Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ear Cleaning and Care for Chronic Otitis Pups

Absolutely, unequivocally, one of the most common pet problems that I see is ear inflammation and infection.

I spend a great deal of time with these clients trying to educate and empower them so that I will hopefully never see them back again with another ear issue. It is a tough sell initially to convince people to think of ear problems like they do their own dental maintenance and care. I don't have to do much talking to convince my clients that they themselves benefit from daily tooth brushing and flossing. They understand the correlation to daily care in the prevention of tooth decay and dental surgery, well, the same applies to ear care.

Ear infections are the huge problem and many of pets arriving for my evaluation of "bad ears" have had underlying issues for weeks, months, and even years. These ears are often red, painful and smelly.
Here is the cold hard truth about ears;

1. The first ear infection and inflammation episode is very unlikely to be the last ear problem that your pet will have. So, get educated and prepared for future episodes and yield a heavy handed sword in preparing for future episodes.

Yes, of course, some of these pets have an allergy component, and yes, almost all of them have a genetic component to their ear issues. For many pets the ears are the first allergy beacon to light up in the long list of clinical signs they demonstrate with their allergies. Some pets get red faces, red itchy ears, bumps on their belly, or an itchy butt, but most start with red ears. They are markers of the same underlying problem; an allergy. These are not infected but often benefit from a calming ear wash.  A pet with allergies should be worked up to reduce future episodes, but don't fool yourself there will be future episodes.

2. Get yourself all of the equipment and knowledge that you can from your vet so that most of the future flare-ups can be dealt with at home.

3. Believe that if you can keep your pets CLEAN, DRY, AND CALM that you can avoid almost all ear infections. Ear infections require antibiotics AND steroids. These are systemically absorbed and with time can cause long term adverse affects to include bacterial resistance AND immuno-compromise. You should always avoid these whenever possible.

Here is my at home instructions for cleaning ears;

And after you clean,, it is important to get on a scheduled ear maintenance routine.

I sell only big bottles of cleaners because if you are here for an ear problem you will very likely have an ear problem again soon, so I want you to be ready before you call me. They cost about $25.00.

My hope is that you won't ever have to call me again. My hope is that when your dogs ears start to bother him, (when he is at the initial inflammation stage), that you at home can clean your way out of the inflammation stage and avoid the (next) infection stage all together. My job is to educate you enough that you can keep your pet healthy and avoid seeing me.

OK, here is the "primer" on ear cleaning. If all else fails, read the label! The label on our ear cleaner reads. "Fill ear canal until overflowing and then gently massage into ear. Let pet shake out excess." See? Very simple. No poking, no swabbing, no fighting, no biting, and no hurting. Now, many pets have ears that hurt, so anytime you touch a painful ear you are hurting your pet. I don't want the ear cleaning to be a torture process that your pet hates because then it won't ever get done. So be gentle, be patient, and don't scare or upset your pet. 

For the first few times it is a two person job. The first person holds their right hand on the pets collar and left hand firmly on the nose. Keep the nose up and don't let your pet fight out of the position hold. Be firm, be kind, be patient, be gentle, and don't let your pet fight. The second person then takes the ear flap (aka pinna) firmly and gently pulls it straight out away from the face. (Perpendicular to the eye so that you open the "L" shaped ear canal into more of a straight line). Then fill the ear with the cleaner until it overflows. (No one ever uses enough). You want to "FLOOD" the ear canal, and that's another reason I sell the big bottles only. Remember your pet's ear canal is about 3 inches long. You need to get the cleaner to fill the whole canal. Then fold the ear flap like a burrito (always a reference to food ;-)), and massage into the head. You should be massaging against the skull and you should hear a squishy sound. It is the same concept as the agitator in your washing machine. This should not hurt. Actually, most pets love the ear massage. If it hurts then it means one of two things; 1. The ear is infected and you need a vet appointment, or 2. The ear drum is ruptured and you DEFINITELY need a vet appointment. 

I don't want owners to swab the ears because if the ears are red then the swab feels like sandpaper. And a dog with a hurt ear won't want to let you clean them ever again. And, the other reason we don't swab is  that we are trying to get rid of the junk in those ears, not shove it back down the ear canal. Let your pet shake out the excess ear cleaner and the junk that is causing the problem. 

I also tell people that you cannot over clean, but you absolutely can over medicate. I don't care if you clean the ears daily. Some pets need daily cleaning, some weekly, some yearly.

Make every part of your pet care fun. Never instill or participate in a stressful or anxiety ridden endeavor. It will only make the next time more difficult. Ears are a part of life, so face it, and conquer it with a plan and a belief that love and kindness conquers all.

If you have a pet question you can ask it for free at Pawbly is a place to educate and inspire pet people and it is always free to use.

If you would like an in person ear cleaning you can find me at the clinic, Jarrettsville Vet in Jarrettsville Maryland. I am also on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.

P.S. Many Thanks to my Jekyll-pup for being such a good by when his mom tortures him with You Tube demos.. (it is a rough life to be a veterinarians pup).


  1. Replies
    1. I am glad you enjoyed them. Thank you for reading.

  2. Thanks for the tips and videos. There have been times that I swore Haley had a ear infection, but her vet confirmed it was just allergies and redness from scratching. I started this cleaning schedule and now she rarely has an issue. You're right, cleaning is just something you put on your calendar and do as regular maintenance. It really makes a difference!

    1. I am so glad that you enjoyed them! I am happy to add any others that you think might be helpful.
      XO to the pups in your life.

  3. Warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. Thank you so much for sharing these tips.

    1. Hello!
      Snowy, winter-still-gripping-us in Maryland hello to you to!
      Thanks for reading!
      Love Montreal! The nicest people and the best bakeries!

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  5. Thanks so much for the informative ear cleaning tutorial video. Our 2 year old lab just finished a course of Tresaderm for an ear infection. He also has a wound on his ear that is slow healing and all the ear shaking was not helping. It does seem to be better (the infection), but I think we need to really clean his ears and do it on a regular schedule. Any thoughts on a cleaning solution of 1:1 isopropyl alcohol and white/apple cider vinegar?

    1. Hello,
      I have to say that I think there are better options available to clean the ears. Alcohol can be very harsh on red painful ears and vinegar is not a surfactant nor drier. Ask your vet for a better option. At my clinic we sell 16 oz bottles for about $20. They work much better than these two ingredients. Also, every ear is different. So there are lots of options for cleaner available based on the individuals needs.
      Good luck!