Unfortunately, ear infections in dogs are pretty common. If left untreated, they can get really bad, spreading to the inner ear and putting your dog at risk for deafness, facial paralysis, eye issues, or worse.
“The ear canal is a dark, damp, deep environment that doesn’t get a lot of air,” explains Dr. Carol Osborne, author and doctor of veterinary medicine at Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic. “So it’s a medium for bacteria and fungi to flourish.”
Regularly using a trusted dog ear cleaner can help prevent your dog from getting an infection in the first place. This is especially true if they’re a breed that’s particularly prone to ear infections, such as those with floppy ears (Think: Cocker Spaniels), those with lots of long or thick hair (such as Poodles), or those that spend a lot of time swimming (aka Golden Retrievers and Labradors.)
What to Look For in a Dog Ear Cleaner
We asked veterinarians what they recommend looking for in an at-home ear cleaner for dogs. Here are some shopping tips they suggest:
Choose a Vet-Approved Solution
The internet is full of homemade ear-cleaning solution recipes for dogs, but products that you buy in stores are often the safest choice because most go through extensive testing and clearly label ingredients. Some homemade ear-cleaning solutions can be harmful or irritating to the delicate skin in your dog’s ear.
Stick With Liquid Ear Cleaners
“[A] liquid ear cleaning solution is generally much more effective than wipes because dogs’ ear canals are quite long and narrow and actually have a right-angle shape,” explains Dr. Jamie Richardson, veterinarian and chief medical officer at Small Door Veterinary. “So wipes aren’t able to reach down into the canal to clean it.”
Liquid cleaners are also better at dislodging waxy gunk because, explains Dr. Antoinette Martin, veterinarian at North Mecklenburg Animal Hospital and Hello Ralphie.
“By squirting it into the canal, massaging the base of the ear, and then letting your dog shake it out, we can use the force of that shake to just get out all of that debris,” she explains.
That said, if your dog is anxious about ear cleaning or is new to it, Richardson says ear wipes for dogs can help as an interim solution to remove some of the debris. ”
Check the Ingredients
Be sure there isn’t anything in your dog cleaner that might be harmful.
“One of the big ingredients to watch out for, in my experience, is tea tree oil,” says Osborne. “I have seen dogs have all kinds of adverse reactions to that.”
The active ingredients will also give you an idea of what the cleaner does:
- Salicylic acid and lactic acid are antimicrobial, meaning they work best at preventing yeast or mild bacterial infections.
- Hydrocortisone helps combat itchiness.
- Ketoconazole is an antifungal treatment.
Consider Your Dog’s Specific Needs
Remember, some cleaners work better at removing wax, while others are better at drying an ear after swimming. Some are also medicated to prevent yeast, bacteria, or fungi from growing in the ear. Your veterinarian can discuss what your dog is most at risk for and point you in the right direction if you’re not sure what to get.
Almost all of the veterinarians that we spoke with for this article recommend this cleaner. It’s “a great general product for dogs with chronic ear issues,” says Richardson, that is “backed by scientific evidence showing [it] supports the pH of the ear and epidermal barrier, and reduces debris.”
Dr. Jerry T. Moore, retired veterinarian with 30 years experience and veterinary advisor at Bow Wow Labs agrees. “It has been around for many years and it’s safe, gentle, and pleasant smelling.”
- Has a nice citrus smell.
- It’s available in two bottle sizes.
- Works for dogs with allergies, sensitive ears, or chronic ear infections.
- Easily removes waxy debris.
- Contains a drying agent (salicylic acid) to dry out the ear canal.
Things to Consider:
- Some reviewers said it didn’t work as well for their pets with really waxy ears.
- Only vailable in 4oz and 8oz bottle sizes.