Because a dog’s ears have nooks and crannies that easily harbor potential problems—from debris to yeast or bacteria to parasites—your regular grooming routine should include checking and cleaning your assistance dog’s ears. This simple but often-overlooked part of basic care goes a long way toward detecting and preventing wax buildup or impactions, impaired hearing, infections, parasites, discomfort, and other problems, all of which can potentially interfere with your partner’s performance of her responsibilities.
Monitoring the Ears for Problems
The most important part of ongoing ear care for your service dog is simply watching out for signs and symptoms of problems. Some you can observe from afar—such as your dog pawing or scratching at her ears frequently or even rubbing them on the ground. This indicates itchiness, pain, or discomfort, which in turn can point to any number of concerns. If you observe anything like this, take a closer look.
A closer look should be part of your weekly grooming regimen. By examining the exterior and interior of your assistance dog’s ears, you’ll be able to notice additional indications of problems. Check carefully for wax accumulation, discharge, bleeding, crusting, scabbing, redness, inflammation, sensitivity to touch, a warm feeling to the skin, masses, hair loss, foreign bodies, and other abnormalities. Also pay attention to whether there’s a strong or foul odor emanating from the ears.
The presence of any of these warning signs should prompt a visit to your veterinarian, as they can indicate bacterial, fungal, or yeast infections, as well as allergic conditions, certain diseases, ear mites (in particular, if you notice dark brown to black waxy accumulation resembling coffee grounds), or other health concerns.
Cleaning Your Assistance Dog’s Ears
We’ll give you the basic rundown here, but ask your vet to demonstrate the proper procedure for cleaning out your dog’s ears. The skin inside can be quite sensitive, and you don’t want to irritate her ear canal, not to mention injure or rupture her ear drum.
Cotton balls or a clean washcloth are appropriate tools. As with us humans, never use a cotton-tipped swab, as this can lead to damaging the ear drum, especially if your dog suddenly jerks. Cleaning the ears simply refers to cleaning the outside and around the opening of the ear canal—it does not include sticking anything into your dog’s ear canal! If your dog has a wax impaction or dirtiness in her ear canal, your vet has the appropriate equipment and experience to safely clean it out.
Dampen the cotton ball or washcloth with a veterinarian-recommended canine otic cleanser or mineral oil. Alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and vinegar are best avoided, as they can cause irritation. Gently wipe down the outer ear and as much of the inside as you can see and easily reach. If the ears are considerably dirty, use separate cotton balls or washcloths for the exterior and interior.
If your assistance dog is prone to wax accumulation, be proactive about preventing excessive buildup. Once every few weeks, fill your dog’s ear canal with a few drops of canine ear cleanser or mineral oil and gently massage the base of her ear for about 15 seconds. Then, let your dog shake her ears to expel the contents and then wipe them off with a clean washcloth.
Grooming for the Ears
Some dogs also need a little attention paid to the hair growing right around or in their ears. If your dog has hairy ears, have your groomer or vet trim or pluck it as needed to prevent tangles, matting, and accumulation of wax or dirt. Because using tweezers or scissors in your dog’s ears can obviously be dangerous, leave this to a professional.