Do I Need to Clean My Dog’s Ears?

Yes! Cleaning and caring for your pet's ears are important ways to reduce the chance for ear infections and excess wax build up. Routine cleaning and at home examination lets you detect any infections or other problems early.

As wax and dirt levels build up in your dog’s ears, so too does the risk of ear infection. Routine cleanings and regular at-home examinations will allow you to detect any issues early, allowing for timelier treatment options. If you suspect your dog may have an ear problem, request an appointment with your local veterinarian immediately.

Prompt treatment offers a better prognosis, reduces the potential for chronic disease, hearing loss, and gives earlier relief for any discomfort your dog may be experiencing.

How Will I Know If My Dog Has an Ear Infection?

Keep an eye on your dog’s everyday behavior and physical health. As the pet’s owner, you will know better than any when your dog begins to act abnormally. In particular, keep an eye out for:

  • Discharge from the ear
  • Odor around the ear
  • Excess scratching, pawing or rubbing at the ears
  • Redness in the ear canal
  • Sensitivity or pain around the ears
  • Ear swelling
  • Masses around the ear area

How Can I Help Prevent Ear Infections?

Regular ear cleanings are a great way to help keep your dog’s ears clear from disease and infection. To clean normal ears, choose a mild ear cleaner specifically designed to be used on pets. It’s generally best to avoid vinegar, alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide, which can irritate the skin of some dogs and be painful to an already inflamed ear canal.

There are several types of cleaners to choose from. Some cleaners are designed to break up wax while others are meant to dry the ear canal. You may also opt for combination products, which are designed to do a bit of both. Consult your local veterinarian for your dog’s best options.

How Should I Prepare My Dog for an Ear Cleaning?

The best ear cleanings start with a good general grooming. Excess, dirty, or matted hair should be removed from around the ear canal and the ear flap. Heavy, matted, moist ear flaps, surrounding hair, and excessively hairy ear canals will decrease air flow to the ear canal, making it possible for wax and other debris to build up, potentially leading to infection. In some dogs, excess hair may need to be gently removed from inside the ear canal; note, this must be done carefully to avoid damaging the ear canal and minimize discomfort to your pet. Consider having a professional groomer or medical professional remove the hair if needed.

How Should I Clean My Dog’s Ears?

After grooming the areas around the ears, prepare your dog for the cleaning. Remember, above all else, be gentle! The ear canals and flaps are sensitive, and overly aggressive cleanings may cause serious damage to the delicate structures of your dog’s inner-ear.

To begin, pick up an ear flap and dribble a small amount (enough to fill the ear canal but not overflow) of the appropriate ear cleaning solution into the ear. As the solution drips deep into the canal, gently massage the base of your dog’s ear for ten to twenty seconds - you may hear the solution squish around as you massage solution into the inner ear. This step should not be painful for your pet. If it is, have your dog examined immediately by your local veterinarian. Repeat the process with your dog’s other ear.

How Should I Clean The Area After The Treatment?

After the massaging, stand back and let your pet shake his or her head to bring the softened wax up out of the ear canals. Use clean cotton balls to gently wipe out and up the canal, removing any wax or cleaning solution you see. For small dogs, you may need to use cotton balls that have been pulled in half.

We recommend avoiding the use of cotton swabs. Placed too deeply or forcefully into the ear, cotton swabs can cause ear drum damage, pain, and even complete hearing loss. The ears are particularly sensitive areas, so always use caution when cleaning them.

How Often Should I Clean My Dog’s Ears?

The regularity with which you clean your dog’s ears depends on your pet's breed, coat, level of activity, age, and ear wax production. We recommend that most dogs with normal ears have cleanings at least once a month. Others may need more frequent cleanings, especially those that regularly swim or get their ears wet.

Need More Information?

If you have any more questions about your pet’s health, contact your local veterinarian, check out our Pet Health Resource, Pet Health Concern, or Ask a Vet libraries, or feel free to browse through some of the ear care links below.

Updated 11/06/2015