How to Clean Your Dog's Ears

Cleaning dog ears
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Ear cleaning is an essential part of your dog's basic grooming routine. All dogs should have their ears cleaned from time to time, but some dogs need more frequent and thorough cleaning than others. This is especially true for dogs prone to ear infections. Fortunately, it's easy to clean your dog's ears at home. You just want to ensure to do it properly so you don't do any damage.

Preparing to Clean Your Dog's Ears

The best place to clean your dog's ears is in the tub or outside. This is a great thing to do just before a bath. Keep in mind that when the dog shakes its head, that ear debris and cleaner has to go somewhere, and that includes your walls and you, so beware. You may wish to wrap a towel around your dog or place one under it to keep it clean and dry. You may also want a towel to keep you dry

Before cleaning the ears, inspect them. This gives you an idea of how dirty they are and lets you check for excess hair. If your dog has a lot of hair coming from the ear canal, it may need to be plucked. You can do this with your fingers, tweezers, or hemostats. A special ear powder made for dogs may be helpful in gripping the hair. Talk to your groomer or vet's office about how to properly pluck the ears without hurting your dog.

What You Need

When you are looking for supplies to clean your dog's ears, avoid cleansers that contain alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, as these can cause irritation.

  • Ear cleaning solution recommended by veterinarians, such as Epi-Otic by Virbac
  • Cotton balls, cotton pads, or gauze squares
  • Cotton-tipped applicators
  • Tweezers or hemostats (for dogs with too much hair in the ear canals)
  • A towel or two
GIF of how to clean a dog's ears
 The Spruce / Alison Czinkota

Add Ear Cleaner

Begin by holding the ear flap up and squirting a few drops of ear cleaner on the inside of the flap near the ear opening. Next, gently place the tip of the bottle into the ear and give it a gentle squeeze.

Massage the Ear

Before the dog can shake its head, begin massaging the base of the ear (this is the bottom part near the jaw where cartilage can be felt). You should be able to hear a smacking sound.

By massaging, you are helping the cleanser fill the ridges in the canal and loosen ear debris. After massaging for a few seconds (more for very dirty ears) you can let go and allow your dog to shake. You might want to turn away or hold up a towel for this part.

Wipe the Ear Canal

Once your dog has a good shake, lightly moisten cotton or gauze with ear cleaner. Use the cotton or gauze with your finger to wipe out the ear canal. You can put your finger in the ear canal as far as it will go without forcing it.

You may wish to use cotton-tipped applicators to clean stubborn debris out of the ridges of your dog's ear.

If the ear still seems dirty, repeat the process. Stop if your dog's ear begins to get red or bleed or your dog seems to be in pain. 

Move on to the other ear and repeat all the steps. Finish by wiping away any visible debris and drying your dog's head off. Make sure to offer a treat reward and plenty of praise.

The Anatomy of a Dog's Ear

It's always a good idea to familiarize yourself with your dog's anatomy for grooming care like this. This can help you prevent any damage and get a better understanding of what you're looking at while cleaning. A dog's ear is a fairly complex structure:

  • The visible outside flap of the ear is called the pinna. This pinna will flop in some dogs while in others it stands up straight. Floppy ears may allow less airflow to the ear canal, making some floppy-eared dogs more prone to ear infections.
  • Just inside the visible ear opening is the external canal. This canal travels down the side of the head (vertical canal), then takes a turn inward (horizontal canal). The canal is skin-covered and contains cartilage that creates ridges and creases on the surface. The external canal also contains glands that secrete wax and oils (sebum) into the ear.
  • The external canal ends at the eardrum (tympanic membrane). This is a thin piece of tissue that vibrates in response to sound waves and assists in hearing. The tympanic membrane also protects the middle and inner ear.
  • Beyond the eardrum is the middle ear followed by the inner ear. These areas contain the delicate structures associated with hearing and balance. Damage to the inner or middle ear can cause significant harm to a dog's hearing and balance. In some cases, the damage is even permanent.

    Preventing Problems

    While cleaning, never put the cotton-tipped applicators into your dog's ear any further than you can see, or you may cause damage to the eardrum. The tip of the bottle you use for cleaning also shouldn't go deeper into the dog's ear than you can see. And do not use an excessive amount of pressure when squeezing the cleanser into the ear.

    Regular cleaning can help prevent ear infections. Using an appropriate ear cleaner, you can release wax and debris from the canal and help dry the ear.

    Dogs can build up wax and debris at a faster rate than people. Some dogs have very little ear buildup and simply need their ears wiped out occasionally. Other dogs need thorough ear cleanings every week or two. Inspect your dog's ears regularly and talk to your vet about your dog's needs. Over-cleaning can cause irritation, but under-cleaning can make way for excessive buildup.

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    If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.