There are many aspects to grooming your dog, whether a working or pet dog. Tuesday we talked about the importance of oral cleanliness for your dog and today I thought we'd talk about ears.
Dogs ears are not designed in the same way a human's is; especially if you have a floppy eared dog like Glacier who is a Labrador. The floppy ears serve a lot of functions, including keeping debris and other foreign bodies out of the dog's ear canal, but those floppy, fuzzy ears that you love so much also keep things trapped inside. Bacteria and fungus like to grow and live in dark, warm, moist places. Your dog's ears are the perfect breeding grounds for unwanted friends if not properly cared for.
The first time around at Leader Dogs for the Blind, we were instructed to lift the dog's ear and wipe out the inside with a tissue. We were also encouraged to push the tissue as far down the dog's ear opening as possible in order to reach any lurking ear wax. I have taken this practice and added to it as I felt that just pushing a tissue into the canal would push the wax further into the ear. I honestly don't know what we were told the second time, six years later, as I wasn't obligated to attend that lecture. Since my first experience at LDB though, I took what they taught me and read up on more ear cleaning practices. From all of that information, I came up with my own ear cleaning routine. As I said in the post about teeth cleaning, this is what works for my dogs, Glacier and Roscoe, but may not necessarily be the best routine for your dog's needs. A poodle, for example, has fur that grows in his/her ear canal that needs to be trimmed/plucked out in order to keep the ear clean. Labradors obviously do not need this more intensive ear cleaning.
I first have the boys sit and I then stand behind him with my feet planted on either side of him. I can also do this sitting on a chair or couch and sometimes do it that way as well. I start by wiping out the outer ear with a clean, non-abrasive tissue. I find toilet paper or a Kleenex works just fine. I never use the same tissue on a different ear. This is to ensure that infection or dirt does not spread from one ear to another or from one dog to another.
After the outer ear has been wiped out, I use an ear cleaning solution and gently dump it down the dog's ear canal. A vet should be able to show you how if you are uncomfortable doing it. Because I can't see the ear canal, I slide the tip of the ear cleaning bottle into the hole and let the liquid pour in. The boys aren't really big fans of the ear cleaning solution as I imagine it's cold and probably blocks his hearing for a brief moment, but the solution is really important; especially for Roscoe since his ears always create way too much wax. After pouring the solution in, I gently massage the base of the ear to ensure the solution has entered the ear canal. I don't let the dog shake his head until I am sure the solution has penetrated deep enough. Some may splash out when the dog shakes, but as long as you got solution in and it remained in for a short time, it should do its job.
Selection of the ear cleaning solution can be slightly confusing as there are several different types on the market. I usually buy mine from the vet as they are more often than not made from natural ingredients and have a lower alcohol content. The bottle is about ten Canadian dollars and lasts six to eight months, depending on how often it needs to be used. I had ear cleaning solution last me so long that I had to pitch it because it had expired. I am also a huge fan of Halo's ear cleaning solution, but Halo is not available in the UK. It is all natural and works very well from my experience. There are also home made recipes that you can use floating around on the internet and I've used them as well. I've had to tweak a few as they asked for some strange things, but when in a pinch, I made one from water, alcohol and vinegar. It doesn't smell so nice, but it does the trick. Roscoe had a full blown ear infection and when I used this home made concoction twice, his ears cleared up. That said, ear cleaning solutions do not take the place of vet visits and anti-biotics if the dog's ears are really infected. I'm all about treating your animal naturally where possible, but sometimes vet advice and assistance is necessary.
A word of caution with regards to ear cleaners: a lot of them have a high alcohol content which can dry out the dog's ear. This in itself is not healthy. Dogs, as do humans, need ear wax. It is a defense mechanism against foreign bodies entering the ear and causing sickness. Roscoe is a special case because of his wheat allergy and so has his ears flushed out with cleaner probably every seven to ten days. Glacier on the other paw, only needs his ears flushed out once a month with cleaner. I still wipe his ears out with a tissue, but the cleaner is used sparingly. This is a prime example of how each grooming routine must be tailored to your dog's particular needs.
Another thing to be aware of is that if your dog is getting frequent ear infections, then perhaps something in his/her diet is not agreeing with him/her. Roscoe's body does not like wheat/grains, and we've most recently discovered, something used in dry kibble. In order to reduce the amount of ear wax his body produces, we avoid foods/treats with wheat/grains. We've also added a teaspoon of unpasturized honey to the boys' diet and have noticed a huge difference. Unpasturized honey has anti-bacterial properties and seems to help with Roscoe's reaction to wheat/grain. I first discovered how helpful honey could be when researching how to go about feeding Glacier and Roscoe a raw diet and was reminded of it when reading a fellow blogger's blog. Knowing that it helped, we gave it a shot and it has made a difference. I even tried taking him off of the honey after he'd been ingesting it for about a month and the wax build up in his ears increased again. So, unpasturized honey was added back to his diet.
Jetta is another example of what a diet change could mean. When she was about four or five I noticed that she was getting ear infections nearly every three months and her mouth smelled yeasty. Upon talking with a friend, who is as much of a dog lover as I am, I began to realise that she might be allergic to chicken. She had eaten chicken all of her life and so her body had stopped metabolizing it properly. It made sense: people don't eat the same protein source every day for their entire lives. I switched her to a grain free, fish based food and her ears cleared up and her mouth stopped smelling like yeast.
My point with all of this rambling is that ears need to be cleaned, but if they are requiring multiple vet visits a year due to ear infections, it may be time to examine the label of your dog's food bag. If you read the post on teeth cleaning, I may sound like a broken record, but your dog's diet is the utmost important preventative measure you can take. If you feed your dog a quality food that he/she can metabolize well and clean his/her ears regularly, you will reduce the vet visits you make and hence save you a few bucks as well.