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How to Clean Dog Ears: Vet-Approved Steps & Tips

Written by: Misty Layne

Last Updated on June 25, 2024 by Dogster Team

person cleaning dog's eat with wipes

How to Clean Dog Ears: Vet-Approved Steps & Tips


Dr. Ashley Darby Photo


Dr. Ashley Darby

BVSc (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Being a dog parent means caring for all your dog’s needs, including food, exercise, and grooming. Grooming is an area that people sometimes tend to overlook, though. They may bathe their dog when their pup is visibly dirty or brush them occasionally, but they might not think to brush their teeth or clean their ears.

Cleaning a dog’s ears is an aspect of grooming that typically only needs to be done occasionally, but it’s important as it can help keep a dog from developing ear infections or other problems. Some dogs, like those with longer, floppier ears, require regular ear cleanings, as they are more prone to issues with their ears. But how do you properly clean a dog’s ears?

It is easier than you think, and we’re here with some important tips and tricks to help you keep your pet’s ears as clean as can be!

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Before You Begin

Before you begin cleaning your dog’s ears, there are a couple of things you should know and a few items you’ll need.

The first thing to know is how often your dog needs their ears cleaned. Clean them too much, and you raise the risk of them developing an issue with their ears due to the moisture. But how often a dog’s ears should be cleaned varies by dog. Those with floppy ears will need their ears cleaned more than canines with short, perky ears. Dogs who swim a lot will need their ears inspected, cleaned if needed, and dried after each swim. So, the best thing to do is talk to your vet about how often you should clean your dog’s ears.

The next thing to know is what a healthy dog ear looks like. Healthy ears are light pink, won’t have visible build-up or dirt, and won’t smell. So, if your pet’s ears smell bad or you can see dirt in them, you know it’s time for a cleaning. (But if your pup’s ears are inflamed or red, it’s time for a vet visit!)

What do you need to clean your dog’s ears successfully? You’ll need:

  • A cotton ball (or gauze)
  • Clean, dry towel
  • Ear-cleaning solution for dogs
  • Someone to hold your dog still (if they aren’t fond of ear cleanings)
  • Treats for your pup
  • Muzzle (optional)
  • Do not use any Q-tips, as these will push debris further into the ear canal.

Now that you know how often your dog needs their ears cleaned and what supplies you need, you are ready to clean your pet’s ears!

Man cleaning ears of his shepherd dog
Image Credit: ilona.shorokhova, Shuttertock

The 3 Steps to Clean a Dog’s Ears

1. Desensitize Your Dog

Desensitize your dog if needed by touching the ears and looking without doing anything. Give them a reward if they let you do this to create a positive association with ear cleaning. It is best to start the ear cleaning with puppies, as they become acclimated to the procedure much more quickly. However, this is not always possible. You know your dog will need to be desensitized if they become stressed or anxious when touching the ears. Signs of stress include attempts to get away, panting, growling, and wide eyes.

Once your dog is in a calm state and you’re ready to start, ensure your dog is comfortable (and if you think they won’t be able to hold still during the cleaning, grab a family member to help hold them still) so you can carefully lift up the ear and examine it.

2. Ear Cleaning Solution

  • Wet some cotton balls with the ear cleaner and wipe carefully around the entrance of your dog’s ears to get rid of wax and dirt.
  • Next, insert the tip of the ear-cleaning solution bottle into your dog’s ear canal. Fill the ear canal with the solution until you can see the fluid. If your dog isn’t taking well to having liquid inserted into their ear, with more wet cotton balls, wipe into your dog’s ear canal and squeeze the ear-cleaning solution in as you do. Fill the ear canal with the solution.
  • Once the ear solution is in, gently massage at the base of the ear (right next to the head) for about 30 seconds.
  • At this point, your dog will likely want to shake their head around (like they would after swimming). Let them. Then, wipe away the excess cleaner with your towel or a dry cotton ball.

3. Repeat

Repeat until the cotton ball comes back clean rather than dirty, and repeat the ear-cleaning process on the other ear.

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Tips and Tricks for Cleaning a Dog’s Ears

  • Gather your supplies in one place so they’re easily within reach.
  • Don’t attempt to clean out your pup’s ears if they’re overly excited or energetic. Wait until they’re calm or tuckered out before beginning your ear cleaning.
  • Some dogs will react badly to ear cleaning and can bite. It is up to you whether you think your dog will need a muzzle or not to prevent you from getting bitten.
  • Check your pet’s ear for bad odors, redness, inflammation, or discharge. If you see only a bit of dirt or build-up but nothing else, you can move on to cleaning the ears. Otherwise, you need to visit your vet so they can check your pup’s ears.
  • If it seems your pup is in pain at any point, stop! Then, reach out to your vet because something could be wrong with their ears.
  • You want to ensure your dog thinks of ear cleaning as a positive experience, so don’t be stingy with the treats. Give your pet treats throughout, and once you’re finished, give them another treat.

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Final Thoughts

That’s it! Cleaning your dog’s ears is easy (as long as you can get your pup to sit still). You only need a few supplies and a little bit of time to accomplish the process. Just be sure you keep things positive by giving your canine pal plenty of treats and praise throughout!

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Featured Image Credit: flywish, Shutterstock

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