For dog owners, the only sound that sums up summer more than the soothing sound of the ocean is the jingle of ID tags as their dogs shake their heads and scratch their ears. Why all the noise? Because summer often means ear infections for our canine companions.
In dogs, ear infections are often caused by environmental allergies. When the air gets warm, pollen, mold spores and other allergens begin to thrive and waft around on the currents, causing allergies to flare up. These allergies can make the skin that lines the ear canal inflamed, opening the door for secondary bacterial and fungal infections.
And if your dog loves to swim, excess water in the ear canal can create the kind of dark, moist environment where yeast and bacteria thrive.
Many of my patients ask me how to clean their dog’s ears at home, so I thought I’d share my advice.
It is virtually impossible to totally clean your dog’s ears at home. They all have a very long vertical ear canal leading to a horizontal canal, which means you cannot reach with normal Q-Tips. Veterinarians are taught special techniques for cleaning, and they use an “otoscope” to look, visualize and detect any damage to the eardrum.
Due to the delicate nature of all of this, the only safe things at home are to use natural “holistic” cleaners or white vinegar diluted into water helps to discourage the yeast commonly found in ears. You can wipe with a cotton swab (not gauze).
Note about ears – Virtually ALL ear infections are secondary to an underlying allergy, often to a food component and/or environmental pollens. So it is important to see an integrative, natural or allergy orientated vet to get to the root cause and try to stop any cycle of ear infections.
Also it is not recommended to regularly clean healthy ears. The body produces a natural protective wax and if there’s no odor or itch or redness then we don’t want to remove this wax by unnecessary cleaning.
Reasons why pet owners should never use LONG medical Q-Tips:
- They can break off and become a foreign body in the ear canal;
- If owner actually reaches the eardrum they will inadvertently rupture this with the Q-Tip.
In short, any odor, abnormal discharge, redness, itching or head shaking warrants a visit to your integrative vet. There may be a foxtail or foreign body inside of the canal in any of these cases, which can permanently damage the ear, it is painful and can also cause hearing loss. Even infections allowed to wait too long can have the same (disastrous) consequences.
As an integrative vet, I believe it is CRITICAL to find the underlying CAUSE of mild to severe ear issues so we can stop the cycle of repeat infections, which can lead to irreparable damage and/or the need for MAJOR surgery.