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We’re not sure when Dr. Stanley Coren’s fascination with dogs began, but when asked by “Psychology Today” magazine editors to create a list of every breed on the planet, he was happy to comply with this unusual request by arranging them according to national origin (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201305/how-many-breeds-dogs-are-there-in-the-world). Now, that’s a true labor of love!
Even the most avid dog lover knows that pet parents attracted to specific breeds aren’t going to be happy if they can’t walk, feed and pet the Standard Poodle or Golden Retriever they adore, but when it comes to basics, every type of dog comes with the usual features: Wet nose. Wagging tail. And an assortment of ears that add character to every breed. The mere thought of a dog hanging his head out of a car window and letting his ears fly free is enough to bring a smile to the lips of dog owners (cat owners, too!).
According to the Merryville School of Pet Grooming, areas around the heads of dogs are especially vulnerable to picking up all manner of dirt, grime and microbes, so when it comes to your dog’s ears, that vulnerability requires vigilance to avoid developing ear canal infections that could result in pain, discomfort and more serious infections. If you’re like most dog owners, you feel your pet’s pain, so paying attention to her ears with a regular cleaning schedule will help both of you feel better!
What are dog ear cleaners and why do you need one?
Just as human pathogens appear to be growing stronger and more tenacious over time, so do the microbes your pet may pick up as a result of being outside and being exposed to everything bacterial and viral under the sun. Think about it. What better place to hide for these nasty organisms than within the ear canal of canines where the smallest parasite, virus, bacteria and fungi can take up residence deep within this organ.
Sadly, no pup is spared from invasion—even those whose ear anatomy consists of tight passages and skin folds that make intrusion seem almost impossible. And because humidity is such a stealthy devil, when a single drop of water gets deep within the ear recess, it can act like a sponge, absorbing soil and grime and acting like a breeding ground for agents, some of which are microscopic in nature, so they go undetected.
For the sake of your dog and your own peace of mind, regular cleanings using a tested and effective product can help you make sure that you protect your dog from these invasions, so she lives a more comfortable life and you don’t have to put your veterinarian on a retainer! What’s the worse outcome of developing an ear infection for any pooch? It could lead to temporary or permanent hearing impairment if left untreated, either knowingly or unknowingly.
Further, ear wax build up left in place so long it becomes imbedded in the canal is yet another culprit capable of impacting your dog’s hearing because when any agents impact the ear, your dog becomes incapable of converting sound waves into the vibrations that are critical to sending messages to his brain. In sum, your pup needs all of his faculties: smell, taste and hearing–and you need the reassurances that can only come each time a dog hears his master’s voice so he comes running!
Are certain dog breeds predisposed to develop ear infections?
The answer is yes and no. One breed isn’t more vulnerable to developing ear issues than another, but each breed’s ear shape can be the determinant. You may think that long, floppy ears that stick straight up and give dogs infinite enjoyment when their faces hang out of cars to catch the breeze are at most risk. But ears that lay flat against the head are more vulnerable due to proximity to the ear canal. Flat ears are most likely to trap moisture and debris and a lack of airflow encourages the proliferation of harmful bacteria.
While infections tend to be the primary cause of ear health problems in dogs, there’s another factor pet owners should know about: The hair inside your dog’s ears can exacerbate pain and infection, too. When dirt, grime and moisture are trapped inside the canal, a simple wash may not reach individual ear hairs within the organ where dirt and pathogens cling to hairs and have the potential to turn a bad condition into a chronic one.
How to tell if your dog is having ear issues
Like newborn babies, dogs can’t complain, but if you look for telltale signs of pain and discomfort, you can verify your suspicions and perhaps rule out the origins of his peculiar behavior. While regular checks to examine ears can reveal something that looks out of the ordinary, these are the most likely signs that something is amiss:
-Your dog develops a habit of scratching his ears repeatedly.
-Telltale headshaking is a sign that something untoward could be going on in the ear canal.
-You could smell an offensive odor resembling yeast in the ear region.
-Signs of redness, resulting from persistent scratching, can signal trouble.
-If you spot pus, this could mean that an existing condition has exacerbated and needs immediate attention.
