How To Clean A Dog's Ears


No self-respecting dog wants his ears cleaned, but routinely cleaning your dog’s ears can help stop a potential infection in its tracks and prevent other long-term ear problems. Read on to learn more about how to clean your dog’s ears at home, and why you should include this maintenance item in his regular dog grooming and hygiene.


First Gather The Dog Ear Cleaning Supplies

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Clean Hands
  • Gloves if you prefer them
  • Cotton Balls or Gauze Squares
  • Dog Ear Rinse  Look for a dog ear cleaning solution without antibiotics, steroids, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or any toxic ingredients; ask your vet.
  • Clean Towels
  • A Helper  An extra set of hands can be indispensable to restrain a reluctant dog.
  • Dog Treats

Put everything in front of you before you begin, to avoid making a mad dash for the forgotten cotton balls while your unwilling subject escapes.


Anatomy Of A Dog’s Ear

  • The pinna is the flap of a dog’s ear; some are floppy, others stand up straight.
  • The external canal is the part just inside the dog’s ear; it contains glands that secrete wax and other substances into the ear. The external canal travels down the side of the head, where it is called the vertical canal, and then takes a turn inward, where it is called the horizontal canal.
  • A dog’s ear canal is covered with skin and contains cartilage with ridges and creases on its surface.
  • The external canal ends with the eardrum, or tympanic membrane.
  • The middle and inner ears are behind the eardrum; these areas are associated with hearing and balance.


How To Clean Your Dog’s Ears: Start On The Outside

Begin by removing excess, dirty, or matted hair around your dog’s ear flaps and his ear canals. If he has excess hair inside his ear canals, it may be best to have a professional groomer remove it. Then wet a cotton ball or gauze square with the cleaner and wipe the inside surface, or pinna, of his ears.

Some dogs will object to ear cleaning solution squirted directly into the ear canal. Know your dog’s tolerances and choose the best cleaning method, as described below.

Dog Ear Cleaning Method I

  • Soak a cotton ball with the ear cleaning solution and gently swab the inside of the ear canal, removing the wax and dirt.
  • Swipe it again with a new solution-soaked cotton ball, continuing until the cotton balls emerge clean.
  • Alternately, wrap a saturated gauze square around your index finger and swab your dog’s ear canal, continuing with a new square of solution-soaked gauze until it emerges clean. Be sure to stop when you feel resistance—if you push too far you can cause damage.
  • Treat your dog and praise him.

Dog Ear Cleaning Method II

  • Squirt a few drops of the ear cleaner on your dog’s ear flap near the opening of his ear.
  • Gently place the tip of the bottle into his ear and gently squeeze some solution from the bottle.
  • Your dog will want to shake his head, stat; before he can, massage the base of his ear (the bottom part, near his jaw) for about 10 to 20 seconds. This action helps work the ear cleaning solution into the folds and ridges inside his ear canal, and loosens dirt and debris.
  • Now stand back and let him shake. Be prepared for what was in his ear to fly out of it: turn away, or take cover behind a towel.
  • Use a cotton ball or gauze square wrapped around your index finger to wipe out the ear canal. Be sure to stop when you feel resistance—if you push too far you can cause damage. Use a fresh cotton ball or gauze square with every swipe.
  • Repeat from the beginning if his ears still look dirty.
  • Treat your dog and praise him copiously—this was not pleasant for him.

NOTE: Never put anything into your dog’s ear further than you can see, to avoid damaging his eardrum. And never use cotton swabs to clean your dog’s ears—aside from potentially damaging the eardrum, they can cause your dog pain and even complete hearing loss.

Quick Tip: Consult your vet immediately if the cotton balls or gauze emerge from your dog’s ears particularly filthy, or if massaging the ears appears to cause pain.


Why Should You Clean Your Dog’s Ears?

The main reason to clean your dog’s ears is preventing wax buildup, thus reducing the chances of an ear infection. Wax and other ear “gunk” serve as an excellent petri dish for bacteria; dog breeds with long, floppy ears are especially vulnerable—Cocker Spaniels and Basset Hounds, for example. When external ear infections go untreated, they can spread to the middle and inner ear, where they will affect hearing and balance. Even your dog’s excessive head shaking when he has an ear infection can cause problems, including ruptured blood vessels and aural hematomas—the pooling of blood between the ear’s skin and cartilage.

Cleaning your dog’s ears can help reduce the likelihood of these and other undesirable outcomes, including chronic ear problems. But it may also simply make him feel better if his ears were uncomfortable in the first place—it’s the kind thing to do.


How Often Should You Clean Your Dog’s Ears?

Opinions run the gamut from weekly to monthly to a couple of times annually. Your best bet is to check your dog’s ears for dirt and gunk each time you bathe him to decide whether his ears need a thorough cleaning. If your dog is a frequent swimmer, his ears will need cleaning more often than once a month.


Signs Your Dog May Have An Ear Infection:

  • His ears smell bad.
  • He is scratching at his ears.
  • He is shaking his head.
  • He appears to be in pain when you touch his ears.

Consult your vet if you observe these symptoms in your dog.

Routinely cleaning your dog’s ears should be part of his regular care and upkeep, whether his ears stand high or hang low. He may not jump for joy, but he’ll be more sweet smelling and comfy, and this small chore on your part may save him from big ear problems over the long haul.

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