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As dog owners, we know that keeping our dogs’ ears clean is an important part of their everyday care. But cleaning your dog’s ears can be challenging if your dog isn’t conditioned to accept regular ear cleaning, or we don’t feel comfortable cleaning our dog’s ears.

Some dogs naturally have healthy, clean ears and may almost never need to have their ears cleaned, while other dogs require regular ear cleaning to prevent the buildup of dirt that can lead to ear infections. Dog breeds with long ears, such as Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels, are among those with the highest risk of getting ear infections, but all breeds and dogs can develop them.

Checking the health of your dog’s ears is something you should do on a regular basis as part of basic grooming. Your dog might enjoy having their ears rubbed when they are healthy, but if your dog pulls away from having their ears touched, then their ears may be sensitive or sore. Gently handling your dog’s ears is a simple way to check in on their condition every day.

How to Tell When a Dog’s Ears Need Cleaning

Before you break out the dog ear cleaner, check to make sure your dog actually needs to have their ears cleaned. Over-cleaning your dog’s ears can lead to infection and irritation, so familiarize yourself with what a healthy, clean ear looks like (pink, odorless, and not dirty or inflamed) and smells like (not yeasty or stinky), and clean it with a cleanser only when you notice a change.

Some dogs require infrequent ear cleanings, while others, such as those predisposed to ear infections or dogs who spend a lot of time in the water, may need ear cleanings more often. The Merck Veterinary Manual recommends that a dog’s ear canals be kept dry and well-ventilated by using topical astringents for dogs that swim frequently, and by preventing water from entering the ear canals during bathing.

If you notice a mild odor or see that your dog is shaking their head more than usual, it’s probably time for an ear cleaning. If your dog’s ear looks red and inflamed, smells yeasty, or they appear to be in pain, contact your veterinarian. These symptoms could indicate an ear infection, fleas, or ear mites, or allergies, and require medical attention. Cleaning an already infected ear often causes more harm than good.

Beagle getting its ear cleaned.
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Ear-Cleaning Supplies

You only need a few supplies to successfully and safely clean your dog’s ears: a cotton ball or gauze, dog ear-cleaning solution, and a clean, dry towel. Avoid using cotton-tipped swabs or anything with a pointed tip. These tools can push dirt and debris deeper into your dog’s ear canal, cause infections, and can even create trauma to the inner structures of the ear itself.

A note to the wise: Ear cleaning, while simple, can be messy. You may want to clean your dog’s ears in a bathroom or a room that is easy to clean in case your dog shakes their head vigorously during the process.

Dog Ear-Cleaning Solutions

The internet is full of homemade ear-cleaning solutions for dogs. However, veterinary dog ear cleaning solutions are the safest choice. Some homemade ear-cleaning solutions contain harmful or irritating ingredients. Others simply don’t do a good job.

Most veterinary offices carry ear cleaner for dogs, and you can ask your veterinarian for recommendations on the best ear cleaning products for your dog, as some solutions may be more beneficial for your pup’s specific needs than others.

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How to Clean Dog Ears in Three Easy Steps

  1. Assemble your supplies so everything is at hand and near your and your dog. Try to clean your dog’s ears when your dog is calm, as this will help make the process easier. Don’t be afraid to use treats to make it a positive experience for your pet.
  2. Squeeze a veterinary ear-cleaning solution to fill your dog’s ear canal and massage gently at the base of the ear for about 30 seconds. You will hear a squishing sound as the product works to dislodge and dissolve any debris and buildup. Don’t let the tip of the applicator touch your dog’s ear, as this can contaminate the solution with bacteria.
  3. Let your dog shake their head. This is where the towel comes in — you can use it to protect yourself from spray and wipe down their face if the solution drips out of their ears. Once your dog has finished shaking, take the cotton ball or gauze and gently wipe out the ear canal, going no deeper than the depth of one knuckle. If your dog appears to be in pain during the ear cleaning process, stop and consult your veterinarian.

Should You Use Hydrogen Peroxide to Clean Dog Ears?

No. Don’t use hydrogen peroxide on your dog’s ears. This common household product can actually cause irritation to healthy skin cells. Ears contain very sensitive tissue, and extended use of hydrogen peroxide could eventually lead to damage of the ear itself. Stick to veterinary-formulated ear cleaners.

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How to Clean Dog Ears: A Summary

Now that you know how to clean dog ears, here are the basics one more time:

  • Know what a healthy, clean ear looks and smells like
  • Check your dog’s ears regularly for signs cleaning is needed
  • Cleaning ears too often can cause excessive irritation
  • Use a veterinary ear-cleaning solution formulated for dogs
  • Contact your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has an ear infection

Taking care of your dog’s ears helps prevent painful ear infections. Regular ear examinations will also catch any other problems, such as ear mites, before they get worse, and will help condition your dog to tolerate (and eventually enjoy) ear handling.

This article is intended solely as general guidance, and does not constitute health or other professional advice. Individual situations and applicable laws vary by jurisdiction, and you are encouraged to obtain appropriate advice from qualified professionals in the applicable jurisdictions. We make no representations or warranties concerning any course of action taken by any person following or otherwise using the information offered or provided in this article, including any such information associated with and provided in connection with third-party products, and we will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages that may result, including but not limited to economic loss, injury, illness or death.

Related article: Can I Wash My Dog With Soap?
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