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How to clean a dog’s ear: A vet’s guide

clean a dog’s ear
(Image credit: Getty)

Ever wondered how to clean your dog’s ear? Almost every dog will need to have their ears cleaned at some point in their lives, but for some, regular ear cleaning is more important than for others. Dogs with large, dangly ears, those that love to swim, dogs with allergies, and those who have had ear infections in the past will need their ears cleaned as part of a routine, to avoid them developing infections. But what is best to use to clean your dog's ear? How often should you do it? And what is the best method?

What should I use to clean my dog's ears?

Never put anything into your dog’s ear that isn’t specifically meant for that purpose because it could cause your dog pain or damage their inner ear. It’s also important to never insert cotton buds or any other object that could accidentally go too far into the ear canal and cause damage. This is especially important because dogs are very mobile and are unlikely to stay perfectly still. 

Your vet will be able to recommend an ear cleaner solution that is suitable for regular use, as well as other cleaning products that may be more effective in dogs with specific conditions like allergies, yeast overgrowth, or recurrent ear infections.

There are various types of ear cleaning products, most are liquid solutions or foams that lift the wax from the walls of the ear canal, but there are also wipes, which can be effective at cleaning the outer part of the ear.

How often should I clean my dog's ears?

If your dog is prone to ear infections, swims, or has particularly waxy ears, it is best to clean their ears regularly and mark it on the calendar. The frequency of cleaning that is needed depends on the individual dog, how much wax they naturally produce, and their lifestyle. Dogs who swim should have their ears cleaned after each dip in the water, whereas, if your dog doesn’t swim, but is prone to waxy ears, clean their ears weekly or every two weeks, depending on how quickly you can see wax building up.

If your dog’s ears are clean and comfortable, they do not need cleaning. But even if your dog seems to have clean ears most of the time, it’s still worth checking regularly to make sure they aren’t waxy, sore, or smelly.

clean a dog’s ear

(Image credit: Getty)

How do I clean my dog's ears?

Cleaning your dog’s ears isn’t always easy, especially on the first attempt! The steps below should help make it easier and improve your chances of success.

  1. Make sure you have everything that you will need nearby – ear cleaner, cotton wool, broken into small pieces, or cotton wool balls, and a muzzle if your dog needs one.
  2. It’s going to get messy! Find an area of the house with wipe-able surfaces, or use an outdoor, enclosed space.
  3. If possible, ask someone to help you by gently restraining your dog. If no one is available to help, move the dog into a corner of the room where they are unable to move around so much.
  4. If your dog has dangly ears, lift the ear flap straight up so that you can see into the ear canal. If they have upright ears, hold the ear in one hand.
  5. Using the hand that isn’t holding the ear, put the nozzle of the ear cleaner just inside the ear canal and give a good squeeze. The solution should come out and you may see some spill onto the floor – don’t fret, you’ll get to know how hard to squeeze the bottle over time.
  6. Put the ear cleaner down and use the same hand to massage the base of the ear, where the ear meets the head. You should hear the ear cleaner and wax squelching around. At this point, your dog may try to shake their head, which is why it's best done outside or somewhere where mess can easily be cleaned! 
  7. Using the cotton wool, wipe away the ear cleaner and wax from the entrance of the ear canal.
  8. Add the cleaner again and repeat the process until no more wax is removed.
  9. Repeat the process for the other ear.

So, how do I know if I need to see a vet?

Sometimes ears are not just dirty or waxy, they are infected. You may have a suspicion that your dog has an ear infection rather than just wax if they are showing signs of pain, itchiness, or the ears are red or smelly. It is important to see a vet if your dog’s symptoms don’t improve after cleaning a few times, as they will be able to look inside the ear and prescribe extra medication if needed.

Conclusion

Once you know how, it’s easy to clean your dog’s ears. Even if your dog doesn’t need them doing, it’s worth practicing with them so that they’re used to having their ears handled – it’ll make it easier if you do ever need to have their ears done!

Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS

Dr Hannah Godfrey is a small animal vet with a love of dentistry and soft tissue surgery. She lives in Wales with her partner, son, and their two cats.