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Canine ear infections are very common and certain breeds (dogs with long hanging ears) are predisposed to them. One in five dogs suffers from ear disease.  The problem is more common during the warm months, when ear infections are reported to be 10 to 15 percent of all patients brought to veterinary hospitals.

Ear infections can be caused by a number of factors, including allergies, hormonal conditions, nutrition, and autoimmune diseases as well as a buildup of wax and debris. Keeping your dogs ears dry and clean can help prevent infections. Here Jeff Grognet, DVM, columnist for AKC Family Dog, offers tips on cleaning the ears and explains what to do if your dog gets an infection.

  • First, fill the canal with a cleaning solution and massage the vertical ear canal from the outside. The milking action helps break up debris, bringing it up and out.
  • You should then use absorbent gauze to wipe out the canal (paper towel or cotton can leave irritating fibers behind). 
  • You might want to use cotton-tipped sticks to clean the folds on your dog’s ear flap, but don’t use them in his ear canal. It is too easy to inadvertently push debris deeper into the canal and pack it at the bottom.

Consult your veterinarian if your dog's ear is difficult to clean or if it contains a lot of packed debris. It may need to be flushed. Veterinarians use flexible catheters to squirt saline deep into the canal to remove the accumulated discharge. In some dogs, an anesthetic is required to perform this procedure.

Here are some additional guidelines for ensuring clean and healthy ears:

  • Your dog’s ears should be cleaned at least once a month, more often if your dog is prone to ear problems.
  • Look inside the ear to check for dirt, scratches, parasites, or discharge. Then give them a good sniff. There shouldn’t be any unpleasant odor.
  • Moisten a cotton ball with mineral oil and gently wipe out the ears, going no deeper than the first knuckle on your finger.
  • Keep ears dry and clean, or your dog may face recurrent ear infections that are difficult to treat. Avoid using drying agents on a regular basis—if there’s no problem they can dry out the ear too much, and if the ear is oozing there’s a reason for it. Drying it up without treating the cause leads to more ear problems.

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This article was originally published in AKC Family Dog magazine. Subscribe today ($9.95 for 6 issues, including digital edition) to get expert tips on training, behavior, health, nutrition, and grooming, and read incredible stories of dogs and their people.