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Health & Wellness

How to clean a dog's ears

We'll walk you through a step-by-step guide

While giving your pup head scratches, you may be curious enough to check out the inside of their ears. A healthy dog ear is typically dry, smooth, a pale pink color and has a small amount of ear wax, according to Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch by The Dodo's on-staff vet. If your dog’s ears look like this, don’t worry about cleaning them. However, if you spot a lot of ear wax, or if your dog has been diagnosed with an ear infection, it's probably time for a proper cleaning. 

“It isn’t always necessary to clean a pet’s ears. In fact, when it comes to healthy ears, less is more,” Dr. McCullough told The Dig. “Healthy dog ears have good bacteria and yeast that exist in a delicate balance. Cleaning your pet’s ears too frequently can disturb this balance and lead to irritation and infection.”

Here's when to clean a dog's ears

The first step in cleaning a dog’s ears is determining if it’s actually necessary. Your vet may recommend that you regularly clean your dog’s ears if they have excessive wax or have been diagnosed with an ear infection (ear inflammation caused by excessive bacteria, yeast or both).

“In most cases, ear cleaning is part of the treatment regimen for ear infections because removing waxy buildup and discharge gives the ear medication better access to start doing its job,” Dr. McCullough said.

If you think your dog is struggling with an ear infection, Dr. McCullough said to look out for these signs:

  • Ear itching
  • Head shaking
  • Ear redness
  • Odor 
  • Increased ear discharge and wax 
  • Pain
  • Ear swelling
  • Hearing loss
  • Hematoma (when blood pools in the ear flaps)

How to clean a dog's ears

When it comes time to clean your dog's ears, follow these step-by-step instructions from Dr. McCullough. Just make sure to clear your ear-cleaning regimen with your vet first. And here’s a pro-tip: Be extra gentle if your dog is struggling with an ear infection, as the impacted ear may be extra sensitive.

  • Apply a vet-recommended ear-cleaning solution to your dog’s ear canal.
  • Gently massage the base of your dog’s ear.
  • Allow your dog to shake their head (this will remove any excess cleaner and loosen the debris).
  • Wipe the part of the ear canal you can see with a cotton ball and continue repeating with a new clean and dry cotton ball.
  • Never insert a cotton swab (or Q-tip) into the ear canal, as they can cause damage internal ear.

If an at-home cleaning is too painful for your dog, talk to your veterinarian about a sedated ear-cleaning procedure at the hospital.

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How often should a dog's ears be cleaned? 

It’s important to talk to your vet about how often you should clean your dog’s ears because every pup is different. Some dogs may need their ears cleaned after bathing or swimming because certain ear cleaners help to dry the ear canal. Some dog breeds, like cocker spaniels, Labrador Retrievers and golden retrievers, have a lot of glands that produce ear wax and tend to have dirtier ears, which may require more frequent cleanings.

“The frequency of ear cleaning depends on the unique needs of your pet,” Dr. McCullough said. “In the case of an ear infection, daily ear cleaning may be recommended by your veterinarian. If your veterinarian recommends maintenance ear cleaning, that will likely be every 1 to 2 weeks.” 

What can I use to clean my dog’s ears at home? 

You can clean your pup’s ears at home, as long as you talk to your veterinarian about the right ear-cleaning solution for your dog. “Thankfully, ear cleaning doesn’t require any fancy equipment, just a veterinary-recommended dog ear-cleaning solution, cotton balls and sometimes a human helper,” Dr. McCullough said.

How to clean a dog's ears with vinegar

Talk to your veterinarian about cleaning your dog’s ears with vinegar. If they give you the green light, ask them about mixing vinegar with water. “Pet parents can use a white vinegar solution made of 25% white vinegar and 75% water to clean their pet’s ears,” Dr. McCullough said.

How to clean dog's ears with hydrogen peroxide

Pause before reaching for the bottle of hydrogen peroxide. Since it can cause irritation to a dog's ear canals, it's not typically recommended for cleaning dog's ears, Dr. McCullough explained.

How to prevent dirty ears in dogs

Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to prevent your dog’s ears from getting dirty — it really depends on the root cause. “If your pet has an underlying issue such as allergies that are causing chronic ear infections or excessive wax buildup, talk to your veterinarian about management strategies,” Dr. McCullough recommended. 

With these tips, you’ll know when and how to safely clean your pup’s ears. Typically, all you need is a veterinary-approved dog ear-cleaning solution and a cotton ball.

Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash

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