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Q: Which ingredients should I avoid when making a natural ear cleaner for a dog?

Original Question: "Hello! I want to make my own dog-ear cleaner for my 10 month old Cocker Spaniel. When searching online for recipes there is a lot of options. I would like your opinion/suggestions on these recipes. 1) water/distilled with white vinegar/tea tree oil 2) white distilled vinegar/rubbing alcohol 3) white vinegar/powered with boric acid/rubbing and alcohol/betadine antiseptic solution. I look forward to hearing from you! Thanks! Yours truly." - Rhianna


Vet Certified Answer | Answered: June 10, 2017

Hello Rhianna,

This is a great question. First, I would like to comment that a healthy, normal dog should really not need to have his or her ears cleaned regularly. If their skin and ear canals are doing their job, then there really isn't a need to clean them unless they get really dirty/muddy from playing outside. That being said, long-eared dogs such as your Cocker Spaniel may be more prone to getting dirt and debris in their ears than others. These dogs may need their ears gently cleaned/wiped after swimming or playing outside in order to avoid debris from accumulating. I never recommend putting anything in the ear canal. Please only gently clean around the ear opening/ear flap. Your veterinarian and veterinary staff can demonstrate how to properly clean your dog's ears safely and effectively and I also encourage you to have a look at our ear cleaning video, which describes how to properly clean a dog’s ear in detail.

If your dog has brown crusts, fluid or blood in or around the ear canal and they are uncomfortable, reddened and itchy, then you need to have them checked at the vet. If your vet identifies an infection (with ear swab cytology/microscopic exam and possibly culture), then medications via prescription will be required. I do not advocate treating a suspected ear infection at home – there are many things that are actually harmful to the ears (“ototoxic”) if used inappropriately.

Of the recipes you listed above, I have a few hesitations. While a great disinfectant, alcohol is painful if there happens to be open skin, and it is very drying and could disrupt the normal ear canal environment. I worry this could actually lead to an increased risk of infection and inflammation in the ears. Tea tree oil is something I would definitely avoid. There have been many documented cases of toxicity in dogs and cats from either topical application or ingestion of tea tree oil. 

The bottom line here is that if you feel that your dog's ears need to be cleaned, then there may be a problem that should be investigated by your vet. A thorough ear exam and assessment will allow your vet to determine how to best maintain her ear health. There are a variety of ear cleansing products and techniques, but they should be tailored to your pet's needs based on examination findings. I encourage you to take a look at our Hopefully this provides some insight for you. 

Sincerely,

Dr. Kimberly Hester


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