Ear cleaning tips from an expert

I recently had the opportunity to discuss ear cleaning with Dr. Domenico Santoro, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Santoro was clear that proper and thorough ear cleaning is an important part of the entire treatment of diseased ears and in the routine maintenance of allergic otitis.

The goal to ear cleaning is to remove exudate and debris to prepare the ear for the application of ear treatments. It is important to remove the debris because microorganisms become entrapped in the residual wax.

Unfortunately, many owners may not understand the importance of ear cleaning in the treatment of an infection or prevention of reoccurrence in allergic dogs. Many common mistakes are made by owners during ear cleaning. Some of the most common of these are: owner non-compliance, superficial cleaning, or using Q-Tips.

Owners can be non-compliant due to many reasons, but a dog that is non-complaint to ear cleaning is the most common cause. Dr. Santoro finds that dogs with inflamed ears appear to better tolerate saturating cotton with the ear cleaner and placing it in the dog’s ear instead of applying the ear cleanser directly from the bottle. Some other tips that he recommends to make ear cleaning more pleasant for the dog are to utilize distractions. He recommends incorporating food and treats to keep the dog’s attention elsewhere. If a dog associates ear cleaning with an enjoyable experience he or she is less likely to become head shy later on.

Cleaning ears is not only essential for diseased ears; but can be used to dry out the ears after swimming or bathing. It is also recommended to clean an allergic dog’s ears weekly to remove debris and to help maintain a healthy ear environment. Finally, to make sure the instructions to the owner are clear, Dr. Santoro recommends that the veterinary staff demonstrate cleaning one ear and then asking the owner to clean the other ear. This helps ensure that the owner is aware of the tools needed to clean the ears, the steps to clean the ears, and how often to clean the ears. Allowing the owner to participate in this exercise puts emphasis on its importance.

As for cleaners, Dr. Santoro chooses the type of ear cleaner based on cytology and the appearance of the ear. For waxy ears, he uses a product with squalene to break down the wax. One thing to note about squalene is that with repeated or frequent use squalene can cause irritation. Rinsing the ear with another ear cleaner will remove the excess squalene and will help prevent the ear from getting irritated. For ears with significant microorganisms, choosing an ear cleaning product with antibacterial or antifungal properties may increase the activity against the pathogens.

Utilizing these ear cleaning tips should decrease miscommunication with owners, and increase favorable outcomes, resulting in healthier and happier dogs.

Written by Jeanne Goodfellow, DVM, RN

Senior Professional Services Veterinarian

Merck Animal Health

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