vet checking dogs ears

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Simple Guide To Keeping Your Dog's Ears Clean

LAST UPDATED December 2023

This article is written by Pet Circle's qualified veterinarian, Dr. Maree Monaghan BVSc (Hons)

Ear infections are one of the most common reasons for dogs to be seen by vets. Ear infections are painful and can lead to long term consequences such as deafness.

Starting an ear cleaning regime for your beloved pooch when they are young will reap long term benefits for both your dog's health and wellbeing and your hip pocket!

This article will give you all the information you need to:

Understand your dog's ear health

Choose the right ear cleaning products

Prepare Your Dog for Ear Cleaning

Clean your dog's ears safely and effectively

Decide when it's not safe to clean your dog's ears and that it's time for a visit to your vet

Understanding your dog's ear health

Some dogs are more prone to ear infections than others and this is dependent on a number of factors, including:

If you have a dog that ticks any of these boxes, it is recommended to clean their ears once a week and after swimming or bathing unless otherwise instructed by your vet.

Checking your dog's ears on a regular basis, preferably daily, will help you recognise what is normal for your dog and alert you to any signs of ear problems before they become serious.

dog ear canal anatomy

The basic anatomy of all dogs' ears is the same, regardless of their breed and or the shape of their ear flap.

If you look in your dog's ear, the hole you can see near the base of the inside of the ear is the entrance to the vertical canal. This is where ear cleaning solution is supposed to go so it can travel down and remove debris from the horizontal canal. The eardrum, or tympanic membrane, is at the end of the horizontal canal and forms a barrier between the external ear and the delicate middle ear. Ear infections can cause the eardrum to rupture and this is why it is so important to not to put anything in your dog's ears if you think they have an infection (see more on this below).

Preparing Your Dog for Ear Cleaning

The first step is training your dog to regard ear cleaning as an enjoyable experience. This is best done when they are puppies, however, dogs are never too old to learn new tricks ! It is vital to use positive reinforcement when training your dog to have their ears cleaned.

  1. Firstly, make an association between the bottle of ear cleaner and fun times by having it near your dog when you are playing with them.
  2. When they are comfortable with sight of the bottle, start moving it around while playing without making a big deal about it.
  3. If your dog is relaxed and not worried about you touching and moving the bottle of ear cleaner, then you can start touching your dog with the bottle. It is important to keep playing and giving treats during this time so your dog associates the ear cleaner with fun and treats. Make sure you can hold the bottle against your dog's head and ears at this stage.
  4. Once you are confident your dog is comfortable, you can start the process of ear cleaning.

Choosing the right ear cleaning products

There are many excellent products available that are specially formulated for cleaning dog's ears at home, so don't be tempted to fall into the trap of using home remedies like hydrogen peroxide, vinegar or coconut oil.

Your ear cleaning tool kit should include:

  1. A vet-recommended ear cleaning solution
  2. Tissues
  3. Cotton balls or cotton pads
  4. Treats
  5. Ear Wipes

Veterinarian recommended ear cleaning solutions

You will also need tissues, cotton balls or cotton pads to wipe the ears after cleaning and, the most important tool, lots of yummy treats to ensure ear cleaning is fun!!

NEVER use a cotton bud/swab to clean out a dog's ears as these can cause damage to the ear canals and potentially rupture the eardrum.

Ear wipes are another valuable tool to add to your dog's ear cleaning kit as they are perfect for keeping the inside of your dog's ear flaps clean and free from excess wax.

Cleaning your dog's ears safely and effectively

Step by Step Guide to Ear Cleaning

  1. Gather all the supplies you will need and make sure they are close at hand.
  2. Put small to medium sized dogs on a table to make the process easier for both of you.
  3. Hold the ear flap and lift it into a vertical position.
  4. Aim the tip of the bottle of ear cleaner into the ear canal and squeeze the bottle to apply the solution liberally, enabling a flushing action.
  5. Without letting go of the ear flap, gently massage the base of the ear, downward and inward in order to disperse the ear cleaning product throughout the ear canal for one minute.
  6. Allow your dog to shake their head.
  7. Remove the excess fluid and debris with a cotton wool, cotton pad or tissue, remembering to clean the inside of the ear flap.
  8. Repeat until the ear cleaning solution is clear.
  9. Don't forget to reward your dog after you have finished cleaning their ears.

Safety and Health Considerations

The following signs are red flags that will alert you to the fact that it is time for your dog's ears to be checked by your vet. As mentioned above, ear infections can cause the eardrum to rupture and this is why it is so important to not to put anything in your dog's ears if you think they have an infection.

  • Red skin in and around the ears
  • Odour or discharge in or around the ears
  • Pain when the ears or head are touched
  • Excessive ear scratching or head shaking
  • Head tilt

In Conclusion

Being diligent and checking your dog's ears regularly along with safe and effective cleaning, is the best way to avoid the pain and distress of ear infections for your beloved pooch.

Further Reading

Why is my dog getting ear infections?

Sensitive and itchy skin in dogs

Signs your dog may have a food allergy