Should I Clean My Dog’s Ears? Everything You Need to Know

When brushing and bathing your dog in between regular grooming appointments, don’t forget the ears! Many dog owners are hesitant to clean their dog’s ears because the ear flaps and ear canals can be highly sensitive, and they don’t want to hurt their pet. However, neglecting the ears can be a big mistake since dogs’ ears get dirty quickly, which can lead to infection.

Just like trimming your dog’s nails or brushing your dog’s teeth, cleaning your dog’s ears can be accomplished safely and comfortably at home if you start slowly and remember to be gentle. The benefits of regular ear cleanings include the prevention of ear infections, early detection of ear defects and, potentially, the prevention of more serious diseases and hearing loss.

How To Clean Your Dog’s Ears

Ideally, you should clean your dog’s ears about once a week for floppy eared dogs, or twice a month for dogs with ears that stand up. This is in order to effectively remove any ear wax buildup or debris that gets trapped inside the ear canal. Certain breeds or dogs who like to swim may need more frequent cleanings. To get the best results, follow these steps:

Gather the Right Equipment

Since many dogs don’t enjoy getting their ears cleaned, it’s a good idea to gather all of the tools you’ll need before you begin. To properly clean your dog’s ears, you will need several soft cotton balls or cotton gauze, a mild ear cleanser designed specifically for dogs, and a few treats for good behavior. Look for a rinse that contains no alcohol, antibiotics, or toxic ingredients of any kind. Some cleansers are made to break up and dissolve ear wax while others are drying or combination products that do both—talk to us at your dog’s wellness check about which product is best for your dog’s needs. Most importantly, don’t ever use cotton swabs, which can push dirt and wax further into the ear canal and can cause serious damage to your dog’s inner ear if used too aggressively. You should also avoid using alcohol, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, witch hazel, or any other substance not designed for dogs as these products can cause irritation and inflammation.

Prepare the Ears for Cleaning

It’s impossible to clean your dog’s ears well if they aren’t fully accessible, so before you begin, make sure that your dog’s fur is clean, neat, and trimmed. Thick, matted hair around the ears not only make the ear canals difficult to reach for cleaning, it can also weigh down the ear flaps, restricting air flow and contributing to ear wax build-up and infection. Some dogs also have hair inside the ear canal, which can also make cleaning difficult and infection more likely. If necessary, gently trim around and inside the ears before beginning, or make sure your groomer does!

Start Slowly, Working From the Outside In

While some dogs are comfortable getting their ears cleaned (or are used to it and will tolerate it well), other dogs become incredibly uncomfortable when people start poking around their ears. If ear cleaning is a new routine for your dog, begin by gently petting, scratching, and massaging the ears while giving your dog a couple treats. Focus especially on the base of the ears. Next take a cotton ball or wrap your finger in cotton gauze, soak the cotton with your cleansing solution, and gently wipe down the outer ear flap—everything you can easily see. Next, wet a new piece of cotton and wipe down what you can reach of the ear canal. Don’t put anything smaller than your finger down inside the ear canal.  

If Necessary, Flush the Ears

A quick wipe down of your dog’s ears is often all that you will need to do to keep the ears clean and healthy. However, if it’s been awhile since your dog’s last cleaning, or if you notice an excess of dirt and wax when you clean, following up by flushing the ears is a good idea. DO one ear at at time. Start by lifting your dog’s ear flap and holding it upright. Then pour enough ear rinse into the ear canal to fill it to the brim. Next gently fold the ear flap back over and gently (but firmly) massage the base of your dog’s ears for 15 to 30 seconds to help the ear cleanser work. You should hear the cleanser squishing around in the ear, if you don’t hear that noise, massage a little firmer until you do (with a LOT of practice you can flush and massage both ears simultaneously to make the process simpler and faster!). After massaging, sit back and allow your dog to shake his head. This will bring up any softened wax. Using a clean cotton ball, wipe your dog’s ears again, being sure to clean any excess ear solution or wax that you see.

Pay Attention as You Clean

In addition to not being too forceful, there are a few concerns to look out for as you clean your dog’s ears. While your dog may not enjoy ear cleaning, none of the steps should feel painful to your dog, so pay attention if your dog yelps or expresses pain in any way as this could be a sign of infection and inflammation. Also, if you notice significantly greater dirt or wax build-up than usual or any discharge, redness, or irritation, you should bring your pet in for a physical examination. These are symptoms of ear infections.  

Bathing your dog and performing regular ear cleanings are both fantastic ways for you to stay in tune with your dog’s overall health and wellbeing. Many more significant health concerns first show up as changes in your dog’s skin and coat.

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