4 rules for examining and treating your dog’s ears
Dog behaviorist Cesar Millan is no stranger to folks who watch TV because his advice has helped many a pet parent diagnose issues related to the ears. He offers this wise advice: Dog ears are particularly vulnerable and sensitive so simply looking into ears for a cursory examination may not necessarily be a walk in the park! Even calm dogs cat get super sensitive to having their ears touched so proceed with caution and follow these 4 tips:
1. Allocate enough time to do the job. If you’re trying to squeeze an ear exam in-between a meeting, chauffeuring kids to school and getting dinner on the table, you could trigger anxiety in yourself and your dog. Instead, proceed slowly and associate ear cleaning with a positive experience (treats work great).
2. Use the right tools for the right job. This saying isn’t meant for construction work alone! Sometimes, the right tool can be the worst one if you try to use Q-tips, which can not only hurt your dog’s ears but spook him, too. Cotton balls and a finger wrapped in gauze are safer.
3. Set up an ear-cleaning station so everything you need to clean Gus’s ears is within reach. Assume that your dog wants to be anywhere but at your mercy as you try to conduct your ear exam and clean each one. If you leave him for an instant because you forgot to retrieve the cotton balls, good luck getting him to stick around.
4. While some dog parents wear gloves to clean ears, washing your hands is equally effective and as you work your way from the outside to the inside, your bare fingers can more easily detect “resistance” that sends this signal: don’t move in further or you could damage the ear. Undertake this exam and cleaning ritual once a week and your chances of keeping your dog from getting an infection are excellent.
Commercial or homemade? That is the question!
Despite medical advances and products, plenty of people commit to “all-natural” living in today’s society. They visit naturopathic physicians. Choose herbal remedies over pharmaceuticals. Undertake alchemy in the kitchen to craft cleaning agents made with household products that are safe and non-toxic.
Perhaps you’re one of these lifestyle advocates and intend to extend your commitment to your dog’s welfare, too. But think twice before you start mixing up lotions and potions and consider the argument for commercial ear cleaners that are readily available, inexpensive and safe for the following reassuring reasons:
-Product manufacturers consult with veterinarians and prepare solutions in sterile labs under the watchful eye of scientists and quality control personnel to make sure dog ear cleaning products are safe before they are put on retailer shelves.
-The Federal Drug Administration (FDA; https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary) is committed to pet health and maintains a Chemistry, Manufacturing and Control Division that oversees everything from qualifying ingredients and making sure they’re safe to overseeing where and how products are made, packaged and stored.
-The American Veterinary Association stays on top of trends, products and recalls, so if a cleaning agent gets through the FDA process and is found ineffective by pet parents, the AVA is likely to find out about it and perhaps be instrumental in taking it off the market.
-Finally, just because your lifestyle demands all-natural products, that doesn’t mean you can’t find plenty of ear cleaners on today’s market that fit your criteria. In fact, several are included on the top dog ear cleaner list you’re about to read.
10 Best canine ear cleaning products
If this your first dog ear cleaning product adventure, you’ll find that the following 10 fit into the two standard types of products on the market: otic drops and wipes. Is one better than the other? Your decision should be based on two factors: your dog’s temperament and the condition of her ears.
Concentrated drops are able to reach deep into ear canals to reach more surfaces. Wipes are great for weekly surface cleanings that don’t require treatment further inside the ear canal and they’re an ideal solution for skittish canines who won’t tolerate the application of drops under any circumstances.
1. Name of Product: Pet King Brand Zymox Otic Pet Ear Treatment
Our rating: Best overall product based on consumer reviews and product excellence
Summary: A popular favorite of pet parents who are not shy about making clear their approval for this brand of ear cleaning drops, this product is formulated for cats and dogs–especially those whose chronic ear problems worry owners because their dog tends to pick up more soil and debris than the neighbor’s dog. The safe formula is gentle, effective and fast-acting. Apply daily by filling the ear canal and massaging the ear area to distribute the liquid throughout the canal so it gets to hard-to-reach areas hiding soil and/or wax built-up. Natural enzymes in the formulation are so powerful, a 7-day course may be all it takes to solve your pet’s ear issues.
Features and benefits
-A number one best-selling product by satisfied dog owners and vets.
-Contains 1.0-percent hydrocortisone.
-Gets deep into the ear canal to purge foreign agents.
-Only requires one application daily to get good results.
-Made in the U.S.A. under stringent laboratory protocols.
-Can also be used to treat mites, inflammation, yeast, viral and bacterial infections.
-Never tested on animals; this is a cruelty-free product.
-Contains no antibiotics or tar.
-Comes in three sizes: 1.25-, 4- and 8-ounces.
