Keeping our dogs healthy from tips to toes is part of our daily routine. You’re probably already doing this by providing a daily glucosamine supplement to support their joint health. And I bet you’ve invested in a cushy orthopedic pet bed to keep your dog comfortable when they sleep. But what about regular ear cleanings? Are you keeping up with your dog’s ear health? Routine monitoring for signs of excess earwax and using one of the best dog ear cleaners help stave off possible infections (or worse).
While different breeds have different shapes to their ears, every dog has the same structures. Working from the outside in, these include the:
- Pinna: The outer flap of the ear.
- Ear Canal: Starting outside the ear, the canal contains the glands that secrete earwax and oils.
- Eardrum: Also known as the tympanic membrane. The canal stops at the eardrum. This thin piece of tissue vibrates when struck by sound waves, generating signals to the brain that produce hearing.
- Inner Ear: Just past the eardrum is the middle ear and then the inner ear. The inner ear is composed of structures responsible for hearing and balance.
Ear infections can target any of these structures. Long-term or particularly nasty infections that penetrate to the level of the inner ear can result in loss of hearing (sometimes permanent) or a condition known as vestibular disease. Dogs that are vestibular lose the ability to know which way is up, often thrashing or “crocodile rolling” (remember, the inner ear controls balance). This isn’t only frightening for them; it’s terrifying for you. A lot of owners think their dog is having seizures. If the infection resolves, the dogs regain their balance.
When You Need a Dog Ear Cleaner
With so many dog ear cleaners available – and no need for a prescription – how do you choose the best one for your pup? Realistically, you need to talk with your veterinarian first. If your dog has any of the following signs, they might have an ear infection that requires more treatment:
- Frequent head shaking
- Pawing at their ears
- Foul smell
- Any drainage
- Noticeable swelling inside the canal
Your vet will recommend the best dog ear cleaners to use as well as a medication to follow. Always use the cleaner FIRST (otherwise, the medicine will get washed away). Some cleaners are better for different conditions (i.e., wax build-up, swimmers, maintaining pH balance, etc.). Your vet will direct you to your dog’s particular needs. Once you know, it’ll be easy to get refills on your own.
Keeping Your Dog’s Ears Clean
Your dog may not enjoy having their ears cleaned. And while you know avoiding infection is important, it’s difficult to explain that to those sad puppy eyes. Luckily, you CAN take steps to help keep your dog’s ears clean – even without dog ear cleaners.
NO Water Everywhere
When water gets down into the ear canal, it provides the perfect environment for bacteria, yeast, and fungus. So if you keep excess fluid from getting into your dog’s ears, you’ll go a long way to preventing problems.
Baths are often the biggest culprit here. You want to prevent water from going over your dog’s head. Instead of pouring water as part of the rinse, try using a washcloth. Then you’ll control where the bubbles and rinse water go.
If you have a pup who loves their swimming pool, meet them with a towel when they finish. You’ll get plenty of the extra water out of their ears.
Grooming and Hygiene
Some dogs have hair rather than fur (Bichons, Poodles, and Shih Tzus come to mind). The hair grows continuously – even in their ears. A regular trim will prevent extra moisture any time your dog ends up wet. Hair likes to trap things – say water, earwax, or dirt. If you keep the hair under control, you’ll also keep your dog’s ears healthy.
You CAN pluck these hairs, too. Of course, not everyone’s comfortable performing this grooming task. But your favorite Groomer will know the drill. Before those hairs build up, thinning them out will go a long way to promoting clean ears.
Healthy Dog, Healthy Ears
Of course, regular checks into your canine companion’s ears will let you know if you see changes. It’ll also desensitize your pup to working on their ears. Then you’ll know if something’s changing.
Regular treatment with flea and tick preventatives helps, too. Many contain medications that fend off ear mites – a common pest that likes to move into doggie ears.
Choosing a Dog Ear Cleaner
The best dog ear cleaners have similar features. Make sure you take some time to look at all of the options.
