Ear Care 101
When I started grooming it was common practice to pluck every hair in a dog’s ears and we cleaned ears with Q-tips or cotton balls, quite often with alcohol based ear cleaners. I think most every dog that I groomed had infections that would not go away. Yeast was rampant and it was not uncommon to find dogs with oozing, painful ears every day in the salon. Owners would always say to me that their pets ears were infected after the grooming and to please be careful.
I believe, based on what I know now about ear care, I was actually contributing to those problems when I groomed the dogs. I DO believe that a clean ear is a healthy ear.
By plucking hair we were opening up the follicles and causing trauma to the ear canal. By doing that we allowed bacteria and yeast to settle deep into the tissues, at least contributing to infections. Plucking also irritates ears sometimes and when the pet scratches or shakes their heads, more damage, can occur.
This is something I would not suggest doing, but many vets and groomers still use this technique to clean ears.
In my shop, unless the hair in the ears is matted, we leave it alone. I will trim it out with a 40 blade or blunt shears, and I always make sure we trim excess hair from under the ear as well. By removing the bulk from under the ear we are able to improve air flow and that helps keep an ear healthy.
If you decide to pluck ears, I suggest doing it before the ear is cleaned. That way you can flush out the powder and remove any bacteria from the ear canal. If you choose to use ear powder, do it cautiously as ear powder can build up in an ear and cause problems for the dog. Many people apply it to their fingers instead of the into the canal. Use your fingers when possible instead of a pair of hemostats, and remove a few hairs at a time. If there is ANY irritation, redness, discharge or smell, refer the pet to their vet. Plucking irritated ears will make an existing problem even worse. The pet will thank you for it and so will the owner.
You can actually case a dog to develop an Aural Hematoma by excessive cleaning or lucking of the ears. Those need to be treated with steroids or surgery to heal propery in most cases. Removal of excessive hair from the outer part of the ear is also a prome cause of Hematomas as discussed in this article I wrote: Ear hematomas . Doing as little as needed in ears will help reduce the possibility of trauma.
By digging at dirty ears with cotton swabs or balls, we are actually injuring the tissue of the ear and pushing the dirt, bacteria and yeast deep into the ear canal and at the same time, the skin of the ear can become irritated. Then, like with Plucking, there is an injury for the bacteria and the like to enter, causing more problems.
There are several ways to clean ears without causing trauma to the ear canal.
I use shampoo and water to clean ears gently, safely and thoroughly, while the dog is in the tub. You can see how I do it by clicking on the link below.
Now I know you are thinking, “WATER in the ears?” well, yes! I have never seen a dog have an infection caused by water in the ears. Think about it this way. Dogs swim, go in pools, roll in mud puddles and even go in the ocean. Heck, my dogs even get their ears soaking wet in their water bowls! IF water in the ears was the main cause of ear infections, like many vets and groomers alike think, then almost every dog would have ear infections all the time! YES damp ears can breed infection, but water is not the cause of the problem, bacteria and yeast are the cause, a damp ear just exacerbates the problem.
The way I clean ears varies somewhat depending on how bad the dog’s ears are.
If the dog has been treated for an infection recently, it is critical to get the hair clean. By not removing the grease, the dog will not appear clean and it will be hard to groom. What I do is apply diluted degreaser to the ear before I wet the hair, working it down into the edge of the ear canal with my fingers and let it sit while I wash the rest of the dog. I admit it, I use Dawn most of the time but any good degreasing shampoo will work. Then, while rinsing the dog, I rinse the ear making sure I wash out the ear well with fresh water. Then I wash the dog a second time, including the ear. If you wet the hair before applying the degreaser you will make the job of cutting that grease much harder than it needs to be.
If the dogs ears are horribly dirty, smelly or discharge is present, then I refer the client to the vet, doing only an external flush in the tub as descrived above. I WILL NOT PLUCK OR DEEP CLEAN INFECTED OR SORE EARS! That is vet territory.
Ear cleaners are a terriffic tool for cleaning ears if used properly. I fill the ear canal with the cleaner, let it sit for a minute, then squish it by squeezing the base of the ear canal and then allowing the dog to shake it out. Some cleaners have alcohol in them though so be careful about using them in sore or irritated ears. The alcohol, while it is a drying agent, will also sting.
Home made ear cleaners work great in many cases! There are a couple of recipes that have been around for years and used by many groomers and owners with no ill affects.
One that I love is as follows:
16 ounces of minty mouthwash (non alcohol preferred)
16 ounces of witch hazel
2 ounces or 5% peroxide
Mix and store in airtight container. Works great and smells good with no burning or irritation.
Another one that is great for use at home with ears that have chronic infections is:
16 Oz. bottle of Isopropyl Alcohol (standard 70%)
4 Tablespoons of Boric Acid Powder
16 Drops of Gentian Violet Solution 1%
Shake well and shake before each use. I fill the ear with this solution then put a cotton ball in it to keep the liquid (which stains badly) in the ear not on the dog or the house. I have actually had great results changing the Alcohol for Witch Hazel, but the mixture calls for IP.
I have also seen people use straight alohol after bathing to dry ears. There are many commercial ear dryes on the market as well if you are worried about it. I am not. Not at all!
There are sevearl different problems that can present in ears and we see all of them. Let a vet decide on treatment for "yucky" ears. This chart is helpful though for groomers ince we will be better educated and can, as a result, direct our clients towards the correct means of treatment.
Ear infections, regardless of the cause are for the vet to diagnose and figure out how to treat. I simply clean ears and the hair around them when they present in my shop. Refer any dog with questionable ears to their vet for further evaluation. That protects you the groomer from any problems that may arise.