How to Clean a Dog's Ears

A puppy with large ears

Whether your dog's ears are floppy or stand at attention, learning how to clean a dog's ears is an important part of keeping your pet healthy and happy. Most dogs need at least occasional ear cleanings, and those that are prone to infections or buildup might need a freshening up more often. Luckily, cleaning your dog's ears doesn't have to mean a trip to the groomer or vet. Learn how to safely and easily clean your dog's ears at home with this guide.

How to Clean a Dog's Ears

1. Make Your Dog Comfortable

When preparing to clean your dog's ears, the most important thing to remember is that the focus should be on your dog's comfort. While having their ears cleaned may never be some dogs' idea of fun, it should be something that doesn't cause them anxiety or stress.

In general, the earlier you get your dog familiar with you touching his ears, the better. If you have a puppy, spending a few minutes a day looking at and touching their ears, mouth (including the tongue and gums), paws and under the tail can get your dog acclimated to these kinds of procedures, making it much easier when your vet needs to do a checkup or you need to do some grooming.

If you have an older dog or you're dealing with a new adoptee and you're not sure how they will react, start slowly. Gently touch the area around their ears and see how they react. If they seem fine with that touching, you can start lifting the ear or touching the inside edges. If your dog tries to pull away or moves their head, don't force it. It's better to leave the cleaning to a professional than try to clean a dog's ears at home when he is struggling.

2. Gather Your Supplies

Before you get started, it's a good idea to have everything you're going to need within arm's reach so you can get the cleaning over quickly and don't have to start and stop, which could stress your dog. Here are some basic supplies to have nearby:

  • Damp cotton pads
  • Ear cleaner specifically designed for canines
  • A clean towel
  • Treats for distraction and positive reinforcement
  • An extra pair of hands, which can be helpful if your dog is not used to cleanings

3. Start With a Basic Examination

Before you start cleaning, check your dog's ear thoroughly. Look for redness, signs of puss or an excessive amount of wax. It's normal for your dog's ear to have a slight smell, but it shouldn't be intense or smell yeasty — both of which are signs of a possible infection. If you notice any of these issues, it's best to make an appointment for the vet and let them do the cleaning after they've checked for other possible issues.

4. Wipe the Ear

Starting on the inner edges and moving toward the entrance of the ear, wipe your dog's ear with a damp cotton pad. This helps remove dirt and wax that may have built up on the external ear structures. Be gentle. If dirt or wax is stubborn, try adding a bit of cleaner to the cotton pad and holding it lightly against the area for a few seconds before wiping again.

5. Clean the Ear Canal

Take the bottle of canine ear cleaner and insert the tip just into the ear canal and gently squeeze. It's important not to push it in too far as this can hurt your dog and cause damage to the delicate inner ear structures. You should also never insert cotton pads or cotton buds into the ear.

6. Massage the Ear and Wipe

Massage the ear gently to help distribute the cleaner and give it a few seconds to break down dirt and wax. Once the cleaner has been massaged in, wipe any excess away with the cotton pad and move to the next ear.

If your dog seems prone to yeast or ear infections, your vet may also give you drops to add in after the cleaning solution. It's normal for your dog to shake his head for a while after the cleaning, and you may want to do it outside or in a bathroom for easy cleanup.

Commonly Asked Questions

How often should I clean my dog's ears?

The answer to this is: It depends. Some dogs can get away with monthly cleanings or even less frequent cleanings, but dogs who have droopy ears, such as Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels, usually need more regular cleanings. This is because they are more prone to yeast infections and other issues because the droopy ear doesn't allow for air flow, creating a moist environment.

Other dogs who may need more frequent cleanings include those who swim on a regular basis and dogs who have had ear mites. Cleaning too frequently can also cause issues, so if you're not sure how often you should be cleaning your dog's ears, your vet can recommend a schedule.

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

You may know that your dog has an ear infection just by the smell, as the odour can be very strong. But other signs of an ear infection include:

  • Red and inflamed skin
  • Sensitivity to touch, such as yelping if you rub their ears as you normally would
  • Excessive head shaking
  • Pawing at their ears
  • Visible discharge
  • Coffee ground looking clumps, which may indicate ear mites

Ear infections require veterinary treatment and should be addressed as soon as possible. Your vet will determine the underlying cause of the infection and prescribe medications to address it.

Cleaning your dog's ears at home isn't difficult, but it can require some practice. Once you both get used to the process, it's usually quick and painless. For more tips on how to care for your dog, take a look at our content hub.

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