2. Name of Product: Virbac Epi-otic Advanced Ear Cleaner
Our Rating: The best drops for routine ear hygiene tasks
Summary: While not on the market as long as Zymox products, this advanced ear cleaner has earned a solid reputation from pet parents who find it a little less expensive but equally effective for routine ear care and cleaning. This formulation is a great first step for dog owners who intend to administer other types of ear products because when the canal is clean and dry, the application of medicines and remedies won’t be blocked by soil and wax. This alcohol-free preparation speeds up the drying process, so dogs aren’t left with annoying moisture in the ear canal once Epi-otic, which has a low pH of 2.2, has been used to clean the ears.
Features and Benefits
-Comes in two convenient sizes: 4- and 8-ounces.
-Neutralizes ear odor while sanitizing the canal.
-The low pH count means this product can be used frequently.
-This formula attacks ear wax by emulsifying it for easy removal.
-Well tolerated by dogs who experience reactions to other products.
-Keratolytic agents remove debris and dead cells.
-The inclusion of a drying agent lessens the potential for irritation.
-Limits canal surface microorganism bonding.
-May help to reduce ear inflammation.
-Tolerable fragrance is reminiscent of lemon and soap.
3. Name of Product: Pet King Brands Zymox Ear Cleanser
Our rating: Best ear cleaning product for puppies and geriatric dogs
Summary: If you won’t use a product on your dog that hasn’t been blessed by users, take the word of the vet techs and groomers who wouldn’t use anything but this product on their own dog’s ears. Slightly thicker than water, this popular dog ear cleaning product is formulated with bio-active enzymes. Available in 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-packs, this ear cleaner is highly recommended for use on puppies because it is a gentle, effective and non-toxic way to rid sensitive ears of dirt, grime and bacteria. Ears are left smelling fresh and pet owners say that this formulation seems to ease ear pain, so it could be easier to apply. If you’ve got puppy ear issues—or if your senior dog is product-sensitive, this wash is worth trying.
Features and Benefits
-A safe bet for young dogs and especially puppies.
-Cleans, soothes and promotes ear health.
-Recommended by owners whose dogs are prone to having ear infections.
-You don’t have to count the drops; just squirt and rub.
-Red ear irritation could literally disappear in hours.
-Available in 1-, 2-, 3 and 4-pack lots.
-Great for removing ear wax buildup.
-A super non-toxic product recommended by vets.
-Recommended for older dogs because it is so gentle.
-Ingredients Lactoferrin, Lacoperoxidase and Lysozyme are safe and effective.
4. Name of Product: Pet MD Dog Ear Cleaner Wipes
Our rating: Most popular ear cleaner wipes on the market
Summary: Purchase this 100-count wipe canister and your dog’s itching, mites and yeast issue could disappear fairly quickly. Formulated with aloe and eucalyptus, this Pet MD ear cleaning product often appears at the top of best seller lists. Priced to please household budgets, this advanced veterinary formula not only cleans and deodorizes, but it dries fast, so ear canals don’t remain moist and attract more grime. Reduce wax build-up in your dog’s ears while removing debris and dirt on the outside and inside the canal. It goes without saying that a wipe is easier to manage than drops, which could be a hit-and-miss experience for pet owners whose dogs don’t want anything to do with solutions poured into their ears.
Features and benefits
-Alcohol-free, these wipes are safe for puppies over the age of 12 weeks.
-This formulation reduces ear odor.
-With regular application, your dog is less likely to develop infections.
-Made in federally-regulated laboratories and facilities committed to safety.
-Soothing botanicals are less likely to prompt irritation in dogs with sensitive skin.
-Take them along for quick sanitary ear wipes at the dog park.
-2.25-inch pads are perfectly sized for fingers when cleaning small ear canals.
-Highly rated by dog owners of all breeds.
-Formulated for dogs only, this product won’t work for cat owners.
5. Name of Product: EcoEars Natural Dog Ear Cleaner
Our rating: Best all-natural formulation on the market
Summary: If you wouldn’t consider using chemicals and household cleaners to care for your dog and insist upon organics, whatever the price, this affordable ear cleaner may be just what the doctor ordered. Tested and found effective at quelling persistent itching, head shaking and foul-smelling discharges, EcoEars stands behind its commitment to avoid chemicals and drugs and shoppers receive a 100-percent satisfaction guarantee. Sanitize and rehabilitate your dog’s ears in as few as 2 days, but for ears that have been ignored, it could take up to 10 days of persistent treatment to get rid of a problem. To treat your dog, fill the ear canal and gently massage the area to distribute the wash solution.
