According to Banfield’s State of Pet Health report, otitis externa (outer ear infection) is the third most common condition diagnosed in canine patients (1). In fact, in a sample of over two million dogs seen in 2019, 16 percent of those patients presented with an ear infection! Clearly, ear health is a significant issue for dog owners.

Ear cleaning can play a significant role in both the prevention and treatment of ear infections. If your dog is predisposed to ear infections, regular ear cleaning can help maintain a healthy ear canal and make infection less likely. Additionally, if your dog is diagnosed with an ear infection, ear cleaning is often combined with topical medication to address the infection.

All dog owners should be familiar with dog ear upkeep to prevent infections and meet regular grooming needs. But understanding how to clean your dog’s ears safely and effectively may seem tricky to manage at home. 

This guide will walk you through the importance of dog ear health, offer recommendations for cleaning, and provide product suggestions to make at-home cleanings a breeze.

Reasons to Clean Your Dog’s Ears

Beagle dog in the grass smiling and owner petting ear

Cleaning your dog’s ears can have a number of benefits. Depending on your dog’s skin type and lifestyle, many dogs are prone to develop accumulations of ear wax and moisture within the ear. 

While this wax doesn’t necessarily create an inherent problem, trapping debris and moisture within the ear can predispose your dog to certain types of ear infections. Yeast and bacteria like to grow in dark, moist places and the ear can be a perfect environment for them.  

Regular ear cleaning, using an ear wash for dogs, also makes it easier for you to monitor your dog’s ear health. In most cases, the first sign of an ear infection is a mild increase in discharge from the ears. This can occur long before more obvious signs, such as scratching the ears, shaking the head, and the characteristic stinky dog ears that many of us associate with infection. 

If you’re cleaning your dog’s ears on a regular basis, you’re more likely to catch an infection early, before it becomes uncomfortable for your dog and more challenging to treat. 

How Often Should You Clean a Dog’s Ears?

Woman cleaning dog's ears

How often you clean your dog’s ears will depend on a number of factors. For an average healthy dog, with no history of ear infections and no swimming, every 3-4 weeks is a good baseline. 

If your dog has floppy ears and/or has a history of ear infections, however, your veterinarian may recommend cleaning your dog’s ears on a weekly basis. More consistent cleaning can help keep the ears clean and dry and facilitate early detection of infections. 

Dogs that spend a lot of time in the water should also have their ears cleaned frequently. Your veterinarian may recommend weekly ear cleaning or may recommend cleaning your dog’s ears after every swim. 

Dog Ear Cleaning Materials: What You Need

Dog having ears cleaned with a cotton pad

When cleaning your dog’s ears, it’s important to prepare your area and set up all of your supplies beforehand. Make sure that you have: 

  • A small, easy-to-clean location in which to clean your dog’s ears (such as a bathroom, laundry room, or even your back porch)
  • A tasty treat to reward your dog (peanut butter works great!) 
  • Dog ear cleaning solution 
  • Cotton balls or tissues 
  • A towel 

How to Clean Dog Ears: Steps to Take

Basset hound with ears being held out

While many pet owners view ear cleaning as a chore that they should “push through,” the best way to clean your dog’s ears is to make it enjoyable. This can alleviate a lot of stress for both you and your dog. 

Here are some steps for ear-cleaning success:

Step 1: Select a quiet location that is free of distractions and easy to clean up. Ensure that your dog can’t get away from you, because chasing your dog around your house is a surefire way to increase everyone’s stress level!

Step 2: Place a tasty treat in an area where your dog can eat it as you’re cleaning the ears. If you’re in the bathroom, for example, consider placing a long trail of peanut butter along the side of the bathtub. You could also place peanut butter or dog-safe cheese spread on a treat dispensing mat like the Aquapaw and stick it to the bathtub. Eating the treat will distract your dog from the ear cleaning and encourage him to hold still. 

Step 3: Lift your dog’s ear flap—also called the pinna—and squirt dog ear cleaner into the ear. The amount of cleaner that is required will vary between dogs, but your goal is to fill the ear canal until the cleaner is about to overflow out of the ear. 

Massaging dog ear while cleaning

Step 4: Massage the base of the ear gently. You should hear a “squishing” sound as the ear cleaner works its way throughout the ear canal.

Step 5: Let go of your dog’s ear. In most cases, your dog will shake at this point, which forces wax within the canal to rise up to the surface of the ear (due to centrifugal force). 

Step 6: Use a tissue or cotton ball to clean out the wax that has risen to the surface of the ear. Don’t use cotton swabs, which can push debris further into the ear and even injure your dog’s eardrum. 

Step 7: Repeat as needed, until you are no longer removing a significant amount of debris from your dog’s ear.  

Step 8: Perform the same process on your pup’s other ear. 

Step 9: Use a towel as needed to dry your dog’s ears and coat. 

How to Clean Puppy Ears

Happy puppy being taken care of by owner

When cleaning your puppy’s ears, the overall steps are the same as with an adult dog. However, there is one key difference. 

When your dog is a puppy, your actions will teach him whether ear cleaning is a fun thing to look forward to, or a dreadful ordeal that should be avoided. In order to set yourself up for a lifetime of low-stress ear cleaning, do your best to make cleaning your puppy’s ears as enjoyable as possible. 

Use a lot of food treats and praise to make this a fun time with your puppy. Take things slow. If your puppy shows signs of distress or discomfort, stop the process and try again later. 

Cleaning a Dog’s Ears With An Ear Infection

Vet cleaning a dog's ears

Ear infections are a common occurrence in some dogs. Signs of infection can include scratching or rubbing at the ears, increased amounts of discharge, a foul odor to the ears, and redness of the ear canals or the pinna (the ear flap). If you see any of these signs, you should take your dog to a veterinarian. 

Your veterinarian will likely perform tests on the ear, then prescribe a topical medication and/or prescription cleaner. If your dog is given a prescription cleaner, pay special attention to the instructions that your veterinarian provides regarding cleaning and medicating the ears. Timing can be important to ensure maximal benefits. 

Dog Ear Cleaning Products to Consider

Woman holding up ear drops in front of dog

There are a number of different ear products that can be used for dog ears. 

Dog Ear Cleaners (also known as Ear Flush): These fluids are intended to flush into an ear for cleaning. Many ear cleaners are available over-the-counter, although prescription ear cleaners may also be prescribed by your veterinarian. 

Ear Drops for Dogs: If your dog has an ear infection, your veterinarian may prescribe ear drops, to be used in addition to ear cleaner. These ear drops may contain antibiotics, anti-yeast ingredients, and/or a steroid to soothe inflammation. 

Ear Wipes for Dogs: Ear wipes can be a simple way to clean the external portion of a dog’s ear. They look similar to baby wipes, but contain ingredients that are specifically intended to be appropriate for cleaning a dog’s ears.

If you have questions about ear cleaning products, talk to your veterinarian to determine the best option for your dog.

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