Dogs send pretty clear signals when they have an ear problem. If your dog is acting like something is in her ear, she may shake her head repeatedly or scratch at the ear a lot. She may even groan while she's scratching. She may also rub her ear against furniture or the floor and walk around with her head tilted to one side. Any of these behaviors warrant a good look at what's going on in there.
When you check your dog's ears, be gentle. An upset ear can be painful. Have a friend aim a flashlight directly into your dog's ear while you're examining it. If it's daytime, go outside for the best possible light. Notice if there is any swelling, discharge, or a nasty smell. Notice too if there is anything lodged in the ear, like a bug.
A dead bug lodged in your dog's ear can be painful and annoying. A live bug in your dog's ear can make your dog extremely anxious too. Just imagine what it feels like to have something buzzing or squirming around in there. It's not good.
Bug in ear removal methods
Bug in ear removal can be done indirectly or directly. The indirect approach is to flush the bug out with water. Use a plastic syringe from the drugstore. Fill it with warm water and gently press the plunger to squirt a steady stream into the ear. Aim for a spot between the bug and the skin. Aiming the water directly at the bug can drive it further into the ear.
The direct approach is to get a hold of the bug and carefully pull it out. If it's still alive, kill it first. Use olive, mineral, or baby oil to suffocate it. Put a few drops in the ear and wait a minute. It the bug is still moving, add a little more oil until it stops. It can be very helpful to have someone distract your dog with small tidbits of treats while you're doing this.
Use the right tool
Don't use tweezers. Their pointy or sharply angled tips can wound your dog if he moves suddenly while you're working on him. Use a hemostat. Most of us don't keep a hemostat around, but if you own a dog or cat, you should. Also known as alligator forceps, they're the best tool for safely removing something from your dog's ear. They're great for removing embedded foxtails too.
Some drugstores carry hemostats. Sporting goods store do too. (People who fish use them to remove hooks from fish or to hold fishing flies while threading them.) If you're thinking ahead, you can get them on Amazon for less than $4.
At first glance, a hemostat looks like a pair of scissors. However, where scissors have blades, hemostats have serrated jaws that help you get a firm grip on that bug. Hemostats also have smooth, blunt ends so you can't accidentally puncture your dog's ear.
If flushing doesn't work, you can't put your hands on a hemostat, or your dog simply won't stay still long enough for you to safely remove the bug, it's time to call the vet.
Recognize ear mites in dogs
Ear mites in dogs are tiny parasitic creatures that, under a microscope, look like little spiders. Mites can live on any part of your dog, but they seem to like dark, moist ear canals where they feed on skin debris and ear wax. They're extremely itchy and cause a dark brown discharge that appears in small, soft chunks and stinks.
Mites can be killed with a few drops of olive oil. After putting several drops into the ear, massage the base of it until you hear a squishy sound. This indicates that the oil has gone all the way into the ear. Clean out as much of the discharge as you can with cotton balls. Repeat this for several days until your dog stops scratching her ears, and they look nice and clean. The ear mite's life cycle is about 21 days, so repeat the process in about three weeks.
What not to do
Do not use cotton swabs. This goes for any time you're trying to clean or remove anything from your dog's ears. They can make a bad situation worse by pushing whatever you're trying to get out further into the ear canal. Do not use alcohol. Alcohol can be very painful to already-irritated skin.
Whatever you do, don't do nothing. A bug left in your dog's ear may continue to sting or scratch her. Untreated mites will continue to multiply. These issues can lead to severe inflammation, infection, or even a ruptured eardrum.