How to Clean a Dog’s Ears: A Step-By-Step Guide

Inside of Dog's Ear Flap

Most dogs will need their ears cleaned routinely. That’s because overtime wax and dirt can build up in your dog’s ears, which is yucky—but more importantly, it leads to an increased risk of ear infections, which can be much more difficult to address.

Additionally, if you’re routinely cleaning your dog’s ears, you’ll be more alert to signs of infection, which means that any issues that do develop can be treated sooner, which is always a good thing!

1. Gather the Right Tools for the Job

You’ll want to have a good, dog-friendly ear rinse, like Vetericyn, on hand. You’ll also need either cotton balls or gauze—do not use Q-tips or other cotton swabs, as they can penetrate too deeply and cause damage to your dog’s ear.

You may want to wear gloves, if you’re squeamish about doggy ear wax (in fairness, it can be a bit smelly and unpleasant). Don’t forget what might be the most important tool of all—treats your dog loves.

2. Start on the Outside

Gently brush, groom, and clean the outside of the ear first to remove any dirt, mats, or contaminants before you clean the more delicate underside of your dog’s earflap or inside his ear.

3. Clean the Inner Part of Your Dog’s Ear Flap

Be gentle. Not only could you accidentally harm your pooch, but these areas are very sensitive, and he’s already probably nervous about the procedure. The more gentle you can be, the calmer he’ll probably stay.  

Clean the underside of the ear flap (or the standing inner part of your dog’s ear, if he has ears that stand up) first.  Douse a cotton ball or gauze wrapped around your finger in the ear rinse and gently wipe these areas.

White Dog's Ear Flopped over

4. Clean Your Dog’s Ear Canal

You’ll want to gently drip ear rinse solution into the ear canal until it is filled. Do not “squirt” solution in, as this can create too much pressure and harm your dog’s eardrum. Once the solution is in, gently massage the base of your dog’s ear.  Thankfully, most dogs actually like this part of the procedure.

Note: If this seems to cause him pain, you need to take him to the vet as he may already have other ear conditions which require treatment.  

After 15-30 seconds, let go and let your dog shake his head, which will bring most of the solution and loosened wax to the surface. Gently wipe the ear out with gauze or your cotton ball.

Do not venture into the ear canal where you can’t see what you’re doing.

5. Praise Your Dog for His Cooperation

Even if he did get a bit squirmy or nervous, it’s very important to let him know he did a good job by letting you clean this sensitive part of his body!


When You Get a New Dog…

Whether it’s a puppy or an adult rescue, start ear cleanings early.  Even if their ears don’t need very frequent cleaning, simply examining their ears closely and wiping the visible area with water while giving them treats will make real ear cleanings a much less stressful affair in the future.

Ear cleaning shouldn’t be causing your pet pain, so it’s mainly an issue of addressing whatever anxiety he feels about having a sensitive, delicate body part handled in such an unusual manner.

Stay Positive

No matter how anxious or uncooperative your dog seems to be regarding ear cleaning, your attitude needs to remain friendly and positive, even if you have to be firm. You don’t want your dog to associate ear cleaning with punishment; that will only worsen his reactions to it.

Give him frequent praise and small treats during the process.

Frequency of Cleanings

There’s no hard and fast rule regarding how often your dog’s ears should be cleaned. You should at least be taking a look at them every other week. However, how often they actually need cleaning will depend on the breed (long eared breeds and hounds may need cleaning once a week, while dogs with upright ears may need it monthly or less), the age of the dog, and can even vary by individual dog. The only way to know is to check regularly.

And, as always—if you’re in doubt about something related to your dog’s ear health, whether it be itching, shaking his ears, a strange smell or discharge—get him to the vet.  Severe ear conditions can take a major toll on your friend, and the earlier they’re caught, the easier they are to treat!

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