Hi, my name is Debi and I am an Ear Flusher. There. I said it. I feel so much better!
This is a controversial technique that raises eyebrows and hackles across the country. I do not want to stir up problems, but for over 10 years I have cleaned ears this way using a bathing system and it works very well and is perfectly safe. I have a small video clip of this technique being used on one of my dogs, Kraemer, my Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier. He is the only dog I have that has chronic ear issues and this is the best and easiest way I know of to clean his ears. Using cotton balls or Q-tips pushes debris and gunk down into the ear canal and since cotton is fibrous it can be abrasive and as a result you can have "trauma" inflicted on an ear by excessive use of those items. I have seen ears that were already sore bleed after a vigorous cleaning (not by me) so I refuse to allow them in my shop. This is fast, safe, effective and the dogs usually love it.
First off, let me start out by saying that water in the ears does NOT cause infection. Bacteria or Viruses or Fungus causes infections. Water being present in the ear and not being dried out could possibly cause a yeast infection to breed, but NOT if it is not already there.
The canine ear is made in a manner which allows the outer portion of the ear to be cleaned really well using running water and yet no water is going to get down into the ear canal. When you lift the ear back to clean the ear the canal closes in most cases and water cannot get down in there. On some dogs, you cannot lift the ear back because it is already erect. However water in the ear is still not a problem. Because there is air trapped inside the ear canal, water will not be able to get into the ear canal and then to the ear drum, unless it is dribbled into the ear. Think about it. When you lay down in water fast, the water causes a vacuum to be formed, and the water releases when you stand up. When a dog shakes the water that does get into the ear canal will come out. If you are truly concerned about water in the ears you can use a drying agent after the rinse, but I find that a towel wipe and then getting the dog dry is perfect for drying ears. They do not hold water well and are dry as they can be before they go home.
I have had cockers for 25 years. The only one out of my cockers that have ever had ear problems was the one that we had groomed regularly when I was a child and my dad as well as the groomer always stuffed his ears with cotton balls and tried to keep water out of his ears. A famous vet one time on TV said "even a single drop of water can cause an infection". That was the thinking when I was younger. I started working at a vet clinic and the really gunky, nasty ears were flushed with a steady stream of water to remove debris, wax and dirt. I was pretty surprised at that until he explained to me that it doesn't cause problems and why it doesn't. The vet that owned the practice showed me how he wanted me to clean ears and it is the way I do them to this day.
When I was using ear cleaner and cotton balls and swabs I saw a huge rate of ear infections in my salon. Today, with this technique, I rarely see one. Maybe one dog in a hundred will present with an infection. This is a tremendous improvement over the rate before, which about 40%. My clients do not understand what the difference is but they are grateful. The pets are happy, and it is easier for us to clean ears this way.
When using a recirculator you have to know how it works. Dirt and oils get trapped by the surfactants in the shampoo and stored there. They act like a magnet holding onto a nail for dear life. They keep the dirt trapped, and even though the water appears dirty it is not allowing the dirt to redeposit on the dogs hair or skin. It is trapped. So when using the recirculator to clean ears there is no worry about dirty water. If you are not convinced, then simply wash the ears first before the rest of the dog is washed and you will be fine. I have a video clip and blog entry on using a recirculator coming up later in the week, so look for it if you want more information.
Back to ears.
Simply turn on your pump and wash the ears as you would any other part of the body using low pressure and a constant circular motion. The video clip shows the technique pretty well. The dogs tend to lean into the nozzle because it feels so good to them. If the ear has an excessive amount of debris present in the ear canal, I sometimes add some shampoo to the ear canal opening and massage it with my finger to loosen it up more. This is only needed when there is a "rock" of black stuff present or excessive amounts or ear medicine that must be cleaned away. Otherwise, treat the ear as if it was any other part of the body and watch the debris run out with the water as it flows out of the base of the ear and when you rinse whatever is left will come out as well.
As with any bathing, if the ear is dirtier than it should be wash longer. It is simple, fast and pain free. It is also helpful on red or irritated ears since there is no rubbing or pushing involved. You can clean sore ears, like Kraemer's right ear with no pain to the pet. Digging around in a sore ear with cotton is not a good idea and it hurts.
Of course there are times when using this technique is not recommended. If the ear drum is compromised, this is not a technique that is safe or warranted. The owner is likely to know there is an issue and will tell you. When in doubt, don't do it.
In case of severe infection, refer to a vet and do not clean the ear. They need to see the ear intact, as is, and I have also found that if you clean it too well the owner will think there is really nothing wrong and will not go to the vet like they will if you leave it goopy and smelly. I have been known to on occasion use a Qtip and get some of the gunk out on that swab and place it in a small ziplock bag to send to the vet. Then clean the ear as normal, but it is your choice which to do.
If you have a Prima type system, you can still use this technique. Open up the wand opening so it is on a fine mist setting and apply shampoo until the debris stops coming out. DO NOT force the tip into the ear and DO NOT use at high pressure. You can control the pressure of the water coming out of the nozzle b y not squeezing down as hard on the handle as you would for a body. It is all common sense. The dog will let you know if it is uncomfortable but I find that the washing action of the water and shampoo going in the ear and running out is soothing for most dogs and get the job done fast and easily.
Here is my YouTube video showing this technique with the Prima
Here is that video for you to see.
I hope this helped explain further the way I clean ears in my tub. Kraemer is grateful to be clean ad he was a great video subject! Even if I DID get soaking wet in the next series of clips, it was worth it.
This is the video of my using my recirculating water to clean Kraemers ears. Its obvious he is enjoying it!