It is important to keep your pet's ears clean, if only to reduce the risk of infection. And if your pet has ear mites, cleaning the ears will help the medicine work much more efficiently. "While cats are much better than dogs at keeping their ears clean, even they need help at times," says Ernest K. Smith, D.V.M., a veterinary allergist and dermatologist in private practice in Tequesta, Florida.

Keeping ears clean doesn't have to be a messy business. Dogs such as cocker spaniels, for example, sometimes have a problem because their long, floppy ears trap wax and oils. One way to keep their ears clean is to air them out. If your dog will put up with it, once a week or so pull her ears over her head and bind them with a strip of soft cloth around the head and under her chin. Letting the ears ventilate for a few hours will lower the humidity inside.

Keeping ears clean reduces the risk of infection, says Dr. Smith. It is also a good idea to periodically trim or pluck the hair inside the ears, in the area where the earflap meets the canal. This will help air get in and let ear secretions out, he says.

To trim the ears, hold your pet's ear with the flap turned up. Using a pair of blunt-tipped scissors, trim the hair, being careful not to slip the end of the scissors into the ear canal. You can also pluck the hair with your fingers or tweezers, although this may be a little painful, he says.

Most pets will benefit from having their ears cleaned periodically, says Dr. Crimi. (Cleaning them too often, however, will strip away the protective wax, making the ears raw and sore.) Don't bother with cotton-tipped swabs, which can be dangerous if they go in deeper than you can see, she adds. Instead, swab out the outer portions of the ears with a dry cotton ball, she says.

If your pet has gotten yeast or bacterial ear infections in the past, you may want to clean the ears using a solution made from equal amounts of vinegar and water. This will kill germs before they have a chance to multiply, Dr. Smith explains.

As a final precaution, you may want to apply an ear-drying product after washing your pet's ears. Sold in pet supply stores, ear-drying powders, according to Dr. Smith, will help lower moisture in the ear canal and check the growth of bacteria and fungi. Some people use drying solutions every time their dogs swim or have a bath.

Even though people sometimes clean their own ears with hydrogen peroxide, it is generally not a good idea for pets, says Dr. Smith. Once the bubbles disappear, there is a lot of water left behind, making a perfect breeding ground for organisms to flourish.

If you suspect that your pet has ear mites, remove a bit of debris from inside the ear and look at it with a magnifying glass or, if you have one, through a microscope. If you see little crablike creatures, your pet has mites, and you will have to get rid of them. The first thing to do is clean the ears thoroughly with an ear-cleaning formula. Then apply a few drops of a medicated solution designed to kill ear mites, available at pet supply stores, following the directions on the label.

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Copyright 1999 Rodale Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

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