Examining and Medicating the Ears of a Dog
This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care.
Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.
In the photographs below, unless otherwise noted, the dog is facing
with her nose pointing to your right.
Variations on these instructions exist.
Ear cleaning and medicating can be messy so cover good clothes and work
on a surface that is easy to clean.
Most dogs do not like having their ears cleaned. Some dogs will happily
sit in your lap or on a table while you clean or medicate their ears but
many require some form of restraint.
One method to restrain the dog is to place her/him on a
table. Stand on the side of the table opposite to the ear you
are medicating; in the photograph the right ear is being
Drape your right arm over the dog's shoulders. Wrap your left
arm around the head and neck and use the finger tips of the left
hand to push the ear flap back and up to expose the inner
surface of the ear.
If the dog tries to stand, lean your upper body over his/her shoulders to
prevent him/her from rising.
||If your dog is too wiggly, try
laying him/her on his/her side. Reach over his/her neck with
your left arm and firmly grasp the elbow of the leg closest to
the table. Always hold the leg close to the elbow, NOT close to
Keep your left elbow on his/her neck to prevent
him/her from picking up his/her head. Use the fingers of your
right hand to pull back the ear flap to expose the inner side of
the ear. If the ear flaps are long, you can tuck the ear flap
under your left elbow.
Holding the medication bottle in your right hand, place the prescribed
number of drops of medication into the ear canal.
It is easier to perform this procedure if you have a helper. See the
restraining a dog for some additional
Anatomy of the normal dog ear
The ear has 3 major parts:
- outer ear
- middle ear
- inner ear
The outer ear consists of the ear flap (also called the pinna)
which can be upright (a prick ear) or floppy. The ear flap funnels sound
into the ear canal. Unlike humans that have a very short ear canal, dogs
have a long narrow ear canal that makes almost a 90 degree bend as it
travels to the deeper parts of the ear.
The outer ear cannel is separated from the middle ear by a thin
membrane called the eardrum or tympanic membrane. The ear drum is very
fragile and can be damaged by ear disease or during ear cleaning. The middle
ear consists of 3 small bones, an air filled cavity called the bulla and a
thin tube (the eustachian tube) leading from the bulla to the back of the
The inner ear connects to the brain and contains nerves and centers for
balance and hearing. The following picture shows a diagram of the right ear
as it appears if you are looking at the dog's head from the front. A CT scan
of the head is pictured on the right.
Dogs have many more ear problems than cats. Dogs with heavy floppy ears
have the most problems with ear infections. Some breeds have lots of hair in
and around the ear canal which causes them to develop ear infections. Dogs
that spend lots of time in the water also are prone to developing ear
Dogs with skin allergies may have ear problems as part of the allergy.
||The outer ear flap is usually
covered with fur.
If the ear is itchy, scratching may result
in hair loss on the ear flap or at the base of the ear. Severe
scratching may also lead to tears at the edges of the ear. Ear
damage may lead to bleeding between the skin and cartilage of
the ear flap; a hematoma. The ear flap is swollen, warm and
||The inner side of the ear should
be a healthy pink color. A small amount of black discharge may
Ear infections may result in:
- head shaking
- ear scratching
- rubbing ears on the floor or other surfaces
||Ear cleaning can be accomplished
with the following supplies:
- ear wash solution
- cotton balls
- a tweezers or hemostat to pluck hair
- q tips may be used if used properly
Ear cleaning solutions contain various chemicals and may contain drying
agents. Check with your veterinarian regarding which product to use and how
often to use it. Excessive ear cleaning can be damaging to the ear.
If the "non-furred", inner side of the ear flap contains lots of fur at
the opening to the ear canal, a few hairs at a time can be plucked.
Lots of hair at the opening to the ear canal reduces air flow into the
ear. Good air flow is important to maintaining a healthy ear.
||The ear wash solution is squeezed
into the ear canal. A few drops of ear wash should be applied to
the inside of the ear flap and then the tip of the ear wash
bottle should be inserted a few millimeters into the ear canal,
to place some of the wash solution down the ear canal. Be
careful not to tightly force the tip of the bottle into the ear
canal as forceful squeezing of the bottle with the bottle
wedged into the ear canal could rupture the ear drum.
will usually shake its head as soon as the wash is inserted into
the ear, shaking out much of the solution.
||Massage the base of the ear to
distribute the wash solution throughout the ear canal. Dogs
usually like this part.
||Use cotton balls to remove
discharge from the inner side of the ear flap.
||You can also use q tips to clean
the inner side of the ear flap
DON'T stick q tips into the ear any further than you can see.
Deep placement of a q tip can rupture the ear drum or can pack
wax and other debris further into the ear canal, preventing
medications from getting to the deeper parts of the ear canal.
||Ear medications may contain
several different drugs and may be ointments (pictured on the
left and in insert) or drops (pictured on the right).
medications are most effective when placed in a clear ear. If
they are placed on top of ear wax or other debris they will not
be as effective. Your veterinarian will give you instructions,
if cleaning is needed before ear medications are given.
Sometimes your veterinarian will recommend a thorough ear
exam under sedation or anesthesia if:
- the dog will not allow cleaning awake
- it is suspected that a foreign body such as plant
material is inside the ear canal
- the veterinarian needs to collect samples from the ear
for cytology or culture
||Whether using ointments or drops,
place a small amount of medication on the inside of the ear flap
and the prescribed number of drops into the ear canal. The tip
of the ointment tube or dropper should be placed a few
millimeters into the ear canal to assure that the medication
goes into the ear canal. If the ear is stretched away from the
head, the bend in the ear canal will straighten so that the
medication can be deposited over the entire ear canal.
place the long neck of the ointment tube as far as it will go
down the ear canal as you could puncture the ear drum with it.
|Massage the base of the ear to
help distribute the medication into the ear canal.
||Dogs with chronic ear infections
will benefit from anything that increases air flow into the ear
canal. Ear flow can be improved by:
- plucking hairs from around the opening of the ear canal
- tying or taping ears together on top of the head
- pictured is a stretchy tubular fabric with holes cut for
exposure of the ear canals. A regular sock can be used for
smaller dogs. The ears may need to be taped together under
If the infection is severe or involves the middle and inner ear, oral
medications may also be prescribed. Surgery is sometimes necessary if the
infection is in the middle ear.
Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or
your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.
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