An important (yet often overlooked) part of your pet’s grooming needs, ear cleaning helps to prevent unnecessary discomfort from ear infections and inflammation. Whether you are attempting this for the first time or just looking for tips to make the process easier, today’s post is for you! I’m going to break down everything that you need to know in order to clean your pet’s ears at home safely and effectively!
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While many pet owners will rely on veterinarians and groomers to meet their pet’s grooming needs, you may find yourself in a situation in which you need to tackle these tasks at home.
Faced with lockdown and social distancing restrictions, many groomers are temporarily closed while veterinarians are limiting their appointments to vaccinations and emergency situations.
If you’re overwhelmed, don’t worry. I’ve got you covered!
This post is part 3 of a 4-part series on grooming your pets at home. In each post, I am sharing the information, products and safety tips you need to keep your pet clean, healthy and looking sharp.
New to the blog? You can check out the first 2 parts here:
Part 1: ‘Groom Your Pets at Home (With Little To No Regrets)’
Part 2: ‘How to Cut Your Pet’s Nails at Home (Including Tips for Nervous Pets)’
Stay Tuned for Part 4: Dental Care!
Good News: You can have Part 4 delivered straight to your inbox along with all the other valuable pet-related tips, tricks and information shared here on Shed Happens.
Now, onto what you’ve been waiting for….
While there are some similarities between pets, the process of cleaning a dog’s ears versus a rabbit’s ears are actually quite different.
For this reason, I have broken this post down into 3 parts: Dogs, Cats and Small Animals (which will include rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and ferrets).
If you are tackling your dog’s grooming at home, ear cleaning is an important part of the process. This will help to prevent ear infections.
What this will look like will depend on your individual dog. Some dogs will simply need their ears wiped clean periodically while other dogs will need a thorough cleaning once a week.
It is important to note that cleaning your dog’s ears too often can cause irritation.
If you are unsure of exactly what your dog will require, contact your veterinarian to discuss his/her unique needs.
Ear inflammation and ear infections are a common problem for dog owners. The most common causes are allergies, trauma, underlying health issues, a build-up of dirt/debris, and infectious agents such as bacteria, fungi and ear mites.
There are some breeds that are more susceptible to ear infections due to their long, hanging ears such as Cocker Spaniels and Basset Hounds. However, NO dog is immune!
An ear infection is NOT a sign of poor grooming habits. Therefore, regular grooming does not mean that you are free and clear.
Trust me, our girl Daviana gets them every spring due to her allergies (and has for the 11 years that I’ve owned her). It can happen to anyone…
As part of your dog’s grooming schedule, you should be inspecting their ears approximately once a week.
A clean, healthy ear is pink, odourless and free from dirt/debris. If your dog’s ears meet all of these qualifications, cleaning is not necessary at that time.
If, however, you notice a mild odour, the presence of wax or debris or if your dog has been shaking his/her head, it’s time to break out the ear cleaner.
I can’t discuss ear cleaning without mentioning the risks of ear infections.
An infected ear can cause your dog a lot of pain and discomfort. Furthermore, it can lead to some pretty serious health concerns if left unaddressed.
Common ear infection symptoms include:
- Excessive head shaking
- Rubbing of the ears against the ground or other objects (like furniture)
- Repeated scratching at the affected ear
- Redness or swelling of the ear canal
- Scabs or crusting in or around the ear
- Tenderness or pain when you touch your dog’s ear
- Unpleasant or ‘yeasty’ smell
- Significant wax buildup
- Dark discharge in or around the ear
If you notice any of these signs, you need to consult your veterinarian.
While most ear infections can be cleared up relatively easily in the early stages, more serious cases may even require surgery. If in doubt, it is always better to seek help.
How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears
In order to clean your dog’s ears, you will need cotton gauze pads or cotton balls, an ear cleaning solution formulated for dogs such as Four Paws Ear Wash and a towel for clean up.
If you are trying to do this alone or if you are working with a squirmy or nervous dog, you may also want a leash and collar to keep your dog close or a blanket to swaddle your dog, restricting their movement.
#1 – Have your dog sit or lie down in front of you. Make sure that you have all of your materials close at hand.
Warning: You are NOT going to want to do this on a carpeted surface. When your dog shakes, he/she is going to send ear cleaner and ear wax flying. It is best to do this outside or in an easy to clean area of the home.
#2 – Gently pull back your dog’s ear flap to reveal the ear canal. Carefully pour the cleaner into the canal until you see it reach the surface.
#3 – Massage at the base of your dog’s ear for approximately 30 seconds. This will help to work the cleaner down into the horizontal portion of your dog’s ear canal where earwax can become trapped.