Features and benefits
-Made without pharmaceuticals, synthetic chemicals, steroids (hydrocortisone), solvents or antibiotics.
-Ingredients include denatured alcohol, organic mullein leaf, witch hazel and rosemary extracts, ionic silver solution, boric acid, vegetable glycerin and tea tree oil.
-This organic brand is supported by medical literature and lab testing.
-Won’t cause reactions on the hands of owners administering this product.
-Treats everything from dirt to discharge and odor.
-Washes away pathogens while eliminating wax build up and redness.
-Extremely beneficial for dogs who spend time in the water.
-Head-shaking, itch, parasites and smells are all addressed with this formulation.
-The 100-percent, no-hassle, money-back guarantee is good for a year.
-Gentle on puppy ears and those of geriatric dogs.
6. Name of Product: VetWELL Dog Ear Cleaning Wipes
Our rating: Great choice for controlling yeast and other infections
Summary: Unlike other ear cleaning wipes formulated to remove surface grime and soil, this affordable product focuses on infections but also does a great job of cleaning ears where no infection is involved. There are 100 small wipes (2-inches each) per canister and the product is made in a federally regulated manufacturing facility to ensure quality and safety. Most often used to combat infections, this ear cleaner does an effective job of reducing wax build-up and helps dry ears after the cleaning so they aren’t re-infected. The main ingredients are aloe and eucalyptus and there is no alcohol in the mix, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally organic. This fact doesn’t diminish the value and success pet parents have enjoyed by choosing these wipes over competitive brands.
Features and benefits
-Can be used with or without medications prescribed by your vet.
-Safe for daily use to remove debris in and around the ears.
-May be able to short-circuit potential infections early.
-Can also be used to treat eye issues in dogs.
-Favorably reviewed by consumers disappointed by other wipes.
-Recommended for dogs with skin allergies and other sensitivities.
-Pre-moistened pads are convenient; pop one out and clean on the go.
-Great value for the price.
7. Name of Product: Zymox Ear Solution with 0.5-Percent
Our rating: Best product from a brand committed to no animal testing
Summary: Purchase a 1.25-ounce bottle of this product and your dog is assured of a patented formula that is both gentle and safe. Marketed as “a natural alternative to traditional therapy,” this solution includes hydrocortisone in the formula, so if you’re seeking an all-botanical product, make sure you read all of the ingredients on the label before you buy. Brand fans insist that this solution works fast to eliminate debris build-up, so your dog’s ears don’t get irritated during the cleaning process. Since this is a one-step remedy, you won’t have to dig into ears to dislodge gunk and soil and alienate your pooch in the process. Achieve results by filling the ear canal with solution, massage the ear area and contaminants will be dislodged over the 7-day application period recommended by the manufacturer.
Features and benefits:
-This solution is “proudly made in the USA.”
-The LP3 signature enzyme system is a patented process.
-Manufactured at a plant that employs Good Manufacturing Practices and Standards.
-Zymox products are never tested on animals.
-Trusted by Veterinarians since 1998.
-There are no pre-cleaning or application protocols.
-The 0.5-percent hydrocortisone is added for the comfort of the animal.
-Recommended treatment window could be as short as 7 days.
8. Name of Product: Doggie Dailies Pet Ear Cleaner
Our rating: Best product safety and quality control methods
Summary: If the low price doesn’t grab your attention, the ingredients will–especially for dog parents whose pets are sensitive, requiring them to stick to 100-percent natural formulations. This ear cleaner checks off all of the boxes: it removes wax and debris, keeps ears clean and healthy, it’s vet-approved and reduces odor that can build up in your dog’s ears. What’s in this miracle solution? Primarily botanicals like aloe vera, echinacea, witch hazel and tea tree oil, all ingredients with which you are familiar. Also safe for cats, this Doggie Dailies product leaves a light, fresh fragrance behind once offending material has been removed from the canal so you can give your mutt a smooch on the side of his head without getting queasy!
Features and benefits:
-Comes in a generously-sized 8-ounce bottle.
-Use the built-in applicator tip for precise ear canal targeting.
-Won’t burn, sting or otherwise repel your pet.
-The all-natural formulation is just the latest addition to the company pet line.
-Made in the U.S.A. by an independent laboratory registered with the FDA.
-Every batch of ear cleaner is tested and certified safe by quality controllers.
-Annual factory inspections conducted by APHIS (United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) ensure quality, consistency and safety.
