I am often asked by pet owners if they need to be cleaning their dog’s ears. If a dog has normal healthy ears, no cleaning is necessary. But if there are signs of ear infection, yes, the ears would benefit from a good cleaning with the appropriate materials.
Signs of ear infections include shaking the head frequently and scratching at the ears with the back leg. One might also notice a strange smell coming from the ears. The ear canal can be very red and inflamed. Excessive wax sometimes accumulates in the ear. This wax could be purulent from infection or thick and black.
When cleaning the ears, one source of cleaner is your veterinarian’s office. These cleaners are usually gentle and do not cause undue discomfort. I say undue, because some discomfort is unavoidable. Even healthy ears do not like having fluid put in the ear canal. The discomfort is minimized by buffering the solution’s pH.
Ear cleansers generally have a salicylic or acetic acid base to help break down the wax and aid in killing yeast. I like the ones that have a good smell, because it helps to destroy the odor emanating from the ear canal. Ear cleaners do not have antibiotics in them. They are made to be used frequently and as needed. If antibiotics were used in this fashion it would compound our problems with antibiotic resistance.
One mistake I have seen is the use of antibiotic ointment as if it were a cleaner. Owners put antibiotic drops in the ears once a week or when they see a flare-up. These medicines were not made to be used this way. Ear washes are to be used on a daily or weekly basis to prevent infections. Antibiotics are for treating a severe infection. Occasionally a chronic severe case will warrant ongoing antibiotic therapy, but these are few and far between.
What can be used at home for washing out the ears? A good natural wash consists of one part white distilled vinegar to one part rubbing alcohol. Combine these two ingredients and soak a cotton ball in the mixture. Wipe out the ear, rubbing the cotton ball so that the alcohol-vinegar mix trickles down into the ear canal.
The vinegar will kill yeast, and the alcohol will kill bacteria as well as dry out the ear. The biggest problem with this cleaner is that the alcohol burns irritated skin. A gentler version would be one part white distilled vinegar to one part water. It helps treat yeast infections, and it is gentler.
If you find that the ear canal continues to build up with wax even though you are cleaning out the ear or you see the signs of infection worsening, it is time to make an appointment with your veterinarian. He can look at cytology and discover the source of the infection so that a medical treatment can be prescribed.