Your pet’s ears: how to clean and medicate north Florida Animal Rescue Wellborn, fl 386-963-1354

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North Florida Animal Rescue * Wellborn, FL * 386-963-1354

Tracie A. Daniels, DVM
This is a summary of how to use ear cleaners or treatment products in dogs and cats. Just like people, some animals produce more ear wax than others. Your pet may need minimal to no ear care during its life. Many cats and upright-eared dogs have fewer problems because there is no moisture-trapping by a long ear that covers the ear opening. But, if you have a breed with long ears (Bassets / Cocker Spaniels), a breed with “twisted” ear canals (Shar-Pei, some English Bulldogs or Frenchies), or a dog who swims a lot, you will have to be dedicated to ear maintenance to help prevent long-term problems.
It is VERY important to realize that even if you don’t have a breed of pet known for ear problems, it is quite common for underlying allergic skin disease to cause ear inflammation and often secondary infections. In fact, allergies in many dogs and a few cats can show up as ear inflammation, also called otitis, and if you have chronic ear problems this may be an underlying cause.
In this practice we recommend the ear product VET Solutions Ear Cleaner for routine maintenance cleaning and for use after swimming.

  • If your pet is a cat, it may be very beneficial to make a loose “cat burrito” by gently wrapping the cat in a big thick towel so that only the head sticks out and the cat can’t back up into the towel. Two people may be required. May be useful for small dogs as well!

  • Cotton-tipped applicators or Q-tips can be used to remove dirt and debris after using a cleaning solution, but ONLY insert them as far as you can see the tip. Never stick them down deeper than you can see, and be careful not to push wax and dirt further down the vertical canal.

  • Grooming tip! If you are washing your dog or cat, some fill up the ear canals with cleaner, let them shake it out, and put in cotton balls during bathing to prevent water from going down into the canals.

  • Know the anatomy. The ear canal makes a “L” shape, with a vertical part and a horizontal part. Q tips and cotton balls are only used to remove dirt and debris from the vertical canal

and inside ear (pinna).


Gently hold up the ear flap and squeeze the solution until it fills up the ear canal. Don’t let go of the ear yet!!! Then use your fingers to massage the vertical canal gently--make a soft swishing noise—and THEN let go. Animals will often shake their head, so be prepared and wear an old shirt and perhaps do this in the bathtub or outside. Use cotton balls to gently wipe out any dirt in the external ear.


For mild wax and dirt, follow the same above procedure but massage longer, for example 5 minutes. Let the pet shake its head. Repeat. Many times the dirt and wax will loosen and be easier to remove after longer contact time with the cleaner. Again, it is okay and necessary to remove debris with cotton balls and Q-tips or cotton-tipped applicators GENTLY and in the external part of the ear only. Be patient and never use force, the ear lining can become irritated and bleed.


First of all, remember than many of these ears are also infected or inflamed, and may be painful. These procedures may not be comfortable for the pet, and the initial cleaning might be best done by a vet in the office or sometimes even under sedation or anesthesia. Anti-inflammatory medication may also be prescribed first for a few days before cleansing is recommended.

Two steps will often be required: 1) Use of a foaming/loosening agent 2) Use of a rinsing agent
First use an ear loosening / foaming agent which will begin to gently dissolve the wax and loosen dirt. Hold up the ear, as described above, fill the vertical canal, and MASSAGE for at least 5 minutes if possible. Let your pet shake its head. You may need to repeat this step for extremely nasty ears. Then use cotton balls or cotton-tipped applicators to gently remove large clumps of debris. Always finish by using a rinsing solution, which helps restore the pH of the ear lining, coats the ear to repel moisture and promotes drying. Please only use foaming agents and rinsing agents the vet says are safe for your pet.

When the ear canal lining is swollen so much that the opening into the vertical canal is very small (narrowed) or almost nonexistent, this is called stenosis. This can be from chronic inflammation but occasionally is breed related. Similarly, if infection or allergic inflammation persists, the ear lining tissue starts to thicken—this is called hyperplasia. These ears will be challenging. Consult the veterinarian. Sometimes surgery is required for long-term health.

What if I have been given an ear cleaner and also a medication, which do I use first?

Ask the veterinarian to be sure. Often if there is so much waxy buildup or dirt present that the medication can’t reach the ear lining, it will be necessary to first clean the ears, wait a few hours, then apply medications. Sometimes the veterinarian will want the ears cleaned out one good time and then only medications will be applied for the duration of treatment for an infection. After the infection is gone, then the cleaner can be used only as needed for routine use.


Remember that the treatment needs to get down into the ear canal. (Occasionally instructions will also include application to the inside ear flap). Hold up the ear flap and aim down toward the opening of the vertical canal, apply the medicine, and massage in. For ointments, only insert the long tip down as far as you can see it. For drops, if you don’t think enough has reached the canal, apply a few more drops and massage below the ear over the vertical canal.

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