Ear Care & Cleaning

The following article is for general information only and not intended to serve as professional training nor replace professional training. We strongly advise professional training for every new groomer before they offer grooming services to pet owners. Based on our experience your charging fees for grooming services is legally interpreted that you are the expert in grooming, and not the pet owners you serve. Thereby you accept the risk of being responsible for the services you provide. You are responsible to interview every pet owner you serve to ensure that your services are not only aesthetic, but safe and appropriate for their pet. You are also responsible to disclose to each pet owner any and all risks your procedures may involve to their pet. Professional grooming requires professional training. Click for training opportunities. We wrote the Pet Care Services Brochure and Pet Groomer's Report & Health Alert in the book From Problems to Profits to exemplify one example of  the disclosure process for a professional groomer. Remember, every pet owner you serve is putting their faith and trust in you. Get the professional training required of a professional groomer.

Ear Cleaning Basics

Regular ear check-ups and cleaning contributes to healthy ears, free of painful infections. Between grooming appointments pet owners should practice ear health maintenance and check their dog's ears at least once a week. When pet owners request grooming services, professional groomers include an ear inspection and cleaning. Whether the groomer is giving the dog a bath-only service or a complete styling, ear cleaning and deodorizing is typically be included as part of the basic grooming service fee. A few pet owners may ask for ear cleaning only services.

Many pet owners do not realize that dogs can grow hair in the ear canal, even large amounts common to some Poodles and Terriers, as well as other breeds. For this reason, many owners never check their dog ears unless the dog is shaking or scratching its ear(s). By that time there is usually an ear health problem requiring veterinary medical inspection.

Keeping your dog's ears clean is very important to maintain good health. Many dog insurance plans do cover ear infections for breeds who are known to have problems, such as Cocker Spaniels. Pet health insurance is very useful if you have a breed that is prone to health issues. Compare pet insurance plans to see which is the best choice for you and your dog.

Ear infections "Otitis Externa" may arise from water trapped in the ear canal. The damp environment creates an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and fungus, often leading to painful sensitivity, redness, swelling and infection. Dogs with ear flaps are the most affected since the flaps cut air circulation and trap moisture.

Ear mites may also be present in ear wax. Dogs with this problem often shake their heads and scratch ears. You may be able to locate ear mites by looking at ear wax removed from the affected dog. Under a bright light, spread a sample of ear wax on a piece of white paper, and look for tiny white specks. They are very contagious and will require the owner to treat their pet for ear mites for over 3 weeks. Insecticides kill the adult mites only, so repeat applications are in order. Based on the life cycle of mites, treatment usually consists of applying insecticide for 7 days, then waiting 10 days for baby mites to mature. Groomers seeing the evidence of ear mites should recommend veterinary inspection for a determination of whether there the dog is infested, and for treatment.

Accumulations of wax and a lack of air circulation can lead to ear canker. Canker infection often causes a dark-colored discharge and foul odor. The pet requires veterinary inspection of the condition.

Some dogs scratch their ears as a result of allergies; they should be inspected and treated by veterinarians.

Sometimes groomers will discover weeds and other organic matter in ears. In fact, some weeds can work their way down into the ear canal and cause serious, even life-threatening conditions. On the West Coast of the U.S. the infamous "foxtail" weed finds its way into the ears of thousands of dogs every year, even cutting into the fleshy skin between feet pads and posing a serious health threat.

Professional groomers understand the serious nature of ear problems and always ensure that pet owners are advised of any suspect conditions and recommend veterinary inspection.

Procedures Before Ear Cleaning

Inspect every dog's ears for potential problems before proceeding with ear cleaning procedures. Be prepared to record written descriptions of any suspect conditions so that you may report them accurately to pet owners and veterinarians.

Realize that some dogs may have very little or no hair to remove from their ears. However, almost all dogs will require some excess wax and dirt removal from their ears and ear flaps as noted below.

Common ear problem signs are:

- Head shaking and ear scratching.
- Ears sensitive to touch.
- Discharges and powerful odors.
- Hematomas (blood blisters) on the ear flap.
- Swelling and skin redness.
- Melanomas (tumors).

