Every dog needs regular bathing and having clean ears is an essential part of this grooming routine. Some dogs have naturally healthy, self-cleaning ears that require no routine maintenance, but others may be prone to excess build-up of dirt, wax, and debris. Ear irritation and infections caused by this build-up are relatively common in dogs, so providing your pup with regular at-home ear cleaning may help to keep their ears in tip-top shape.
While routine ear cleanings can contribute to your dog's overall health, over-cleaning can cause more harm than good. It's best to perform ear cleaning only as needed, so familiarize yourself with the appearance of your dog's healthy, clean ears. Perform regular at-home physical examinations of your dog's health so your dog gets comfortable with the process. Doing regular care will ensure your dog is relaxed while you clean their ears. Ask your veterinarian if at-home ear cleaning would be helpful for your dog.
Dog Ear-Cleaning Tools
You don't need a lot of tools to clean your dog's ears at home. Ear cleaning can be messy, so cover up and work on an easy-to-clean surface.
- Ear wash solution
- Cotton balls
- Tweezers or hemostat to pluck hair
- Q-tips (if used properly)
How to Clean a Dog’s Ears
Now that you have the ear cleaning supplies, how exactly do you clean your dog's ears? Most dogs dislike having their ears cleaned, which is why it is important to practice with your dog. Some dogs may happily sit in your lap, but other dogs may require restraint. For photos and additional details about the instructions below, see this post from WSU.
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1. Place your dog on a table. Stand on the side of the table opposite to the ear you are cleaning.
2. Massage your dog. If your dog enjoys it, gently massage your dog's ears to get them relaxed.
3. Drape your right arm over the dog's shoulders. Wrap your left arm around the head and neck and use the left hand's fingertips to push the ear flap back and up to expose the inner surface of the ear. If the dog tries to stand, lean your upper body over their shoulders to prevent them from rising.
If, at this point, your dog is too wiggly, you could try laying them on their side. Reach over her neck with your left arm and firmly grasp the elbow of the leg closest to the table. Always hold the leg close to the elbow, not close to the toes.
Keep your left elbow on her neck to prevent them from picking up her head. Use the fingers of your right hand to pull back the ear flap to expose the inner side of the ear. If the ear flaps are long, you can tuck the ear flap under your left elbow.
4. Squeeze the ear wash solution into the ear canal. A few drops of ear wash should be applied to the inside of the ear flap, and then the tip of the ear wash bottle should be inserted a few millimeters into the ear canal to place some of the wash solution down the ear canal. Be careful not to force the tip of the bottle into the ear canal, as forceful pushing into the ear canal could rupture the eardrum.
5. Let your dog shake her head. Most dogs shake their head when the wash is inserted into the ear, shaking out much of the solution.
6. Gently massage the dog's ears. Massage the base of the ear to distribute the wash solution throughout the ear canal. Dogs usually like this part.
7. Swab with cotton balls. Use cotton balls to remove discharge from the inner side of the ear flap.
8. Swab with Q-tips (optional). You can also use Q-Tips to clean the inner side of the ear flap but do not stick Q-Tips into the ear any further than you can see. Deep placement of a Q-Tip can rupture the eardrum or pack wax and other debris further into the ear canal, leading to further problems or preventing medications from penetrating deeper parts of the ear canal.
Note: If the "non-furred" inner side of the ear flap contains lots of fur at the opening to the ear canal, a few hairs at a time can be plucked. Lots of hair at the opening to the ear canal reduces airflow into the ear. Good airflow is important to maintaining a healthy ear.
Dog Ear-Cleaning Solutions
Most veterinarians carry ear cleaning solutions, so consult your veterinarian for a safe vet-approved ear wash. If they don't have them in stock, your veterinarian will be able to provide you with safe and healthy recommendations for your dog. Due to the possibility of ear infections, it's best not to come up with a DIY ear washing solution without consulting your vet first. Our dog's ears are incredibly sensitive and require mild solutions, so don't consider using vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or alcohol on your dog's ears, which could cause painful irritation.
Alternative therapy for ear cleaning can help dogs, but it's best to consult with your veterinarian for safe solutions.
If you need to apply prescription ear medication provided by your vet, you'll find that ear medications are most effective when placed in a clean ear rather than applied on top of ear wax or other debris. Follow your veterinarian's instructions for application and to determine if ear cleaning is needed before any ear medications are given.
Preventing Ear Infections
Routine cleaning of your dog's ear can be a powerful tool in preventing ear infections for those dogs most susceptible to it. An interesting note is that dogs have many more ear problems than cats. In fact, dogs with heavy, floppy ears tend to have the most issues with ear infections. Certain dog breeds with lots of hair in and around the ear canal may also be more prone to developing ear infections. Besides genetic factors, lifestyle also plays a role. Dogs who spend lots of time in the water are prone to developing ear infections, among other conditions like Swimmer's Tail. Veterinarians also find that dogs with skin allergies may experience ear problems as part of the allergy.
When You Can’t Do At-Home Ear Cleaning
Your veterinarian may recommend a thorough ear exam under sedation or anesthesia if they find problems with your dog's ears beyond mild build-up. There are several reasons for a vet may make this recommendation:
- A dog that will not allow thorough cleaning of heavy build-up while awake.
- A suspected foreign body such as plant material (think foxtails) is inside the ear canal.
- The veterinarian needs to collect samples from the ear for cytology or culture.
If you suspect your dog has an ear infection or if you feel uncomfortable cleaning your dog's ears, seek veterinarian assistance immediately. This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.