Most dogs do not require routine use of ear cleaning solutions. The ear canal naturally moves ear wax and trapped debris away from the ear drum to the opening of the ear canal. Cleaning normal ear canals with cleaning solution may actually set them up for infection. Dogs with normal ears may benefit from gently wiping the visible part of the ear canal opening with cotton balls when ear wax is visible.
If a dog has a skin disease that causes inflammation of the ear canal, such as atopic dermatitis or food hypersensitivity, the ear canal produces excessive cerumen that is readily infected. Common signs of ear infections are scratching at the ear, shaking the head, musty or foul odors, or visible debris in the ear canal. An otoscopic examination is necessary to evaluate the deeper part of dogs’ long ear canals and ear drums.
Yeast organisms usually predominate early in the course of ear infections. Bacterial infections often become a contributing factor in chronic or recurrent infections. Microscopic examination of the ear canal debris is necessary to verify which organisms are present. Veterinarians use this information to select appropriate ear medications and monitor treatments.
When the deep ear canal becomes impacted with infected debris, a deep ear cleaning may be recommended. This usually requires anesthesia and video otoscopy equipment is optimal. These are procedures offered by many veterinary dermatologists.
For dogs with a history of ear infections and allergic skin disease, routine cleaning with an ear cleanser can help remove excessive debris. The natural process of ear wax slowly moving out of the ear becomes overwhelmed when the canals are inflamed and it also slows down with age. For these dogs, cleaning the canals with a solution every one to two weeks may help prevent recurrent infections. During an active infection, veterinarians may recommend more frequent cleaning as part of the treatment.