Can you ear me now? How to keep your dog’s ears clean and healthy.

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by Betsy Lane, MA

Whether your dog’s ears stand up or flop down, checking that they’re healthy should be a part of your weekly routine. Since many of us handle our dogs’ ears on a regular basis, doing a quick health assessment is easily incorporated into the pleasant routine. All that’s involved is a simple, three-point inspection. Each step uses a different one of our senses:

Touch: Does your dog pull away from gentle handling of her ears, indicating they might be sore? Do the ears feel hot? Either is cause for further investigation.

Smell: Sniff your dog’s ears regularly to learn what is normal. If her ears suddenly don’t pass the sniff test (stinky, yeasty, or just “off”), it might indicate an infection.

Sight: If you see your dog pawing at, scratching, or rubbing her ears on the furniture or floor, take a peek inside. Healthy ears look clean and pink, with just a bit of light-yellow wax present. (Just like in humans, this natural wax helps trap debris and move it out of the ear.) Excess wax, dark wax, and/or visible dirt all indicate your dog’s ears need cleaning.

Two quick cautions: Always handle ears gently; they’re sensitive! And never, ever stick anything (a cotton swab, your finger, etc.) into your dog’s ear further than about a half an inch. The last thing you want to do is injure her ears!

If everything seems fine based on your three-point inspection, leave your dog’s ears alone.

If there’s a bit of a problem—a slight odor, a little dirt, or more waxiness than usual—a preventative cleaning is in order. Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, explains the process: “To clean the ears, tilt your dog’s head downward with one hand and squirt a gentle cleanser recommended by your veterinarian into the ear, filling the canal. Holding the ear closed, give it a nice massage, really squishing the cleanser around in there. That softens any gunk inside.” Then just let your dog shake her head (this can be messy!), and gently wipe away any remaining cleanser with a soft cloth. Always use a cleanser made specifically for this purpose; other options such as alcohol and witch hazel are drying and can sting an already-irritated ear.

If there’s a larger problem, or you just aren’t the DIY type, take your pup to any PetSmart Grooming Salon (no appointment necessary!) or your vet. Professional groomers can clean your dog’s ears quickly, safely, and effectively, and also ensure the fur around the ears is thinned and trimmed properly for optimum ear health.

Here’s to your dog’s healthy ears!

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