Use of ear cleaners discussed in

Pet health care questions and answers about puppies and dogs

All About Cleaning A Dog's Ears
Could the "ear cleaner" applications be
 contributing to your dog's ear troubles?

Important tips to consider before you clean your dog's ears.
There are few problems in dogs that are as common as those associated with the ears.  Learn about the correct way to clean a dog's ears and how to treat a few common ear disorders.  In many cases of otitis (inflammation of the ears) the underlying problem has not been identified... and you, the dog's owner, has not been shown just how to correctly apply medications or clean the ears.  Read on...

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 Can you tell me why I have to go back to the veterinarian about twice a year, every year, to get all sorts of ridiculously expensive topical medications and ear cleaners and shots and pills for my dogs' ear problems?
     Why isn't there something that will cure ear problems and be done with it?  I'm about ready to give up.
Answer:   dog ear cleaners... how to clean ears... ear cleaner otitis
I can't count the times I have heard your exact words over the past 45 years of small animal practice.  I believe I, and some of my fellow veterinarians, sometimes have not fully explained exactly what is going on in your individual dog's ear environment and why the otitis reoccurs.  When we identify the Why it reoccurs we can then work on how to prevent flare-ups.  Treatment will work best if it is customized for your unique dog or cat.
     Reoccurring otitis can be primary or secondary.  A primary reason would be genetic driven anatomy such as excessive sebum production onto the skin of the external ear surfaces, deep or crooked ear canals, folds of ear tissue obstructing normal aeration and drying of the the deep canal areas.  These cases may need surgical intervention to excise the abnormal folds and to remove the vertical portion of the ear canal via a lateral ear canal resection.

     Ear cleaner otitis is assumed to be present when the ear tissues are inflammed and irritated but visibly  "clean"  and do not have a buildup of wax and debris.  If the pet owner repeatedly applies ear cleaner and the signs of discomfort, reddened tissues and swelling persist, use of the ear cleaner should be stopped. 
     When the ear cleaner use is stopped and the ear tissue inflammation (redness, itchiness, pain) ceases, an ear cleaner sensitivity is likely.  Only use an ear cleaner when visible waxy debris buildup is present.

     Secondary causes of chronic otitis are those induced by environment, diet, allergy and immune competence.  The end result of these secondary causes will be itchy, inflamed, ulcerative and infected tissues.  If the Lateral ear canal excision may be needed in chronic otitis conditionssecondary cause is not eliminated, no matter what you do to clean or disinfect the ear, the signs of otitis will return.       So getting at the cause of the otitis is mandatory for efficient control of the reoccurring problem.  Your veterinarian may need to do bacterial culturing, biopsies, microscopic analyses of surface debris, allergy testing and dietary upgrades.  As well, chronic otitis problems can result from using ear cleaners if the cleaner initiates an allergic sensitivity in the very tissues it is being used to treat! 
     If the ear tissues are clean (no waxy debris seen, no dark debris buildup) and are simply reddened and itchy or painful, ear cleaner is not indicated and shouldn't be used.
     It is interesting to keep in mind that the dog's external ear anatomy and ear canal configuration constitutes a perfect incubator of microbes!  Bacteria, yeast, and fungi love the extra oily secretions from affected dermal lining on which these organisms thrive.  The ear environment is dark, moist, retains moisture and is difficult for us humans to inspect and wipe clean.
     If debris and dark, waxy buildup gradually return after the ear skin surfaces have been cleaned, and no infection is present, occasional use Post operative view of the lateral ear canal surgery on a dogof simple alcohol dampened cotton balls to dissolve and remove the wax may be an ideal way to swab away any debris or oily buildup.
     Most dogs never need to have their ears cleaned.  Most dogs with hairs in their external ear tissues and canals never need to have the hairs plucked.  Unless debris is present such as dirt, wax, shed hair, oily secretions or foreign material in the external ear structures no ear cleaning needs to be done.  Many ear problems are caused by inflammation of ear tissues resulting from allergy, anatomical predispositions, contact with irritants such as pollens, house dust, or lake/pond water containing algae, microorganisms, plant material and suspended particles. 
     Repeatedly treating reoccurring "ear infections" often fails to cure the problem permanently because the infections (usually bacteria and yeast organisms) are secondary outcomes from another, primary cause.  If we don't discover the cause of the organisms' overgrowth we will be never fully correct the ear problems.  
Learn more...

