how to clean a dog's ears - cleaning a dog

Why Clean a Dog’s Ears?

All dogs need their ears cleaned from time to time, and every dog owner should be prepared for the task. Just like in humans, ear wax, dirt and debris can build up in the ear and needs to be cleaned out, ideally about once per month after an initial baseline of cleanings is completed. There are many things to consider when learning how to clean a dog’s ears.

Things to remember are that a dog needs its ears cleaned, that it probably doesn’t want its ears cleaned and that its ears are extremely sensitive and easily damaged. It takes time to work with a dog to get it comfortable with this, and starting young is important.That said, even an old dog can learn new tricks, and with time and patience, an older dog can learn to accept ear cleaning time, too.

Ear Cleaning Basics

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Many people think cotton swabs, or Q-tips, are the perfect solution for cleaning a dog’s ears. Many people are wrong. They aren’t good for dog ears, just as they aren’t good for human ears. They tend to push the debris in further, making things worse, and they can even be the cause for an expensive vet visit or complete hearing loss. The best option for cleaning a dog’s ears is either cotton balls or gauze wrapped around a finger.

The most important decision, however, is the liquid wash used with the cotton balls. It should never contain toxic ingredients, alcohol, antibiotics or steroids. Use an ear wash that is made for dogs’ ears. Using a dog ear cleaner designed just for dogs ensures that there is the proper chemical balance to prevent yeast or bacterial infections from starting.Home remedies are not recommended overall, and established brands are best because their pH is balanced for a dog’s delicate inner ear and will help prevent ear infections. One simple dog ear cleaner is made from a saline solution, available over the counter and in the correct strength to use for the dog’s fragile ear requirements. Not just any saline solution will do, though: Make sure it is a saline solution made for a dog’s ears.

Get Ready…

The first step to any successful event with a dog is planning. The owner should know exactly what they are going to do, in what order, and then bring all needed supplies to the designated area. Treats may be helpful if the dog is not used to having its ears cleaned or is hesitant. After everything is set up, then bring the dog to the cleaning area. It is recommended to clean the dog’s ears in a room where making a mess isn’t a problem when the dog shakes its head.

Some of the Recommended Supplies

  • A large towel to put the dog on in case of a mess
  • Dog ear cleaner
  • A small dish for the dog cleaner
  • Gauze or cotton balls (using 5-10 cotton balls per ear isn’t uncommon the first time; expect to need 4-6 subsequently)
  • Dog treats (and plenty of them!)

Making sure the dog ear cleaning solution is room temperature first will help prevent the dog from being uncomfortable. To prevent burning due to uneven heating, do not heat it in the microwave. Leave the solution on the counter so it is at room temperature rather than in a cold room or cold environment.

Get Set…

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Provide a quiet, distraction-free setting. Having lots of noise to startle the dog may make things go badly and turn what could be an easy cleaning into a troubling encounter for the dog and owner alike. Try to eliminate children, other pets and possibly even other people (except if needed to help hold or soothe the dog).

Make this a fun process. Provide lots of praise and treats during the cleaning to encourage the dog to participate and be cooperative both in the moment and in the future. Watch for signs the dog is not doing well and that the process needs to slow down.

Hints that things aren’t going well might be that the dog is shaking in fear, pulling away from the owner or even growling. Don’t let things get to the biting stage before giving a break to both parties. Taking the needed time to relax and get the job done right will ensure a smoother time down the road. As time goes on with an ear cleaning routine, things should get easier as the dog gets used to it.


Start by dipping the cotton ball in a small dish of the cleaning solution and gently rub the outermost part of the inside of the ear. If the dog has ears that are floppy, be sure to clean the entire underside, working inwards. If the dog has upright ears, work in from the tip of the inside of the ear. Remember that a dog’s ear is very sensitive and can be easily damaged.

Using gentle strokes, wipe the ear with the damp cotton ball or gauze, changing it when it gets dirty. As you get closer to the ridges of the ear (near the “inner ear”), become even more cautious, and only go as far as able without meeting resistance. Once there is resistance to probing, stop cleaning at that point.

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As the inside of the ear might still look dirty, and reaching it is not practical or safe, dribble a tiny amount of the ear wash solution into the ear (5-10 drops will do). Massage the outside of the ear canal. Allow the dog to shake its head which will bring up ear wax and debris out of the canal. Be sure to get out of the way during the shaking process! If the drop administration or the head shaking hurts the dog as evidenced by whining, pawing at the ears or other pain signals, bring it to a veterinarian immediately, as this could be a sign of an ear infection.

Repeat the wiping process from the outer ear to the inner ear again using dry cotton balls and being careful not to push the debris back into the ear. The procedure of placing fluid in the dog’s ear should only be done once or twice to prevent a buildup of fluid and possibly a yeast or bacterial infection.


Usually, the suggestion is to clean the dog’s ears once per month. However, if the dog’s ears haven’t been cleaned in some time and they are very dirty, or if the dog has floppy ears, it is recommended to start with twice per week for two weeks, and then once per week for two weeks, and ultimately once per month after that to establish a good ear health baseline.

Ear Infections

How does an owner know if a dog has an ear infection? Here are several things to look for:

  • Redness
  • Crusts on the inside of the ear
  • Yellow, brown or bloody discharge
  • Scratching of the ear or around the ear
  • Rubbing the ear on the floor or furniture
  • Hair loss around the ear
  • Swelling
  • Loss of balance or hearing
  • Head tilt or shaking of the head
  • Odor
  • Loss of balance

If an owner notices any or several of these symptoms, a visit to the veterinarian is in order. They can provide medication that will treat the symptoms and the cause, making the dog much more comfortable and preventing temporary or total hearing loss.

How To Prevent Ear Infections

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Preventing ear infections can be complicated in both upright and floppy-eared dogs. Some tips include: cleaning on a regular basis, drying ears after swimming and carefully trimming hair that may build up in the ears. Do not try to trim a dog’s ear hair without instruction, as damage to the dog’s ear may result.

Establishing good ear cleaning habits young can be especially important, but this can happen at any stage of a dog’s life, too.

Hearing Loss in Dogs

Some causes of hearing loss in a dog include ear infections, hair buildup in the ears, wax buildup in the ears and inflammation. While these are just a few reasons, they are directly related to ear cleaning and they are why it is so important that owners learn how to clean a dog’s ears.

It can be easy in some ways to tell if the dog is experiencing hearing loss. The lack of response to squeaky toys or an owner’s commands are usually a giveaway, but things like excessive barking and being difficult to awaken are also ways to tell if there is some or total hearing loss. Only a veterinarian can tell an owner if the hearing loss is permanent or temporary based on the diagnosis of the ear canal.

Doing What’s Right

It is important to be a knowledgeable pet owner and learn how to clean a dog’s ears, for both its safety and comfort. Being educated on ear cleaning and causes of ear infections also will hopefully avoid any uncomfortable ear problems that may require an expensive veterinarian visit. By taking care of the dog’s ears properly, an owner will have many happy years with it and prevent any or further hearing loss.