If you are doing this right, you should hear a smacking or ‘gushing’ sound.
#4 – Take your gauze or cotton pad and use it to reach into your dog’s ear with it wrapped around your finger, wiping the wax free from the sides of the ear canal.
If you notice your dog showing signs of pain or discomfort at any point during this stage, stop and contact your veterinarian.
Throughout this step, your dog will want to shake his/her head. This is an important part of the process as it allows your dog to shake free any loose wax and should be encouraged.
#5 – Don’t forget to give your dog a treat and plenty of praise! This will help your dog to see the ear cleaning process as a positive one, making it easier in the future.
For an easy-to-follow demonstration, check out this video from LakesVeterinaryHospital on YouTube!
Unlike dogs, most cats will not need their ears cleaned regularly. They do a great job of keeping themselves clean, and their ears are no exception.
However, you should be checking your cat’s ears approximately once a week to ensure that there are no concerns.
How often your cat will need their ears cleaned will vary from cat to cat.
Approximately once a week, cat owners should do a visual check of the cats easier. Carefully hold the ear open and look inside for signs of wax build-up or debris.
If you have a cat that doesn’t like having his/her ears cleaned, this simple weekly check will help him/her get used to having their ears handled. This can make a BIG difference during cleaning!
In addition to checking to see if it’s time for a cleaning, you should watch for the following symptoms of an ear infection:
- Bald patches around the ear
- Scaly skin
- Excessive scratching of your cat’s ears
- Repetitive head shaking
- Dark coloured debris in or around the ears
- Any signs of blood in or around the ears
- Bad odours
- Significant ear wax buildup (more than you would normally see prior to cleaning)
- Ears that are tender to the touch and/or warm to the touch
If your cat is showing any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. While most ear infections can be treated easily, they may be the sign of a larger health problem.
Ear infections that are left untreated can lead to serious complications.
How to Clean Your Cat’s Ears
The process to clean a cat’s ears is incredibly simple.
You will need cotton gauze pads or cotton balls, a towel or blanket to wrap your cat up (if you are doing this alone) and ear cleaning solution that is specifically formulated for cats such as Four Paws Ear Wash.
#1 – If you have someone else with you, have them gently hold your cat still throughout the process. If not, use a blanket or towel to securely wrap your cat up restricting movement.
#2 – Unlike when cleaning a dog’s ears, it is not recommended to pour the ear solution directly into your cat’s ears (unless you are using a medicated product under veterinary supervision). Instead, pour the ear cleaner directly onto the gauze pad or cotton ball.
#3 – Gently pull back the ear and wipe away any signs of ear wax using the gauze pad.
NOTE: Do NOT use Q-tips or other cotton swabs. These products can cause serious harm to your cat if they are placed too far into the ear canal.
#4 – Don’t forget to reward your cat with a treat at the end!
(Pippen and Jinx wouldn’t be impressed with me if I forgot to include that point!)
Visual learner? No problem! Check out this easy-to-follow video from the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society on YouTube including an explanation of how to best ‘swaddle’ your cat in a blanket or towel!
Some small animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and ferrets may require ear cleaning due to the build-up of wax and debris.
Much like a cat or dog, you can clean your pet’s ears at home by following a few simple steps.
Dampen cotton gauze or a cotton ball with an ear cleaning solution specifically formulated for rabbits such as Marshall Peter’s Ear Cleaning Solution for Rabbits and Small Animals.
For small ears like that of a Guinea Pig you can use a cotton swab, however, do NOT insert the swab into the pet’s ear. This should be used ONLY for surface cleaning.
If you notice significant wax build-up or any sign that your pet’s ears are causing them pain or discomfort, this may indicate your pet is dealing with ear mites or an ear infection. Consult your veterinarian.
Related: ‘Learn to Recognize These 12 Common Rabbit Diseases, Illnesses and Ailments’
The process for a ferret is slightly different than other small animals. You will need a cleaning solution that is specifically formulated for ferrets such as Marshall Ferret Ear Cleaner.
A ferret’s body temperature is warmer than ours. For this reason, cold ear drops are very uncomfortable. To avoid upsetting your ferret, set the bottle of ear cleaner in a bowl of warm water and allow it to warm up first.
NOTE: You should always check to make sure that the cleaner isn’t too hot before proceeding.
Carefully apply a few drops of the cleanser into each ear canal, massaging the area behind the ear. Wipe the surface of the ear clean with a cotton ball or cotton swab.
As with the other animals above, if there is any sign of pain or discomfort, contact your veterinarian.
Do you have any go-to tricks or tips that help you to clean your pet’s ears? If so, please feel free to share them in the comment section!