  Information about ear cleaners and ear drying agents
Some of the data below is derived from Plumb's Veterinary Handbook, 5th Edition, 2005, Donald C. Plumb, Pharm.D.; pp.1204-1205

Ear cleaners differ from ear astringents. Cleaners are supposed to loosen, dissolve, lubricate and adsorb (stick to) debris and foreign material.

Common ingredients often present in "dog ear cleaners"

Common activities claimed for many "dog ear cleaners"

ear cleaning highlights   SD-Alcohol
ear cleaning highlights   90% isopropyl alcohol
ear cleaning highlights   Lactic Acid  
ear cleaning highlights   Benzoic Acid
ear cleaning highlights   Acetic Acid
ear cleaning highlights   Salicylic Acid
ear cleaning highlights   Boric acid
ear cleaning highlights   Citric acid
ear cleaning highlights   Malic acid
ear cleaning highlights   Cocamidopropyl betaine
ear cleaning highlights   Isoteramidopropyl morpholine lactate
ear cleaning highlights   Dioctyl-Sodium Sulfosuccinate
ear cleaning highlights   Glycerin
ear cleaning highlights   Allantoin
ear cleaning highlights   Nonoxynol 12
ear cleaning highlights   Chlorhexadine gluconate
ear cleaning highlights   Aloe Vera Gel
ear cleaning highlights   Surfactants
ear cleaning highlights   Urea (carbamide) peroxide
ear cleaning highlights   Fragrances
ear cleaning highlights   Carbamide peroxide
ear cleaning highlights   Lidocaine
ear cleaning highlights   Aluminum acetate
ear cleaning highlights   Oil of Eucalyptus
ear cleaning highlights   Saline (0.9% sodium chloride)
ear cleaning highlights   Cleans
ear cleaning highlights   Aids prevention of infections
ear cleaning highlights   Acidifies
ear cleaning highlights   Deodorizes
ear cleaning highlights   Dries


Ear cleaners for dogs have a wide variety of ingredients

CAUTIONS:  If the pet frequently shakes it's head or scratches it's ears or if inflammation or irritation is present, discontinue use and consult your veterinarian.

Astringents are used as "drying agents".  They disperse moisture (water) and aid in the evaporation of water from the ear canal and ear surfaces.

Common ingredients often present in astringent otic preparations

Common activities claimed for many dog ear astringents

ear cleaning highlights   Water
ear cleaning highlights   Alcohol
ear cleaning highlights   Deionized water
ear cleaning highlights   Butylene Glycol
ear cleaning highlights   Carbomer
ear cleaning highlights   Chloroxylenol
ear cleaning highlights   AMP  ( )
ear cleaning highlights   Perfumes
ear cleaning highlights   Colorants
ear cleaning highlights   Colloidal sulfur
ear cleaning highlights   Acetic acid
ear cleaning highlights   Hydrocortisone
ear cleaning highlights   Burrows solution
ear cleaning highlights   Saline (0.9% sodium chloride)

ear cleaning highlights  Dries the tissue surface
ear cleaning highlights  Deodorizes
ear cleaning highlights  Sanitizes
ear cleaning highlights  Relieves itching
ear cleaning highlights  Prevents infections

CAUTIONS:  If inflammation or irritation occurs after use discontinue use and consult your veterinarian.  Do not use on inflamed, ulcerated ears. Do not use if a ruptured ear drum is suspected.  Avoid contact with eyes or mucus membranes; if contact occurs, flush with water.

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Depending upon the ingredients, otic preparations are useful as cleaners, antiseptics, astringents, flushes, antibacterial, antifungal, antiyeast, antipruritic, antinflammatory and antiparasitic actions.  It s vital to choose the correct product and to use it according to label instructions (some must be diluted before use).  Resolving and managing a pet's ear disorder depends upon a correct diagnosis first and secondarily upon treating with the appropriate medication.

Click on an image to view a larger version in a new window

Dog ear normal external tissues Image of a dog's outer ear tissues and base of pinna. Waxy material in a dogs ear Ear cartilage structures in a dog
A normal ventral pinna and external ear tissues in a dog.  The ear canal descends downward an inch or so and then bends inward toward the skull.  The ear drum is located deep at the end of this "L- shaped" ear canal.  Any cleaning solution or medication should not be forced or pushed deeply into the ear canal. A normal ventral pinna and external ear tissues in a dog.  Occasional wiping away of oil/wax/debris may be needed using a cotton ball or Q-tip.  Ear cleaners should be reserved for cases where the ear tissues and canal are markedly occluded with debris. Ordinary waxy buildup on a dog's external ear tissues... yeast organisms are causing irritation.  Simple gentle wiping away of the waxy material may be all this dog needs.  A cotton ball moistened with ordinary alcohol quickly cuts through the way and oil and then evaporates in seconds leaving the ear surfaces clean and dry. Ear cleaning solution being applied gently downward into the vertical ear canal.  Careful massaging will mobilize the debris and push the cleaner and debris upward where it can be wiped away and the ear tissues rinsed with water and dried.

