Ben Franklin said, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” I think in vet med it should read “Weekly ear cleaning keeps the doctor away.”
Ear cleaning when done properly, can prevent painful ear infections. But it must be done properly. If it is done incorrectly or with the wrong medication or cleaner, it can cause an ear infection.

Ear infections are more painful than abdominal surgery.

The first thing to know about pet’s ears is that they are not like human ears. Human ears go straight in one ear and out the other side (also known as spouse ears). Pet ears go down one side then straight in and from there straight out and finally up the opposite side. Another way to look at it is that they form an “L” on one side and a backward “L” on the other.

This means that anything that even gets started down the ear is probably going all the way. It also means that it is hard for pets to get things out of their ears.

To clean, we are going to hold onto the flap (pinna) and pull out and away from the head to make the “L” into half of a “V.” Then pour some cleaner (from your vet) into the ear canal. You want enough that you can make a squishing sound, but not enough that it runs out the top. You then grab the canal just as it comes out of the head (way below the opening) and squish the canal together and apart with your finger and thumb. Do this about 45 seconds. This causes a flushing back and forth of the inner (proximal) canal which loosens and liquefies any wax and debris.

It is important to grasp the canal just as it comes out of the head. You can make this squishing sound by grasping further out on the pinna or flap, but you do not get any of the beneficial flushings. Novice cleaners often grasp on the top of the ear. Practice getting the positioning right.

It is also important to always hold onto the pinna (flap). As soon as you let go, the pet is going to shake their head. All of your cleaners come out, and you have to start all over again. Speaking of cleaners, one from your vet is best. Water, mineral oil, other home remedies and some store bought medicine can make the situation worse. In an emergency use half alcohol and half vinegar, but only until you can get in and get some mild cleaner.

Once you have ‘squished’ the ears, put gauze or good quality paper towel on the tip of your finger and put it in the ear canal. Put it all the way in. If it comes out the other ear, just back it up half an inch. (Just Kidding!) Seriously, I have never seen a finger stuck too far in. Then wipe out all of the debris.

We do not recommend Q-tips. They tend to push things down into the ear canal farther. Be careful of some of the things that we do at the hospital are not as easy as we make them look. Normal ears should have some light tan wax. Black gooey gunk is a sign of a yeast (fungal) infection. Sometimes these require treatment. Brown, bloody or smelly stuff is a sign of a bacterial infection. All bacterial infections require treatment.

Wet or moist ears create an excellent growing environment for bacteria and yeast. Sometimes drug/chemical reactions or autoimmune diseases (pemphigus and others) can disrupt the skin of the ear and allow overgrowth of bacteria. Likewise, thyroid disorders, endocrine disease (especially Cushing’s) and injury can all set up for an ear inflammation/infection. Allergies and ear inflammation go hand in hand. If you think about it, anything that affects the skin will likely affect the skin of the ear canal and pinna. Wax buildup, foreign bodies, excessive cleaning, and meningitis or encephalitis can all cause problems.

Ear mites are tiny white mites that live in ears. They prefer cats, but occasionally we will see them in puppies with itchy ears. Rarely are they seen in adult dogs. Ear cleaning will take care of one or two mites (when there are too few to know there is an infection). More mites will cause a yeast and/or bacterial infection and need to be treated.

Treatment usually consists of a type of cleaner (different ones for different things), a topical medication and sometimes oral or injectable antibiotics. Treatment is always more expensive and harder than prevention. To prevent these problems, we recommend that you clean the ears (normal ears) once a week in floppy eared dogs and once every two weeks in up eared dogs. Even so, if you have a cocker spaniel or any of the retrievers, expect to have more than your share of ear problems. Some people think the Egyptians cropped their dog’s ears to help prevent ear infections.

At Guardian Animal Medical Center, We try to teach all of our puppy owners (and pet owners whose pets have ear infections) about ear cleaning. If you are ever in doubt, just ask. Medical care is a partnership, and we want you to understand everything presented, because as Benjamin Franklin said “Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.”