Read This Before You DIY Your Dog’s Ear Cleaner

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  • Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.

At the first veterinarian visit with my newly rescued mini schnauzer, the vet told me to clean his right ear when I got home because there was some “gunk” in it.

“Just look it up online. It’s easy to do at home,” my veterinarian said.

It was at that moment that I realized I’d never cleaned my dog’s ears before! I clean my own ears, and I know that itchy, nagging feeling when earwax has been unattended. I imagine that’s how my dog feels when he scratches at his ears too; vigorously with his hind leg, and then gently letting his paw meander around inside his ear, hoping to find some relief.

So if cleaning a dog’s ears is part of routine maintenance, does that mean you can use DIY solutions? It’s a little more complicated than that.

Is it safe to clean your dog’s ears at home?

Possibly, but only after consulting with your pet’s veterinarian.

Ear irritation can simply be a dirty ear, but it can also be an ear infection. Ear infections have several causes, according to PetMD, including bacteria, fungi, yeast, mites, tumors, polyps, trauma or a foreign object—and you need to know the cause before you can appropriately treat them.

According to PetMD, signs of an ear infection include:

  • head shaking
  • pawing at the ear
  • head tilting
  • change in balance
  • reddening ears
  • discharge from the ear

“Ear infections can progress quickly and be quite painful,” Katy Nelson, DVM, resident veterinarian at Freshpet and associate veterinarian at the BelleHaven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, VA tells Rover. “It’s better to go earlier rather than later to seek professional help to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering.”

Despite the fact that you could find a million recipes for at-home ear cleaners, they’re not all safe for irritated ears. “If your pet’s tympanic membrane (eardrum) is inflamed or ruptured, some products can actually cause more harm than good,” Dr. Nelson says.

Are there any home remedies for an ear infection?

Nope. Take your dog to the vet if they’re showing signs of an ear infection.

What about at-home ear cleaners on the market?

Probably not your best bet. Basically, avoid buying products online for ear cleaning unless your vet has suggested them to you.

Additionally, Banfield Hospital recommends that you avoid products with alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, which can be painful even to healthy skin, and especially so if your dog is dealing with an inflamed ear canal.

How often should you clean your dog’s ears?

Your veterinarian can help you decide how often your dog’s ears should be cleaned. Some dogs that have healthy, self-regulating ears that don’t require much cleaning. Others require more attention, like dogs that have longer hair in and around their ears.

Even still, cleaning dog ears too frequently can cause your dog’s ears to become irritated and even lead to infection, according to VCA Hospitals.

What to know before cleaning your dog’s ears

There are several parts of a dog’s ear. The part you scratch on a regular basis is the outer flap (you know, the part that sticks up in breeds like a German shepherd or folds over in breeds like the beagle.) But there’s also the ear canal, which leads to an eardrum, middle ear, and inner ear. Those areas are more delicate and require more than a damp washcloth.

“Simply wiping down the inside of the pinna (ear flap) is not a thorough ear cleaning,” as Dr. Jennifer Coates told PetMD. “We need to get all (or at least most) of the junk out of the canal without damaging the eardrum and delicate tissues that line the ear.”

Your veterinarian can help you decide which ear cleaning solution is best for your pet. Beware of cleaners with hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can cause further irritation if your dog’s ear canal is inflamed or ulcerated, VCA Hospital’s Dr. Amy Panning, DVM advises on their blog.

Dr. Panning also writes that different ear cleaners have different functions. “Some ear cleaners have antibacterial or antifungal ingredients to help prevent ear infections,” she writes. “Certain cleaners are also better at removing wax build-up.”

If your dog doesn’t have an ear infection and only needs to have their ear flap cleaned, Dr. Nelson tells Rover that a 50/50 solution of distilled water and white vinegar is a good at-home option. This maintenance treatment can help prevent infection in an otherwise healthy ear, she says. But again: this is for the ear flap only, and only after your vet has determined that your dog doesn’t have an ear infection.

If you’re using a solution meant to clean the ear canal, expect your dog to shake their head vigorously and spread the solution all over. Try bringing them in the bathroom or somewhere else easy to clean.

How to clean your dog’s ears

Ready to clean your dog’s ears? This is how it’s done.

Step One: Add ear cleaner

With your veterinarian’s recommended ear cleaner, grasp the outer flap of the ear and hold it towards the ceiling. Pour the prescribed amount of the cleanser into the ear canal until you see the liquid rise within the canal.

Step Two: Massage the ear

Gently massage the base of the ear. By massaging, you’re helping the cleanser fill the ridges in the canal and loosen ear debris.

Step Three: Shake it out 

After massaging for a few seconds, let go and allow your dog to shake. You might want to turn away or hold up a towel for this part.

Step Four: Wipe the ear canal

Remove any debris and remaining cleaning solution from the ear canal with a cotton ball or gauze. Only go into the ear canal as far as your finger will reach, and be gentle. NEVER use a cotton swab in your dog’s ear.

Simple as that. So while you can make a solution at home for cleaning your dog’s ear, it’s only meant for the outer ear flap, and you should always check with your veterinarian if you notice any signs of ear irritation.

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