Ear Infections

Is your dog shaking their head?

Please remember this information does not replace proper vet care.

Holistic veterinarian Stacey Hershman, of Nyack, New York, took an interest in ear infections when she became a veterinary technician in her teens. “This is a subject that isn’t covered much in vet school,” she says. “I learned about treating ear infections from the veterinarians I worked with over the years. Because they all had different techniques, I saw dozens of different treatments, and I kept track of what worked and what didn’t.”

Maintenance cleaning

Dr. Hershman’s healthy ears program starts with maintenance cleaning with ordinary cotton balls and cotton swabs. “This makes a lot of people nervous,” she says, “but the canine ear canal isn’t straight like the canal in our ears. Assuming you’re reasonably gentle, you can’t puncture the ear drum or do any structural damage.”

Moisten the ear with green tea brewed as for drinking and cooled to room temperature, or use an acidic ear cleanser that does not contain alcohol. Dr. Hershman likes green tea for its mildness and its acidifying, antibacterial properties, but she also recommends peach-scented Derma- Pet MalAcetic Otic Ear Cleanser or Halo Natural Herbal Ear Wash.

“Don’t pour the cleanser into the dog’s ear,” she warns, “or it will just wash debris down and sit on the ear drum, irritating it.” Instead, she says, lift the dog’s ear flap while holding a moistened cotton ball between your thumb and index finger. Push the cotton down the opening behind the tragus (the horizontal ridge you see when you lift the ear flap) and scoop upward. Use a few dry cotton balls to clean out normal waxy buildup.

Next, push a Q-tip into the vertical ear canal until it stops, then scoop upward while rubbing it against the walls of the vertical canal. Repeat several times, rubbing on different sides of the vertical canal. Depending on how much debris is present in each ear, you can moisten one or several cotton balls and use two or more Q-tips.

“You don’t want to push so hard that you cause pain,” she says, “but for maintenance cleaning using gentle pressure, it’s impossible to harm the eardrum. I refer to the external ear canal as an L-shaped tunnel, and I tell owners to think of the vertical canal as a cone of cartilage. People are always amazed at how deep the dog’s ear canal can go. I often have them hold the end of the Q-tip while I demonstrate cleaning so they feel confident about doing it correctly without hurting their dogs.”

If excessive discharge requires the use of five or more Q-tips, or if the discharge is thick, black, or malodorous, Dr. Hershman recommends an ear flush.

For more on diagnosing and treating ear infections, purchase Ear Infections by Whole Dog Journal.