The Right Way to Clean Your Dog’s Ears, According to a Veterinarian


how to clean dog's ears

Just as humans need to know when and how to clean our own ears for effective grooming, we need to do the same for our dogs’ ears to promote good health and comfort. This is particularly true for breeds with long ears that hang, as they are at the highest risk of developing ear infections. Here’s what to know about when and how to clean dog ears — without exacerbating any health issues or creating new ones — according to a veterinarian.

What causes dog ears to get dirty?

Dogs’ ears can get dirty from, well, actual dirt. “The environment the dog is exposed to and the activities it partakes in can play a role,” says Jennifer Freeman, PetSmart’s resident veterinarian and pet care expert. “For instance, the dog digs in the dirt, the dog swims a lot, the dog lives in hot humid environment, are all circumstances that could contribute to dirt getting in your pup’s ears.”

The shape of a dog’s ear can also contribute to perpetually trapped dirt. “Due to the curvature of the ear canals, debris can become trapped. Dog breeds with floppy ears like Spaniels are more vulnerable to infections and dirtier ears in general,” she says.

Allergies or infections could be among other causes, she says, so identify your dog’s risk factors based on its breed, habits, and health history. “Dogs that have underlying skin allergies are prone to getting recurring ear infections and inflamed ears,” Freeman says. “Some breeds are predisposed to having excessive waxy debris buildup, such as Cocker Spaniels.”

how to clean dogs ears

When should you clean your dog’s ears?

Over-cleaning your dog’s ears could actually contribute to irritation or even cause an infection, rather than prevent one — so try to do it only when it is actually needed. To help you determine when that is, first make sure you know what a clean ear should look like.

“If your dog’s ears are light pink, odorless, and not inflamed, then a cleaning may not be necessary. If you notice a mild odor or see your dog shaking its head more than usual, it might be time for a cleaning,” Freeman explains.

If you do notice an odor or see your dog shaking its head more frequently, get ready to clean the ears, a process you can manage at home. However, if your dog appears to be in pain from the ears, it might be a sign of infection or allergies, and a good time to seek veterinary attention.

Getting to know your dog’s ears is important, because it will help you keep them clean — and also know when that further medical intervention might be needed. “If the ears are truly just dirty, then it is more of just a hygiene issue,” Freeman says. “However, many times a person will assume their dog’s ears are dirty and it is actually excessive debris from a yeast infection or discharge from a bacterial infection, or both. Ear infections can be extremely painful for pets and require treatment prescribed by a veterinarian.”

How should you clean dogs’ ears?

If and when it’s time to clean, Freeman advises having a cotton ball or gauze at the ready, along with ear-cleaning solution (you should get a recommendation from your vet) and a towel. But, “avoid Q-tips or anything with a pointed tip as these can actually push dirt and debris deeper into your dog’s ears,” she says.

Once you have your cleaning supplies, squeeze a veterinarian-approved ear-cleaning solution to fill your dog’s ear canal and massage gently at the base of the ear for about 30 seconds. Next, allow your dog to shake his head and then use a cotton ball or gauze to gently wipe out the ear canal, “going no deeper than the depth of one knuckle,” Freeman advises.

Throughout the process, pay attention to your dog’s natural response. If at any point your dog appears to be in pain, Freeman advises to stop and consult your veterinarian.

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