Have you looked inside your dog or cat’s ears lately? What are all those humps, bumps, and wrinkles? It does look complicated, but this is actually the least problematic part of the ear. Ear troubles actually come from the smooth, apparently simple tunnel just beyond the ridges and bumps. Ear infections are an extremely common complaint in the dog and cat and a source of intense frustration for many pet owners and vets as well. Here are a few tips for keeping your pet out of the clinic.


Ear canals should be kept dry whenever possible. Never flush the ear with water; in fact, you should be protecting it from accidental wetting during baths. Stuff the ears gently with a cotton ball (don’t forget to remove this afterwards) or just forego shampooing above the shoulder. If your pet swims a lot, you can help to repel moisture by applying a few drops of oil-based ear cleaner before and after swimming. In a pinch, fragrance-free baby oil or mineral oil will also do the trick.


When it comes to routine cleaning, follow this simple rule: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Ear cleaning solutions are obviously formulated to be as gentle as possible for the normal ear, but when we disturb the normal ear repeatedly by introducing something foreign, we run the risk of creating a problem. If there is a lot of waxy debris visible, but the ear is not itchy, just moisten a gauze (in the drugstore under “wound care”) with ear cleaner, wrap it over your finger, and use this to wipe the ridges clean. That way, you can avoid disturbing the delicate ear canal beyond. I don’t recommend using type cotton swabs (like “Q tips”) unless you can see the fluffy end at all times. Delving deeper exposes your pet to the risk of a broken ear drum and tends to pack unseen debris even tighter into a very confined area.


If your pet is shaking her head a lot or scratching constantly at the ear, she has probably developed an infection. You could try a deep cleansing of the ear canal—by applying a liberal amount of solution and massaging it in from the outside—but don’t bother attempting this more than once. If there isn’t a dramatic improvement right away, you’ll need to see the vet. As a general rule, ear infections are not treatable with over-the-counter products. Never use hydrogen peroxide in the ear. The skin of the ear canal is too delicate for this product, and it serves virtually no purpose in there. Neosporin and other ointments won’t reach deep enough. Don’t treat an infection with ear mite medicine unless you have solid evidence of actual mites. They’re not an especially common problem, except in kittens. Don’t waste your time and money trying to fix a painful, itchy ear at home; just get to the clinic. When the ear canal is suffering, your vet has lots of experience in providing a quick and—hopefully—permanent resolution.


Dr M.S. Regan