How To Clean Your Dog’s Ears

Unless you notice a stench coming from your dog’s ears, you probably don’t think about cleaning them very often. Regular ear cleaning can help prevent ear infections. Dogs with ears that stick straight up only need their ears cleaned once a month or so, while dogs with floppy ears may need them cleaned every week are two. Here are some tips on how to clean your dog’s ears.

What you’ll need:

  • Cotton balls or gauze swabs
  • Ear cleaner; stick with a professional formulation since homemade mixtures containing alcohol or peroxide can cause irritation
  • Treats (optional, but recommended)
  • NOTE: Do NOT use cotton-tipped applicators (Q-Tips) because you can damage your dog’s eardrum

Step 1 – Check for infection

Before cleaning your dog’s ears, you’ll want to make sure they don’t look infected. “Shouldn’t I clean out an infection?” you might be wondering. No, you should take your dog to the vet first. You see, ear infections can be caused by either bacteria or yeast, and each needs a different treatment. Your vet needs to inspect the ear infection to determine the best treatment plan.

“How will I know if my dog has an ear infection?” The best way to tell is to pick up your dog’s ear flap and take a big whiff. A foul-smelling odor is an indicator that your dog likely has an infection. Look closely. If you see redness, swelling, or excess goop, your dog probably has an infection and should go to the vet for medication.

Step 2 – Add ear cleaner

Squeeze some ear cleaner into your dog’s ear canal, being sure to avoid touching the tip of the bottle to your dog’s ears.

Step 3 – Massage the base of the ear

Massage the base of your dog’s ear where it meets the skull. You should hear squishing as the ear cleaner gets moved around every nook of your dog’s ear.

Step 4 – The head shake

Understandably, dogs hate having liquid in their ears. Give your pup a few seconds to shake their head and clear out the majority of the remaining liquid.

Step 5 – Clean up

Wipe out the ear cleaner and gunk with a cotton ball or gauze swab. Use as many cotton balls as it takes to remove all the gunk and have a cotton ball come out clean. If it takes more than a couple of cotton balls to accomplish this, your dog may have an ear infection and should go to the vet.

Step 6 – Reward your dog

This is the step many people forget. You don’t want your dog to run away every time you grab the bottle of ear cleaner, so it’s important to reward your dog for allowing you to clean out his ears.

Once you’ve cleaned out both ears (or after each ear if you want), be sure to give your dog lots of praise and affection along with his favorite treat or toy as a reward. He may never love having his ears cleaned, but knowing he has something to look forward to afterward should help him tolerate it, making the experience easier on both of you.

Do I need to pluck my dog’s ear hair?

Some dog breeds like Poodles, Maltese, Shih Tzus, and Bichons grow hair inside their ear canal. There’s a lot of controversy surrounding whether or not to pluck a dog’s ear hair.

On the one hand, you have vets saying that ear hair should be plucked to promote good air flow through the ear and reduce the chance of developing an ear infection. On the other hand, you have vets saying that plucking the hair inside the ears causes trauma to the ear which leads to more ear infections.

As a dog groomer for more than 12 years, my opinion is this: Most dogs don’t need their ear hair plucked, especially if it gets trimmed during a haircut instead. Some dogs that have excessive amounts of ear hair and are prone to ear infections do benefit from having their ear hair plucked regularly.

Generally, if your dog has few ear infections, you can continue whatever you’ve been doing as far as plucking or not plucking. If your dog does suffer from recurrent ear infections, try the other method from what you’ve been doing and see if it reduces the frequency of your dog’s ear infections.

If you choose to pluck your dog’s ears, here’s how

You’ll generally want to pluck your dog’s ears BEFORE cleaning them. Plucking ear hair usually goes more smoothly if you use ear powder (like this). Ear wax can make the hair slippery, so ear powder gives you a better grip. Your dog will thank you for getting as much hair out as possible on the first yank.

First, identify which hairs are growing directly out of the ear canal and be sure to separate them from hairs growing from your dog’s ear. Nothing upsets a dog like having random ear hair yanked out. Squeeze some ear powder onto the hairs growing from the ear canal.

Using your fingers or hemostats (they’re like blunt tweezers), grab as much of the hair from the ear canal as you can and pull it out firmly but gently. It’s my experience that if a dog only has a few straight hairs growing from their ear canals, it’s easier to use your fingers. For dogs with thick, curly, excessive, or matted ear hair, it’s easier to use locking hemostats.

Here’s a technique for using locking hemostats to remove your dog’s ear hair. Try to get all the hair into the hemostats before closing and locking them. Once you’ve locked the hemostats, spin them around to get good leverage, then pull the ear hair out firmly but gently. Hopefully, this results in all or most of the ear hair coming out in one go, so you don’t have to go back and pluck more.

Now that your dog’s ears are clear of hair and full of powder, clean them as usual.

Note that if your dog isn’t used to having his ear hair pulled, his ears may be more sensitive for a while and he may scratch at his ears or shake his head for a while afterward because of the strange sensation.

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