention.

If a dog is prone to ear infections, ask the groomer or facility staff to put cotton balls in the ears prior to bathing. It will help keep dampness out of the ear canal. Chronic infections may result in thickening of the ear tissue. Occasionally surgery is required to correct problems or eliminate chronic infections.

Many breeds of dogs grow hair in the ear canals that needs to be "plucked" out on a regular basis. Poodles and many of the terriers are included in this group. If the hair is not removed regularly, it can compact into the ear canal along with normal wax.  Since the ear can not "breathe", moisture is retained; infection can often result. It is much less painful to remove small amounts of hair regularly than to try and remove a lot all at once.

Small tumors or growths are other abnormalities occasionally seen in the ears.  These may become bloody and cause pain. If ignored or not removed, they may grow large enough to occlude the ear canal. If the groomer or facility staff notice a growth in your pet’s ear, it should be checked by a veterinarian so options can be discussed.

A hematoma occurs in the ear flap (also called the pinna), causing swelling that makes the ear flap feel like a little pillow. Excessive head shaking or scratching cause ruptures of blood vessels between the pieces of cartilage in the pinna. The blood may clot in the ear and result in swelling. Since there is usually an underlying medical problem, have a veterinarian examine the ear and canal. Surgery is usually required to drain the blood, clean the ear canal, and prevent further damage.

Ear mites are most common in puppies and kittens - who have probably gotten them from their mothers. Ear mites infect animals only after prolonged direct contact—pets must live together, groom each other, and/or sleep together in order to transfer the mites from pet to pet. Most adult pets do not have ear mites.

Mites are sometimes found in strays or pets from overcrowded situations where mite control could be difficult (shelters or large breeding colonies for example). Even if a pet has mites, they are easily eliminated with ear medications. All pets in the household may need to be treated to prevent passing mites back and forth. Your veterinarian will advise the best way to treat ear mites.

This article is provided as a general overview of the topic. Always consult your veterinarian for specific information related to diseases or medical care for pets.

Copyright ABKA 2005