- Ingredients: Look for high-quality ingredients that won’t irritate your dog’s ears. If the ear canal is red, tissue is already sensitive, and certain chemicals like alcohol or hydrogen peroxide make the irritation worse. (This is why a chat with your vet is your best bet)
- Formula: What are you trying to accomplish? Some dog ear cleaners are multi-purpose: they clean, deodorize, and dry your dog’s ears in one step. Others address a specific problem, such as earwax or yeast. Make sure your cleaner does what you want.
- Wipes vs. Liquid: Dog ear cleaners fall into these two categories. You need to decide which one is ideal for you.
- Liquids are better suited for deep cleaning of the ear.
- Wipes remove dirt and debris from the pinna and outer portion of the ear canal.
- Ease of Use: If cleaning your dog’s ears is difficult, you’re going to find excuses to skip the chore. The best dog ear cleaners have easy-to-understand instructions without a lot of complicated steps.
Best Dog Ear Cleaners
Before starting your dog on a dog ear cleaner, check with your vet. Make sure your dog doesn’t have an infection, ear mites, or any other condition. You don’t want to inadvertently cause more issues – not when you’re acting in your dog’s best interests. Once you have the all-clear, you can start a regular cleaning routine. And then your pup will have sweet-swelling ears – free of itchies!
Burt’s Bees provides a dog ear cleaner with natural ingredients. They use witch hazel to help dry out excess moisture in the ear canal. Then you’ll find peppermint oil to soothe any irritation present. (It also leaves a nice scent behind) You only need a few drops at a time to keep your dog’s ears clean. That saves you on expensive trips for refills.
Downsides? You will see denatured alcohol in the ingredient list. So while the peppermint oil can help soothe things, you still need to check for any sores or rashes before you use this. And while this works well as a regular cleaner, it’s not intended to treat any infections.
MalAcetic has a unique formula to offer your dog. All-natural, it contains 2% acetic acid and 2% boric acid to fight and repel bacteria and other microbes. Acetic and boric acids make the ear canal inhospitable to fungus and bacteria without irritating sensitive tissue the way hydrogen peroxide and alcohol can. Dechra is an American company using high-quality ingredients. Best of all, MalAcetic is a hypoallergenic formula designed for dogs with allergies and skin sensitivities. It comes in a 16-ounce bottle that promises to last you a long time.
Downside? While it claims to have an apple scent, I disagree. The smell isn’t the most pleasant (and since our dog likes to shake her head, I wear it all the time). The said, this is the cleaner we use, and it does the job (I’ve made my peace with the “apple” scent).
Say you want a natural option for your dog, free of pharmaceutical ingredients and synthetic chemicals. EcoEars has you covered. The all-natural formula is safe to use on dogs with allergies and sensitive skin. It clears out wax build-up, leaving behind a pleasant scent. EcoEars is even willing to give you a 100% money-back guarantee (can’t beat that!)
The downsides? This cleaner contains denatured alcohol, which means it can irritate your dog’s ears. Despite the all-natural ingredients, some dogs react negatively to the cleaner, so keep an eye on your dog if they have allergies. Some owners also reported that while their dog’s ears smelled better, the dirt and debris stayed behind.
Dogs with particularly hairy ear canals need special consideration. Poodles, Poodle mixes, and Havanese are just some of the breeds with excessive hair growth into the ear canal. Since the hair serves as a breeding ground for mites and bacteria, regular hair plucking is necessary.
Ear powder, such as Miracle Care, helps remove hair quickly and painlessly. (Think about it – you wouldn’t pull your hair out without some help, would you?) The powder contains the following ingredients: zinc oxide, silicon dioxide, methyl salicylate, rosin, and bentonite, which not only remove the hair, but they also protect the ear canal from fungal and bacterial infections. Miracle Care is the first step in your dog’s ear care regimen.
So what are the downsides? Obviously, it doesn’t provide any actual cleaning. You need to use an additional cleaner for full ear health. Also, it can be messy to use.