Occasionally an ear cleaner triggers inflammation in some dogs!

Ear cleaners should be used only
 when large amounts of free debris
 have built up on the ear tissues.

Anatomical changes can predispose the dog to long term otitis problems.

Ear tissue overgrowth (hypertrophy)
is a result of long term inflammation
from allergy, infection, or irritants.

Chronic yeast infection in a dog's ear.

Chronic yeast infections are often mistaken
 for allergic otitis and if not treated properly
will create long term problems.

Basic principles of ear health care and ear cleaning in dogs

ear cleaning highlights  A cotton ball moistened with rubbing alcohol, which is a true solvent for dissolving wax and oil and an antiseptic, can make an excellent ear cleaning tool.  Hydrogen peroxide is useful for clearing away dead cells and pus but won't dissolve oily or waxy debris and shouldn't be applied to newly healing tissues. 
Clippers are used  to trim away hair and debris from the external
ear tissues prior to ear cleaning
How to clean a dog's ear How to clean a dog's ear How to clean a dog's ear How to clean a dog's ear
The external ear tissues are encrusted with dried wax, oil, dead cells and dried pus.  Ear cleaner is applied and gently massaged to loosen waxy debris. Do not use cloth rags, gauze or other rough-surfaced material to wipe away debris and cleaner.  After gentle (GENTLE!) massaging
of the ear tissues the cleaner is rinsed away with warm water.
 The ear tissues are gently wiped clean and dry with cotton or kleenex.  A Q-tip can be used cautiously to wipe in folds or the opening to the deep ear canal. The external ear tissues are
now clean and dry... inflammation
is controlled with appropriate medications.  Now that the tissues are clean ear cleaner may not be needed again as long as you daily  wipe away any new debris or wax.
ear cleaning highlights   Do not use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to clean ear or skin tissues where active healing is occurring.  Peroxide and alcohol may damage newly formed skin cells.  For swabbing away oily or waxy buildup, alcohol in cotton swabs works much better than peroxide
ear cleaning highlights  Do not use "ear cleaners" in ears that do not need cleaning.  Over-use of "ear cleaners" can cause irritation in normal tissues and even trigger a contact sensitivity to ingredients in the cleaning solution.  Learn more...
ear cleaning highlights  Moisture is our enemy.  The reason is that micro-organisms require moisture to thrive and reproduce!  (That's why freeze-dried products don't spoil very quickly.)  Wetness in the ear canal or on the surface of the external ear tissues permits normal organisms to overgrow and create problems.
ear cleaning highlights  Many ear cleaning products evaporate very slowly which keeps the skin surfaces moist thereby promoting yeast and bacterial reproduction.
ear cleaning highlights  Many ear cleaners, and a few medications, can sensitize the skin surfaces of the ears creating inflammation, itching and even a contact allergy situation.  Learn more...
ear cleaning highlights  Most dogs have no ill effects from occasional contact with water on their ear tissues or ear canals from swimming, bathing or being out in the rain.  Persistent moisture, however, will eventually promote organism overgrowth.  
ear cleaning highlights  Ear problems do occur in dogs whose ears (pinnas) have been cropped.
ear cleaning highlights  If the dog's diet isn't of high quality, all sorts of minor ear problems will definitely be magnified.  Resistance to infection, optimal sebum production by the skin's oil (sebaceous) glands, and strength and vitality of every cell in the body is impacted by a poor diet.  Learn more...
ear cleaning highlights  Nutritional supplements such as fatty acids and vitamins can assist optimal nutritional intake but are not necessarily required if the main diet is a high quality meat-based diet.
ear cleaning highlights  "Plucking the ears"... pulling the hairs out of the ear canal and external ear area is usually not required if the dog has no ear problems.  Hair removal may be indicated if an infection is present.  Hair in the canals by itself, though, does not cause ear infections.
ear cleaning highlights  If an infection does occur in the ear canal, hairs provide a much greater surface area fon which organisms thrive.  The hairs often trap oil and wax secretions.  Hair, wax, oil and debris in the ear canal will prevent proper drying of the ear canal surfaces and then may need to be removed to assist in resolving the ear canal infection.
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