July 2, 2020

How to Clean Dog’s Ears

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An important part of grooming your dog at home that people sometimes neglect is cleaning their dog’s ears. While some dog breeds with ears that stand up can get away with not having their ears cleaned very often, many dog breeds are prone to ear infections if they don’t get regular ear cleaning. Recurrent ear infections can negatively impact your pup’s health and happiness.

Luckily, cleaning your dog’s ears is relatively easy, so you can do it yourself and incorporate it into your regular grooming routine. Let’s talk about why, when, and how you should clean your dog’s ears.

Related post: How To Trim Dog Nails (in 4 Easy Steps!)

How to Tell if Your Dog’s Ears Need Cleaning

Look into your dog’s ears and take a whiff.

Do the ears look pale pink and smell like nothing? Those are probably clean dog ears that don’t need to be cleaned.

Are there brown spots in your dog’s ear; is it dark pink, or does it smell a little bit funky? That ear is dirty and needs to be cleaned.

Is your dog’s ear bright red, full of gunk, or extremely stinky? That ear is likely infected, and you should take your dog to the vet before cleaning the ear. Why before?

Infected dog ears can be caused by bacteria, ear mites, or yeast, and your vet may need to do a culture to determine what’s causing your dog’s ear infection. Yeast infections, ear mites, and bacterial infections require different medications to treat. Since your vet will need a sample, don’t clean your dog’s ears before taking your pup to the vet.

Veterinarian inspecting dog's ears

You should never try to treat an ear infection on your own; only a vet can prescribe the proper medication to treat your dog.

What Supplies Do I Need To Clean My Dog’s Ears?

Like any grooming, it’s best to gather all the supplies you’ll need before you begin. Here are all the supplies you need to clean your dog’s ears:

  • Ear cleanser. You can check out our article on the best dog ear cleaners for suggestions. You should only use a cleaner designed for dog ears. Avoid hydrogen peroxide or alcohol-based cleaners, as they can be too harsh.
  • Tweezers or hemostats for plucking your dog’s ears first (optional). Several dog breeds (including Poodles, Shih Tzus, and Maltese) grow a lot of hair in their ears. Some vets suggest pulling that hair out to increase airflow and prevent infections. Other vets suggest that pulling ear hair causes trauma that can lead to infections and only recommend ear plucking for dogs who are already prone to infections. Ask your vet what they suggest for your pup.
  • Cotton balls or gauze pads, but NOT swabs (Q-tips). Cotton swabs can damage your dog’s eardrum or push debris further down into the ear canal. Cotton balls and gauze pads are much safer for ear cleaning.
  • A towel can help you protect your face from ear cleaner, wax, and debris being flung everywhere as your dog tries to shake the cleaner out of their ears.
  • Treats are always the best way to help your dog participate in grooming willingly. Cleaning your dog’s ears should be a way for your dog to earn treats, not something they feel forced through with no reward.

Ear Cleaning Solution

Dog's ears cleaned with ear cleaning solution

While the internet is full of home remedies you could use for ear cleaning, it’s best to use a product made specifically for that purpose. Home remedies might not be as thorough. Or, worse, they could contain caustic chemicals or other harmful substances. You can check reputable dog grooming guides as a reference, or ask your vet what they recommend.

How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears

Here are easy step by step instructions on how to clean your dog’s ears:

  • It’s best to tackle this task in the bathroom or another area that’s easy to clean since your dog will shake their head and fling ear cleaner everywhere.
  • Ask your dog to sit and reward them with a treat.
  • Lift up the ear flap and look inside your dog’s ears to see whether they need to be cleaned or if they look infected.
  • If you choose to pluck your dog’s ear hair, grasp it with the tweezers or hemostats firmly and pull it out. Ear powder can help you get a better grip. Be sure you’re only grabbing and pulling hair from inside the ear canal. Yanking other hair hurts your dog! Surprisingly, some dogs seem to enjoy having their ears plucked, and it doesn’t seem to hurt as long as you only pull hair from the ear canal. Be warned, though, that some dogs don’t like this feeling and may try to bite.
  • Now to clean the ears. Hold the ear flap out of the way and fill up your dog’s ear canal all the way with ear cleaner. Try not to touch the tip of the bottle to your dog’s ear. If that happens, wipe off the tip of the bottle with alcohol on a cotton swab to prevent transferring yeast, mites, or bacteria from one ear to the other.

Cute dog touching ears with paw

  • Gently massage the base of the ear for 20-30 seconds. You should hear a squishing sound as you move around the cleaner and it removes buildup.
  • Let go of your dog’s ear and let them shake their head. Here’s where you may want to use a towel to protect your face (or cover your dog’s head) since they’ll be flinging dirty cleaner and debris out of their ears as they shake their head. Most dogs like to shake their head at least two or three times after having each ear cleaned.
  • Once your dog has gotten a few good head shakes in, use a cotton ball or swab to gently wipe the inside of your dog’s ears. Make sure that you don’t go deeper than one knuckle into the ear canal, and don’t force the cotton too far down.
  • Reward your dog with treats.
  • Repeat for the other ear.
  • If your dog appears to be in pain during any of this process, contact your veterinarian.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use hydrogen peroxide to clean my dog’s ears?

No, hydrogen peroxide or alcohol-based cleaners can cause irritation in your dog’s ear canal. Stick with ear cleaners made specifically for dogs. 

Why is it important to clean my dog’s ears?

Dogs can’t clean their own ears, and dirt, debris, and moisture can all get trapped in the ear canals. Failing to clean your dog’s ear regularly can lead to ear infections.

Some dogs, especially those with ears that stand up, rarely need their ears cleaned. Other dogs may need them cleaned as often as once a week. If you aren’t sure, ask your veterinarian how often they think you should do it.

Can I clean my dog’s ears with water?

Water alone isn’t enough to clean your dog’s ears. In fact, water trapped in the ear is a common source of infection. Always use products made for cleaning dog ears. Also, since water can trap bacteria and cause infections, it’s good practice to clean your dog’s ears after they’ve been swimming or had a bath.

Adorable dog with floppy ears

How can I tell if my dog has an ear infection?

Here are symptoms of ear infections in dogs:

  • Redness or swelling of the ear canal
  • Head shaking
  • Dark discharge (it may look like coffee grounds)
  • Scratching the ear
  • Itchiness
  • Pain
  • Odor
  • Scabs or crusting in the ear

If you think your dog has an ear infection, take them to the vet before cleaning the ears so they can determine the type of infection your dog has and prescribe an appropriate treatment. Do not try to treat an ear infection yourself with over the counter remedies – they rarely work. Typically, your pup will need an antibiotic or anti-yeast medication.

Jennifer Nelson

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