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How To Clean Dog Ears in 4 Easy Steps (According to Our Vet)

Dec 10, 2020
AUTHOR Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Reviewed by Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Dr. Addie Reinhard is an experienced companion animal veterinarian with a passion for providing reliable veterinary insight & expert advice to help pet parents better care for their pups.

  • This article will review how to clean dog ears safely and effectively.
  • Your dog’s ears should be cleaned if your dog gets wet or as directed by your veterinarian especially when your dog has a history of ear infections.
  • Only use dog-specific ear cleaning solutions because hydrogen peroxide and vinegar can be harmful to the ears.

How To Tell When a Dog’s Ears Need Cleaning

Most dogs do not need to have regular ear cleanings. Dogs that do not have a history of ear infections and do not go swimming or get wet often do not typically need maintenance ear cleaning. If your dog is prone to ear infections, it would be a good idea to clean the ears out every 2 to 4 weeks. Dogs that swim or get wet often should also get their ears cleaned regularly especially after the ears get wet.

If your dog is scratching at the ears a lot or has excessive ear debris and foul odor coming from the ears, it is possible they may have an ear infection. To read more about the signs and treatments for dog ear infections, check out this article on dog ear infections. If you think your dog may have an ear infection, it would be smart to first make an appointment with your veterinarian prior to attempting cleaning the ears at home. Dog ear infections often will not improve with just cleaning alone and will many times need prescription ear medication to treat the ear infection.

What Can I Use To Clean My Dog’s Ears at Home?

I recommend purchasing a dog-specific ear cleaner if you would like to clean your dog’s ears at home. Dog ear cleaners are not expensive and are much safer for use in the ear than common household products. I do not recommend using vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or any other household product in your pet’s ear.

The ear cleaners I most often recommend to pet owners include:

Should You Use Hydrogen Peroxide To Clean Dog Ears?

No, you should not use hydrogen peroxide to clean dog ears. There are many other inexpensive, safe, and effective dog ear cleaners available online or at your veterinary clinic. Hydrogen peroxide is not safe for use deep in the ears, and I do not recommend using it in dog’s ears.

How to Clean Dog Ears: 4 Easy Steps

Cleaning dog ears is a relatively simple procedure if your pet doesn’t mind its ears being touched. Follow these 4 easy steps to safely and effectively clean your dog’s ears. These images are of me cleaning my greyhound Mabel’s ears! Even though she is a bit of a princess, she graciously allowed me to demonstrate these steps for you.

Ear Cleaning Supplies & Solutions

Before you start the process of ear cleaning, you will need to gather your supplies. As this is a messy process, I recommend getting a dry towel to set under your dog. Gather your other supplies including veterinary-approved ear cleaner and something to dry the ear such as a cotton ball, small washcloth, or gauze.

Supplies needed:

  • Towel
  • Veterinary-approved ear cleaner
  • Cotton ball, small washcloth, or gauze to dry out the ear

Step 1: Fold Back the Ear

The first step of ear cleaning is to gently fold back the ear to expose the ear canal. If your dog cries out in pain or begins to growl or snarl at you, I recommend stopping here and consulting with your veterinarian. It is possible that your dog has an ear infection if the ear is painful or if they don’t want their ears manipulated.

Step 2: Fill the Ear Canal with Cleaner

The second step of ear cleaning is to fill the ear canal with a veterinary-approved ear cleaner. You want to fill the ear canal until there is liquid spilling out of the ear. This will ensure there are adequate amounts of ear cleaner in your dog’s ear.

Step 3 Massage the Base of the Ear Canal

The third step of the process is to massage the base of the ear with your thumb and forefinger. This will break up any debris deep in the ear and work the cleaner around in the ear to ensure that it can do its job. 

Step 4: Gently Dry the Ear

The final step is to dry the ear. First, let your dog shake their head after you massage the ear so they can remove any large amounts of ear cleaner from their ears. This is the messy part, so you may want to step back from your dog as they shake their head so you don’t get covered in ear cleaner. After they shake their head, gently dry the outside of the ear canal with a cotton ball, small washcloth, or gauze. I do not recommend using q-tips or placing other objects deep into the ear as this can damage the sensitive internal structures of the ear.

Repeat this process on the other side, and then you are all done! Be sure to reward your sweet pup after the cleaning with an all-natural tasty treat or a fun, bouncy fish toy to play with.

More Resources for Dog Ear Cleaning

If you want to see these 4 dog ear cleaning steps in action, check out this YouTube video produced by AnimalCareTV: 

https://youtu.be/5C39A9UU720

In addition, your veterinarian can be another good resource if you have questions about the ear cleaning process. They will likely be able to demonstrate the process for you and recommend an ear cleaner most appropriate for your dog.

A Few Final Suggestions

Dog ear cleaning can be done safely and effectively if you follow the steps described above. Be sure that you are using a safe dog ear cleaner to clean out the ears. If you find that the ear canal is quickly getting stinky and filling with debris shortly after cleaning the ears, it is possible that your dog may have an ear infection. I recommend consulting with your veterinarian if you notice debris, redness, or foul odor in the ear that is persistent or recurrent.

Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Addie Reinhard is an experienced companion animal veterinarian who lives in Lexington, KY with her husband, greyhound, and four cats. She graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, and currently practices in the central Kentucky region. Dr. Addie has special interests in preventative care, dermatology, and diseases, and she enjoys creating helpful educational resources related to these topics to help pet parents keep their four-legged family members happy and healthy. We love Dr. Addie’s passion for providing reliable veterinary insight and medical advice to help pet parents like us give their pups the happy & healthy lives they deserve!

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