Excessive heat, humidity, and allergies result in lots of yeast and bacteria infections. Here are a few steps to cleaning your dog's ears safely, including products to avoid and to prevent infection.
Skip The Alcohol
Though both rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide are recommended on many websites as an effective ear cleaner for dogs, steer clear. Many dogs are uncomfortable already with the ear-cleaning process. Adding a potentially painful cleaning solution into the mix isn’t a great way to go. When choosing an over-the-counter cleanser, avoid anything that contains alcohol, and look for an option that includes a drying agent; you want to avoid having any excess moisture in the ear since that can cause an infection.
We like Burt's Bees' gentle cleanser for our pit mix, Cooper, who has intense allergies that affect his ears. I need to keep his ears super clean, and Burts Bees Gentle Cleanser works without the pain. Note that Burt's Bees' uses specially denatured (SD) alcohol, which is different than rubbing alcohol. According to Burt's Bees', SD is a "mixture of ethyl alcohol with a denaturing agent. It’s an organic solvent that dissolves the harmful alcohol (the kind people drink). In a normal healthy ear, the ingredient will not cause discomfort, but in an inflamed or infected ear, another solution should be used." So you should use Burt's Bees' gentle cleanser's to clean preventatively, not to treat ear infections.
Skip the Q-tips
No Q-tips! Sure, your dog’s ears are comprised of lots of folds and flaps that collect gunk. But cotton swabs are dangerous to be swiped around in that sensitive space. Imagine if you had a swab in your dog’s ear just as he went to do a vigorous head shake. Ouch. If it’s smaller than your index finger, it shouldn’t be in your dog’s ear.
But Do This for a Calm Dog
With your preferred non-alcohol-based cleanser, lift your dog’s ear. Squirt the solution directly into the ear canal until it’s about halfway full. Lower your dog’s ear and massage the base to work the solution around. Allow your pup to shake off; it actually loosens a lot of the debris that collects in the ear canal. Swipe away the excess liquid and gunk with a cotton pad.
Or Try This for a Nervous Dog
For dogs who won’t tolerate having the solution squirted directly into the ear, try this route instead. Saturate a round cotton ball with the non-alcohol cleanser. Lift the ear, and stick in the cotton ball. Lower the ear trapping the solution-drenched ball, then massage the ear to squeeze the solution out of the cotton ball and into your dog’s ear canal. Allow him to shake off, then swipe away excess liquid and gunk with a fresh cotton pad.
If you can stay on top of keeping your dog's ears clean, you'll fight off potential infection. Ask your vet how often you should clean your dog's ears, but a good place to start is with a single weekly session.
Maggie is a writer and author, whose first book, Clicker Dog Training: The Better Path to a Well-Behaved Pup was published by Open Air Publishing. When she's not writing (or reading books about grammar), she teaches writing courses to college students and professionals who want to nail down the basics of communication. Outside of work, she hikes, throws dinner parties, plays with her three dogs and cat, and travels as much as possible.