-Get a 100-percent money back guarantee if you’re not satisfied.
-Receive a free eBook, “Common Threats To Your Dog’s Health (and what to do about them)” with purchase.
9. Name of Product: Vet’s Best Dog Ear Relief Wash
Our rating: Most affordable natural product on our list
Summary: If just the price tag associated with some of the all-natural dog ear cleaners on our list has made you resort to a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a box of Kleenex, try a 4-ounce bottle of Vet’s Best Ear Relief Wash for less than the cost of a fast food lunch. This product makes most of the claims associated with pricier formulas, and pet owners loyal to this brand come up just short of starting a fan club! Marketed as the ear wash solution that effectively brings relief to dogs, it also combats greasy inner ears and soothes raw, itchy skin. Additionally, offensive odor is mediated or eliminated. You’ll recognize all of the ingredients listed on the bottle: witch hazel, chamomile, aloe vera, clove oil and tea tree oil, and there’s no set routine that must be followed to keep your pet comfortable and healthy.
Features and benefits:
-Made of organic ingredients and there’s no alcohol in the mix.
-Addresses all of the major ear concerns dog parents worry about.
-Can be used as often or as infrequently as needed since the wash won’t irritate skin.
-Made in the USA, this wash can be used in conjunction with Dry Ear Relief.
-Readily available at retail shops and on dog-product websites.
-Dispenser bottle can be refilled from a 16-ounce bottle of product.
-Veterinarian formulated and recommended.
-Will not conflict with topical tick and flea control products.
-Paraben-, dye- and fragrance-free.
-Ideal for dogs with sensitive skin and allergies.
10. Name of Product: Burt’s Bees All Natural ear cleaner
Our rating: Most trusted, well-reviewed, universally know brand name
Summary: If you’re a Burt’s Bees fan and had no idea Burt had gotten into the dog ear cleaning business, you’ll lean favorably toward this product even before you try it. This super-affordable solution is made with chamomile; it’s sulfate- and paraben-free and pH balanced for dogs with sensitivities. Made in the U.S.A. and never tested on animals, Burt’s Bees for Dogs is still finding its brand footing in a crowded marketplace, but it treats the usual ear dilemmas–itching, irritation and discomfort. Included in the ingredient list are witch hazel to remove oil and grime build-up and peppermint oil that does a great job of soothing irritated ears. The application process is a breeze: place the bottle tip against the entry to your dog’s ear canal and express between 2 and 4 drops. Recommended use is twice weekly, but ingredients are so mild, you could add an extra day, especially if your dogs ears have been neglected.
Features and benefits:
-For pup parents committed to botanicals, Burt’s Bees is “the bee’s knees”!
-This is the least expensive ear cleaner of all 10 products profiled in this review.
-Made in the U.S.A. as part of the mega-Burt’s Bees product empire.
-Gentle enough to use on puppies thanks to its mild pH balance.
-Veterinarian-recommended for dogs of all ages.
-Free of colorants, fragrances, sulfates and harsh chemicals.
-Sold in bottles manufactured from 80-percent post-consumer recycled materials.
-Formulation includes drying agents so ears won’t stay damp after cleaning.
-Won’t wash off topical flea and tick treatments when used in accordance with manufacturer’s directions.
How to decide which product is your best bet
Behavioral scientists say that human beings confronted with more than 7 choices can become so confused, they make no decision at all. That stated, you’re wise to take a logical approach to your decision-making process by asking these 3 questions before you take out your wallet:
1. Does the package label say that the product has been veterinarian tested or recommended—and exactly who are these vets, anyway? The operative word is testing. It’s a sign that the brand takes seriously its commitment to keeping dogs healthy.
2. What does your dog’s vet say about the brand you’re considering? Talking to friends about the products they use is fine, but even if the two of you love and own the same breed, you’re going to get bias in their opinions, either because they love their wash or they’re still holding a grudge because a brand didn’t work for them!
3. How about expiration dates—you can read them on packages and boxes while browsing retail shops. But are you guaranteed long expiration dates when you order online? Additionally, all dogs are unique. Just because a product worked for your cousin Charlie, that doesn’t mean you’ll have the same outcome.
Whether you buy so many pet supplies from Chewy.com that you can’t remember how it felt not to have a box of goodies waiting for you at your doorstep, or you love to hold products in your hands at retail stores so you can read the small print, your love for your dog is sure to help you make wise buying decisions, especially when it comes to your baby’s ear health.