So, having absorbed all the tips of the previous post, you are now a masterful ear cleaner. Your dog gives deep groans of satisfaction when you massage his ear and scratch that deep-down itch, and turns his head so far leaning into it that he is imminently going to do a head-stand. Really, if he had fingers, he would be doing this ear massage himself.
Of course, this is assuming that the ear problem is NOT causing significant pain – some of the bacterial infections that can afflict ears will actually eat big sores into the tissues of the ear canal.
If your dog seems to believe that you are using a hot poker to clean his ears, STOP.
Cleaner and massage will just irritate open sores.
Suck up the inconvenience, and make the 3 hour drive away from your cottage haven and back into town to see the vet. A dog in this state will probably need to be on some medications by mouth for a while (antibiotics, possibly a cortisone), to settle the ears enough that you can even start topical treatment. Once the ears have cooled down enough to treat, THEN you will likely find that the dog will see ear cleaning as a blissful miracle of relief. (Most of them, anyway – some seem to resent it on principle. Especially if they had a painful attempt in the past. These guys may take a little training to condition them to the idea.)
So, now that you have performed that first ear cleaning, as outlined in the second post in this series, what is the plan?
Frequency of ear-cleaning
- For the first 3-5 days you are treating an ear infection, clean once daily.
- After that, you can clean every 2-3 days, until you are not getting a lot out on your cotton ball.
- When there is no longer much discharge coming out at a 2-3 day interval, go down to once or twice a week; then, if there is not a lot coming out, down to every 1-2 weeks. With most dogs, you are OK to stop at this stage, if there is not much coming out on your cotton-ball. Some dogs with problem ears benefit from staying at an every 2 week cleaning interval – you will know if he needs this, because in such a case there will always be a bit of discharge still coming out at the 2 week interval.
Noticing it early: you can nip a lot of infections in the bud just by turning off that incubator, and cleaning out the overgrowing organisms and their food supply. At the first sign of an ear infection (any or all of these: head-shaking, ear scratching, ear odour, ear discharge, visible redness or swelling of the ear opening), then start the cleaning protocol outlined above right away. If you are catching it early, you will be able to get through the drops in frequency of cleaning quickly.
And the *bonus* to doing this instead of ending up with infections bad enough to need medicine over and over again? ORGANISMS CAN NOT DEVELOP RESISTANCE TO CLEANING! Repeated use of the antifungals and antibiotics in ear ointment acts as a selective pressure on the pathogens: we are killing off the ones that were susceptible, and clearing the field for the ones with a trick up their little sleeves to let them survive. Over time, the population consists of more and more of the survivor guys, and the medicine doesn’t work anymore.
Even scarier – bacteria can trade little information packets called plasmids to share their cool trick with different sorts of bacteria – now more than one has the resistance gene. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a crisis in both animal and human medicine!
So, when it comes to antibiotic use, it is definitely a case of LESS IS MORE!
Don’t leave water in the ear. At the end of a day of swimming, do an ear-cleaning! Don’t let that water sit down there and get his tissues water-logged (think of your “prune-fingers” coming out of the bath). A non-water-based ear cleaner will displace the lake water.
Coming next: When You Really do Need a Vet Visit.