Dogs love to dig, swim and roll around – creating many opportunities for their ears to get dirty.  Cleaning your dog’s ears is an important part of regular grooming routine and it prevents painful infections. Board-certified veterinary dermatologist Dr. Jill Abraham explains how to clean your dog’s ears and identify common ear complications.

Ideally, your dog’s ears should be dry and free of wax and build-up. Make a habit of checking your dog’s ears, especially after swimming or spending time outdoors. When your dog’s ears have moisture, dirt or wax, it’s time for a cleaning. Luckily, it can easily be done at home by following these steps:

Step 1 – Start by locating your supplies. You’re going to need cotton balls and a dry cloth. It’s also important to have a veterinarian-approved ear wash specifically designed for dog ears. You can typically find dog ear wash at your local pet store, your veterinarian’s office or from a trusted online source.

Step 2 – Hold your dog in a secure position and lift up his first ear flap. Fill your dog’s ear canal with the ear wash – which can either be done by directly instilling the wash from the bottle into the ear, or by gently holding a soaked cotton ball to the opening of the ear and lightly squeezing. Repeat on the other ear. Gently massage the base of your dog’s ears (where the ears meet the head) for about 30 seconds. It’s okay if your dog shakes his head after.

Step 3 – Use dry cotton balls or a soft cloth to gently wipe away any wax and debris.  Cotton-tipped applicators, such as Q-tips, are not recommended because they can push dirt further into the ear canal, and even cause trauma to the ear. Once the ears a dry and all of the debris has been removed, the ear cleaning is done.

Remember that water can be damaging to your dog’s ears, so be cautious during bath time.  Be sure to gently place a dry cotton ball in the ears during baths to prevent moisture from getting inside. It’s ideal to clean your dog’s ears immediately after bath time, as the cleaning can help dry the ears and reduce the risk of infection.

While proper cleaning helps tremendously with prevention, some dogs are still prone to ear infections. If your dog suffers from ear infections, consider the following tips:

  • Don’t pluck your dog’s ear hair unless your veterinarian recommends it. Many owners of long-haired dogs wonder if the excess fur in their ears can lead to infections. Dr. Abraham recommends the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy, as it’s usually not recommended to pluck ear fur unless it is known to cause complications.
  • Don’t always trust the internet. You can find tons of DIY ear wash recipes online, but many of them are actually dangerous for your pets because they contain harmful ingredients such as alcohol, boric acid, hydrogen peroxide and undiluted vinegar. Always use veterinarian-approved products, and consult with your veterinarian before trying homemade remedies.
  • Be mindful of breeds and ear shapes. Some breeds are more prone to infection than others, including Cocker spaniels, poodles and basset hounds. Dogs with long, floppy ears can be more likely to get infections because there is less ventilation, allowing for a faster build-up of wax and debris.
  • Don’t over-clean or under-clean. Dogs have a natural pH balance in their ears, and you don’t want to disturb it with cleaning unless you have to. However, a build-up of wax and dirt can quickly turn into an infection if left untreated. Discuss the frequency of ear cleanings with your veterinarian. Most dogs who are prone to ear infections do well with once or twice a week cleanings.
  • Know when to see a vet. If you notice your dog’s ears are very red, swollen or painful, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. Pus, blood and/or brown discharge also needs professional veterinary attention. These are all signs of an infection or other painful complications.