When you discover serious ear problems you may choose to gently clean the exterior area of the ear of dirt, wax and other matter, and contact the owner and suggest immediate veterinary care. Other groomers stop all ear cleaning and suggest the pet owner to seek immediate veterinary care, especially when the pet is in distress.

Sterilize any tools that you have used during the cleaning process, actually a process you should do between all ear cleanings as well.

Ear Cleaning Tools & Supplies

Grooming suppliers normally stock all the tools and supplies required for dog ear cleaning.

You will need the following tools and supplies for the ear cleaning procedure. Carefully read and follow instructions supplied with all products before using them.

Hemostat (sterilized before and after each procedure).
Commercial medicated ear powder (deodorizer too).
Commercial ear cleaning solution.
Cotton (sterile medical grade preferred).

Do not use Q-Tips or alcohol.

Ear Cleaning & Deodorizing Steps

Below you will find basic ear cleaning and deodorizing steps for dogs. However, you can expect additional detailed instructions and guidelines from most professional trainers and schools and training programs. We do not provide these steps as complete, professional ear cleaning. We encourage pet owners to use the services of a professional groomer and veterinarian for ear cleaning. Pet owners should practice preventative ear health maintenance and check their dog's ears at least once a week.

1. Lift the dog's ear flap and expose the inside flap the ear facing you. Using your thumb and index finger, quickly remove hair as needed around the external ear opening. Pull in the direction of hair growth and only small amounts of hair at one time. You can spray a light amount of medicated ear powder in ears with excess wax and hair to dry the wax, and make the hair easier to pull.

2. If there is hair in the ear canal it should be removed when there are no signs of ear health problems. However, never clean or remove hair more than one-half inch down into the ear opening. The ear area further down in the ear canal is best left to veterinary care. To remove this hair, spray a light amount medicated ear powder into the ear. The powder absorbs moisture and dries ear wax and hairs, thereby providing better traction.

3. Using hemostats, grasp small amounts of pet hair and pull outward toward you slowly. Careful, don't pinch the sensitive ear skin. Never probe further down than one-half inch into the ear canal opening. You must exercise this extreme caution in order not to disturb or damage the ear drum. Clean the hemostats after drawing out hair and wax, and continue removing hair until done. Sterilize hemostats when done.

4. Although you do not clean ears more than one-half inch into the ear canal, observe the condition of the pet's ear beyond the cleaning limit and report any potential problems. You may see foreign matter, a discharge, heavy wax buildup or even a melanoma (tumor). Record your suspect observations so that you may accurately report them to the pet owner.

5. Look for additional ear wax and matter to clean from the ear. Moisten cotton ball very lightly (absolutely no dripping) with a small amount of commercial ear cleaning solution, and swab and clean the ear canal area outward to the ear flap. Repeat as needed. This procedure may soothe irritated skin from the hair removal process depending upon the ear cleaning solution you use. Ensure you have removed all ear powder from ears.

6. Sterilize tools and properly dispose of ear wastes and soiled cotton.

Some pet groomers may over clean sensitive ears causing irritation. The result may be redness, or the dog may start scratching ears where it wasn't before. Ears should be cleaned of matter as noted above, and reasonably freed of pet hair too. However, if you see the dog's skin becoming red and/or irritated by the pulling, remove a reasonable amount of hair only and soothe pet's ear with the lightly moistened cotton swab mentioned above.

As you clean ears you may uncover conditions that were previously not observed during the ear inspection procedure. You may discover a Hematomas, the swelling of the ear flap due to blood going into the tissue or serum under the skin, or foreign matter or swelling, etc. Discontinue further cleaning when you uncover any serious ear problem, and inform the pet owner that veterinary inspection is in order.

Water and excess ear cleaning solution must never get in pet ears. Do not use water in the cleaning process. Do not syringe pet ears; it is a veterinary procedure only. If you are uncertain how to proceed, don't. Seek professional veterinary care. It is best to advise the pet owner to seek veterinary attention rather than your aggravating a condition. When you bathe any dog you should also place cotton in their ears to prevent water from entering the ear canal, and the ear area (especially on those dogs with ear flaps) must be completely dry so as not to provide a damp environment favored by bacteria and fungus.