How Do You Clean a Dog’s Ears? Follow This Vet-Approved Step-by-Step Guide (2024)

Signs That It’s Time to Clean Your Dog’s Ears

Before you learn how to clean dog ears, it’s important to understand when you should clean them—and just as importantly, when it’s best to seek your vet’s advice instead. If your dog’s ears are infected or inflamed, cleaning them can make the problem worse. Contact your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment if you notice any of the following signs of infection:

  • Redness in the ear canal
  • Swelling
  • Foul odor
  • Excessive dark brown, yellow-green and/or bloody discharge
  • Scratching the ears or face
  • Pain on contact
  • Head shaking, possibly leading to dog ear hematomas

Monitor your dog’s ears weekly for signs of infection or inflammation, so you can catch any problems early on.

So when should you clean your dog’s ears? Look for these signs that indicate your dog’s ears need a wash:

  • Head shaking
  • Scratching at the ears
  • Odor coming from the ear(s)
  • Visible residue in the ear(s)

If you notice one or more of these four signs, and you’re sure your dog’s ears aren’t infected or inflamed, chances are it’s time to clean.

How Often Should You Clean a Dog’s Ears?

The answer to this question is different for every dog, ranging from weekly cleanings to every two months or even longer. That’s why it’s important to ask your vet about which routine is right for your pup.

A big determining factor is your dog’s breed. Certain dog breeds, such as co*cker Spaniels, have large, floppy ears that can trap moisture or debris inside, putting them at higher risk for irritation and infection. Other breeds are prone to excessive hair in their ear canals, increased ear wax production, underlying allergic disease and/or very narrow ear canals—all of which can require more frequent cleanings. Dogs without any of these issues can usually get by with a cleaning every one to two months.

Some pups may not even need to have their ears cleaned at all. In fact, if the dog’s ear is clean and healthy, introducing cleaner into the canal could actually cause problems. Dog ears are a tiny ecosystem, and if all is well, experts agree to leave well enough alone. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

What You’ll Need to Clean Your Dog’s Ears

To keep dog ears clean, you’ll need to have a few supplies ready before you start.

1 Dog Ear Cleaning Solution

Opt for a veterinary-recommended cleaner. Do not use household products like vinegar or hydrogen peroxide, which can irritate the ear.

The dog ear cleaning solution you choose should also have a drying component. Products without drying agents can predispose some dogs to ear infections, especially if used frequently or after bathing or swimming. Look for ingredients like isopropyl alcohol, acetic acid, malic acid, salicylic acid and boric acid on your cleaner’s label. MalAcetic Otic and OtiRinse Ear Cleansing/Drying Solution are both veterinarian-recommended cleaners with drying agents.

For dogs with sensitive skin, you may want to opt for a cleaner with ingredients like propylene glycol, lanolin, glycerin, lactic acid or parachlorometaxylenol, such as . These cleaners are drying, but more gentle on your pup’s ears.

2 Cotton Gauze, Cotton Balls or Squares

You probably already know that it’s unsafe to stick cotton swabs into your own ears. That rule applies to dog ears, too. Cotton-tipped applicators should never be inserted into a dog's ear canal. You could perforate the ear drum, introduce foreign material and/or cause an ear infection by doing so.

Instead, have cotton balls or squares handy. You can use them for cleaning the outer part of the ear, wiping up any excess cleaning solution, and for helping to moderate the flow of cleaning solution during your cleaning. (See our step-by-step guide below for how to use them.)

3 High-Value Treats

A special treat offered before, during or after a cleaning session can help make the experience a positive one—both for your pup and for you. A lick mat (we recommend Aquapaw’s Slow Treater lick mat) spread with peanut butter, canned food or canned cheese can help keep dogs occupied during the entire cleaning process, making them especially great if you’re cleaning your dog’s ears single-handedly!

4 Dog Ear Wipes or Pads (Optional)

These products help clean debris from the parts of the ear you can see and touch (aka not the ear canal), with the added benefits of being convenient and relatively mess-free. Another plus is that they’re formulated to be gentle on ears. , for example, contain soothing and healing aloe.

How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears: Step-by-Step Instructions

When you’re preparing to clean your dog’s ears, aim for a time when your dog is calm and relaxed and when you have plenty of time to commit to washing your dog’s ears. Remember: Starting slow is the key to easier cleanings throughout your dog’s life. Ear cleanings should not be forced, because that can make your dog fearful of future cleanings. Instead, work through the steps below, offering plenty of treats and praise along the way, and perform only the steps your dog will tolerate. If necessary, you can work up to a full cleaning over time. The key is to keep the experience as positive as possible.

1 Place a cotton ball or piece of gauze in the outer ear canal

If you’ve ever used ear drops in your own ears, you know that the feeling of liquid in your ear canal can be, well, uncomfortable. It’s the same for dogs—but here’s a technique that can help.

How Do You Clean a Dog’s Ears? Follow This Vet-Approved Step-by-Step Guide (2024)
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