Say you don’t want to deal with the hassle of liquid ear cleaner. Pet MD Wipes are an available alternative. The veterinary formula contains eucalyptus and aloe vera oil, which leaves a pleasant scent behind. Plus, aloe vera oil is soothing to irritated ear tissue. The wipes are easy to use and completely disposable, making clean-up a breeze. With their gentle formula, you can use them every day without fear of excessive drying of your dog’s ears.
Downsides? Many owners reported the wipes were smaller and thinner than they anticipated, making it harder to clean their dog’s ears. Also, as you get to the bottom of the container, the wipes get more and more saturated with liquid. This means you either have to squeeze them out first, or you need to wipe out your dog’s ears afterward.
Pet MD also offers a handy dog ear cleaner in their Tris Ear Flush. The gentle formula tackles fungus, yeast, and bacteria via ketoconazole. You’ll gently clear away dirt and debris, leaving behind a fresh-smelling doggie ear. And there’s no alcohol or peroxide to worry about. The bottle’s a good size, too. That means it’ll last you several months (or work for multiple dogs).
Downside? While your dog’s ears won’t smell iffy anymore, they WILL smell like an artificial chemical. This dog ear cleaner comes with a strong scent that people don’t enjoy – and dogs probably don’t, either.
Some dogs have FILTHY ears. A single daily cleaning may not do the trick. But dog ear cleaners aren’t always gentle enough for multiple cleanings. That’s where Vetoquinol comes in. The gentle formula works to clean, acidify, deodorize, and dry, but without such harsh chemicals. You can easily get away with three cleanings a day! It also comes in three sizes (including ONE GALLON), in case you have more than one problem child in the house.
Downsides? They use alcohol in their formula. This can lead to irritation, pain, or excessive drying. Make sure you’ve thoroughly checked your dog’s ears before you use this dog ear cleaner! It also has an unpleasant smell that doesn’t dissipate. And if your pup is struggling with yeast? This won’t do anything.
Epi-Otic comes in two versions: Regular and Advanced. Both formulas are low in pH, which discourages bacteria and fungus from growing within the ear. The Advanced formula contains the additional ingredient of salicylic acid (this class of medications encourages skin cells to shed). Salicylic acid promotes healthy drying of the ear canal, so pathogens don’t want to hang out there. The instructions are easy to follow, and it’s non-irritating for regular use.
The downsides? If your dog has an infection, additional medication will be needed (even with the Advanced formula). Also, as someone who’s worn her fair share of Epi-Otic, it STINKS. The bottle claims to smell like apples (why is it always apples?), but I beg to differ. (Paris is NOT bottling this as a perfume any time soon)
When you have a dog with itchy ears, you want to help as quickly as possible. Zymox’s Ear Cleaner combines enzymes and hydrocortisone to calm that irritation. The LP3 enzymes blend works nicely on bacterial, fungal, and yeast infections, to boot. And it’s gentle enough for daily use.
Downsides? The hydrocortisone is nice when your dog needs the anti-itch relief, but it can end up too strong for a daily dog ear cleaner. The cost for the small bottle also comes out on the high end. And while you may see those enzymes work for minor infections, don’t expect them to battle a severe ear infection.
Zymox Otic provides the convenience of a cleaner and treatment in one bottle (if your dog only wants to hold still for a short time). An enzymatic cleaner, it’s effective against yeast, fungal, and bacterial infections. Best of all, it’s made in the United States with high-quality products, and they never test on animals.
So what are the downsides? It IS known to irritate sensitive ears. It can also dry your dog’s ears TOO MUCH, which isn’t great. It’s on the expensive side, mostly due to the bottle’s small size compared with the amount needed. Make sure you read that label, too; this cleaner isn’t intended for long-term use.
Helping You Help Your Dog’s Ears
You don’t have to wait for a vet visit to check your dog’s ears. Take a peek whenever you give them skritches. Not only does this desensitize your dog to having their ears handled (a boon for ear cleaning time), it’ll alert you to potential problems. A dog in pain doesn’t allow the handling of their ears.
Armed with the best dog ear cleaner, you’ll keep your dog’s ears free of infection, excess earwax, debris, and the occasional blades of grass (if your dog is anything like ours). That will keep both of you happy – not to mention your vet proud!
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