By Dr. Jack Stephens
Pets Best Insurance President and Founder
Most pets don’t require much, if any, ear cleaning as they are usually able to keep their ears clean naturally. Pets that are routinely groomed will also have their ears cleaned by groomers as a part of the grooming process.
Floppy-eared pets, like Cocker Spaniels, will likely have more ear infections and problems than dogs with erect ears. It’s thought that “pinna” or floppy ears cover the ear canal which allows moisture and bacteria to accumulate. The lack of air flow and the inability to shake out normal accumulations of wax may be why these types of dogs typically have more problems.
On a routine basis, usually when you bathe your dog or cat, you should monitor pet health by inspecting your pet’s ears as far as you can see inside the ear opening. Take a cotton ball and wipe the ear clear of wax and dirt that has accumulated. You can use alcohol on the cotton swab to help in the cleaning process but be sure not to use alcohol if there are any open sores, wounds or infection, as this will cause a painful stinging sensation to your pet. Also, a mixture of boric acid or other commercially available ear cleaner can be used on the cotton ball. For dogs with a history of infections, your veterinarian can provide you better cleansers to use on a routine basis as a preventative measure.
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Look for Foxtails (grass awns) around or in the ear after walks. Foxtails are those nasty things that get stuck in your socks when you walk through vacant fields with unkempt grass. Foxtails are especially prone to get into dogs ears and occasionally cats. Once in the ear canal, Foxtails cause ear infections and can only be removed by a veterinarian after sedating or anesthetizing the animal. Symptoms are usually sudden and the animal will generally repeatedly shake their head to try and rid themselves of the irritant.
Foxtails can also get lodged in the nose, between the toes and even the skin, causing infection and often resulting in removal surgery. These are a huge problem for pets in the summer months, causing many emergency visits. After your pet has been in a field where there are grass awns, give them a good brushing and inspection, especially near the ears. Early detection and removal may prevent an infection from forming.
If your pet’s ears have an accumulation of crusty reddish brown material in the ear, have a bad odor or there is repeated shaking of the head (ear flopping) you need to have their ears examined by your veterinarian. Unlike human ears, dogs and cats ear are vertical downward and then have a bend to a horizontal section leading to the ear drum. This anatomy makes dogs and cats much more prone to ear infections than humans. In fact ear infections (otitis externa) are one of the most common causes for a veterinary visit. Only dermatitis has a higher incidence of claims for pet health insurance than ear infections.
It is important to desensitize your pet to ear, foot and mouth inspections by starting your pet off at an early age with gentle manual handling. Open your pet’s mouth, pull the ear flap back on floppy eared pets and place your finger in the outer ear area and then one at a time, hold each of your pet’s feet, while inspecting between the toes. After each inspection, provide your pet with a treat and praise. Do so at least weekly with older pets and more often with pets less than six months old. The more you handle your pet at an early age, the better they will allow inspection by you or your veterinarian when needed.
If conditioned with positive reinforcement (treats) they will also experience less stress and better tolerance when treatments are needed. This can save you money by them allowing you to inspect at home and perhaps avoiding the need for sedation or anesthesia when a problem develops. Prevention, by inspecting your pet for Foxtails in the summer and regular monthly cleaning of the outer ear (our ear lobe) may go a long way to avoiding a costly veterinary visit.
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