Smelly, dirty dog ears

“My basset always smells yeasty. And seems like he has a lot of overgrowth in his ears (typical) and between his toes. The vet gave me Remicin, which helps but doesn’t make it stop coming back. I wash his ears once a month, doesn’t help for long.

Help! I was feeding raw…but lost my supplier and there isn’t another around here. Right now I’m feeding Blue Buffalo or some such.”

REALLY good question, and one that I’m going to take some time in answering because I get so tired of the misconceptions about ear health that are out there.

First, let’s scientifically define what’s going on in a typical stinky ear. In honor of Bugs Bunny, I shall name him George.

George is, more properly, a whole host of curious creatures like bacteria and yeasts and fungi. If you culture the inside of a dog’s ear on a nice nutrient agar, in about three days you’ve got the entire cast of Carnivale looking up at you.

George LOVES dog ears. They are his Boca, his St. Kits, his Lake Louise. They are shaped just right, have just the right amount of moisture, and most dogs are eating a diet that fits George to a T.

That means that you need to evict George using a pretty heavy-duty crew. George will not leave if you just send a polite letter; he basically needs to be kneecapped and buried under Giants Stadium.

The path to success is as follows:

1) Take George to the doctor. This is because George may have a wonderful ingredient called Pseudomonas, which is, in the words of at least one vet, immortal. Pseudomonas requires a MAJOR antibiotic regimen and often surgery, or at least a deep cleaning under anesthesia. Some vets find that they have to manually rupture the eardrum to get to the infection underneath it. Obviously, that’s not something you want to try to treat at home. So make sure you know that this is an infection you can address yourself.

2) Send George down the river. This means clean the ear, often and thoroughly.

There is a HUGE misconception, including on the part of many vets, that you should never use water in the ear. Totally false. You know what ear cleaners are made of? Mostly water. The damage is done when water STAYS in the ear. So use copious amounts of a gentle cleaning solution (you can make one yourself by adding a few drops of something like castile soap to warm water) and flush each ear for several minutes. If you have something like a water pik, use that. If you don’t, then use a clean squeeze bottle and fill the ear, close the flap, massage vigorously for at least sixty seconds (watch the clock–sixty seconds is a lot longer than you think it is), let the dog shake it out. Wipe around the outside of the ear. Repeat.  Once you are getting nothing but clean clear liquid when the dog shakes, and there’s no grey or brown gooky stuff in there, your final wash should be with a commercial product; Epi-Otic is supposedly the best.

2) Lock the door. George gets into the skin of the ear and does his bad work because moisture inside the ear canal macerates the skin. Maceration is just a fancy word for what happens when you leave your hands in water for too long and they get all white and wrinkled. Macerated skin is open skin. George can put his little hyphae in there and go nuts, because the normal defenses of an intact skin layer are not there.

The way to get the skin healthy again is to get air back in the ear. When you finish washing out the ear, get the ears back against the head so the ear canal is exposed, and then keep them there. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! If you wash an ear and then let the cleaner sit there and not dry out, you will often make the problem worse, not better. The ears must go back.

When you’re doing this initial step you can also use a human air dryer set on LOW or NO HEAT, and keep it well back from the ear. Put your own hand where you are blowing it so you are sure you’re not burning the skin.

Anyway, you’ve got to keep those ears back. If your dog has long hair, you can use a small rubber band to pony-tail the ears back (only attach hair to hair; never band over skin).

If your dog has upright ears, they’ll often just stick that way if you fold them back.

For dogs like Bassets, you can push the ears behind the head and use a band-aid or piece of surgical tape to bridge the ears and hold them back. You can also cut a piece of fishnet stocking and gently push it over the head so it hold the ears back.

I would say for most dogs you should then plan on making or buying a SNOOD, which is one of those genius inventions that every show Basset person uses and I don’t know why it hasn’t trickled down into the pet equipment stores. There are a TON of stores online that sell custom-made dog snoods for pretty cheap. You don’t want a fancy sequined show snood; you want to e-mail the seller and ask for one made from wide mesh, like the old-time hair nets.

Now, for the majority of the time–basically any time when someone is not going to be looking at your dog and thinking that it looks insane with that snood on–you’ll have it on your dog, keeping the ears back and away from the canal. I would say all night is absolutely the minimum that you should be keeping the canals exposed.

3) Heal the skin. George basically takes an ice pick to skin. Even once you’ve washed him down the river, the skin has millions of tiny holes and lacerations in it. He will come back and try to get right back in those holes again. Air will help, but you can also use a product that I think is the bomb for all kinds of skin problems–EQyss Micro-Tek. You can get it at horse feed stores or online. While you’re still actively fighting George, you should be alternating Epi-Otic and Micro-Tek each day, and at least once a week do a huge high-volume flush with multiple rinses. Once the canal is looking healthier, you can use Epi-Otic once a week or so and put a little spritz of Micro-Tek in there as often as you think of it; every day is fine.

4) Starve George out. No matter how lovely the hotel, if the buffet is empty George will leave. This means NO SUGAR and NO GRAINS. A raw diet is absolutely best, but one of the grain-free kibbles is a good choice for an adult dog. Get one of the formulas that does not use sweet potato (George loves him some sweet potato).

One final note: some dogs do much better if their ear hair is kept plucked. This is not the case for a Basset, because the hair in there is very short, fine, and well-attached. This tends to be more of an issue for Cockers and Poodles and other long-haired dogs. You need to be a little picky about timing, because if there’s an active infection and you pull out hair you’re just opening more holes in the skin for George to set up shop. But as soon as you’ve got a good handle on cleaning out the ick, consider having your groomer pluck the hair (or do it yourself). Again, this is some dogs, not all. If you keep the canals hair-free for a month and don’t notice an improvement, there’s no reason that the hair HAS to be out of there, so you can skip it next time.


4 thoughts on “Smelly, dirty dog ears

  1. Hello Joanna!
    Can I print it this article out and give to my clients?

    Also, I think you have a typo in part about ear plucking: Cockers do not grow long hair in their ear canals.

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