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How To Clean Dog Ears: A Step-by-Step Guide

While most dog owners know the importance of bathing and grooming their four-legged friends, one part of pet care often overlooked is your dog's ears. If your pup has ever suffered from an ear issue like mites or an infection, you'll know how much irritation it can cause your furry friend. But is it necessary to regularly clean your dog's ears at home, or should you wait until you suspect a problem? We believe at-home routine ear care is a critical step in dog grooming, as, without it, canines can develop a whole host of ear problems.  Dog ear issues are not just a pain to deal with, but they can be costly, too. And if ear infections go unnoticed for too long, they can spread, rupture the eardrum and lead to long-term complications. Therefore, like with all medical conditions, the best treatment is prevention, which is why every dog owner should know how to clean dog ears.  So, if you're wondering, "how do I clean my dog's ears?" read on. This guide explains the best way to clean dogs' ears and everything you need to know about caring for this particular body part.

How Often Should You Clean Your Dog's Ears?

It's essential to ensure you're not cleaning your dog's ears too much, as over-cleaning can be as harmful as never cleaning them. Excessive cleaning can lead to an irritated ear canal, possibly resulting in an infection.   Even so, deciding on a schedule ​​for cleaning a dog's ears will depend on the specific dog, as some breeds are more prone to ear issues than others. Once a month is a good rule of thumb to follow. However, if your pup has long, floppy ears or regularly swims, you may want to clean their ears every two weeks.

Dog Ear Cleaning Supplies

You'll be pleased to hear that you don't need many tools and supplies to clean your dog's ears at home. 
  • Dog-specific ear cleaner, never use products made for humans.
  • Cotton wool or cotton wool pads - Never stick cotton swabs down your dog's ear, as these can damage the canal and push dirt even further down.
  • A clean cloth or towel
  • Your dog's favorite treats for a well-deserved reward afterward.

Is Hydrogen Peroxide Safe For Cleaning Dog Ears?

Follow these steps to learn how to clean a dog's ears at home in a stress-free way.
  1. First, ensure your pup is in a relaxed mood. 
  2. Get your dog in a restrained but comfortable position. If you have a small dog, you can put them on your lap or a table. For a large dog, get them to lay down and kneel over them.
  3. Working with one ear at a time, lift their ear flap and examine inside. If your dog has hairy ears or matted hair stopping you from seeing inside, you'll need to trim it first.
  4. Look for any signs of infection or irritation, such as redness, swelling, discharge, or a foul smell. A moderate amount of ear wax is normal, but if there is an excessive amount, this can be cause for concern. 
  5. Gently wipe around the ear's entrance using a damp cotton wool pad or ball. 
  6. Holding onto the ear flap, place the tip of the dog ear cleaner into the ear's opening. Gently squeeze the bottle, allowing the solution to release into the ear.
  7. Once the ear canal is full of cleaner, stop pouring and massage the base of the ear for 20 to 20 seconds. It's essential to keep rubbing for this duration to allow the cleaner to move down the ear canal and break up any wax and debris.
  8. Wipe the ear with a clean towel or cloth, then allow your dog to shake its head. This action helps them remove any leftover cleaner and debris from their ear.
  9. Wipe around the ear with a dry cotton wool pad.
  10. Repeat the process on the other ear.
  11. Give your pup a well-deserved treat!

How To Clean Dog Ears With Vinegar

If you're using a vinegar and water solution to clean your pup's ears, follow the above steps with these differences:
  1. Mix the two ingredients in a small bowl to a 50:50 ratio. If your dog has an ear infection or inflammation, reduce the concentration of vinegar.
  2. Wipe the ear with a cotton pad or ball first.
  3. Soak a cotton ball in the vinegar solution and gently squeeze it into the ear, allowing the mixture to move down the ear canal.
  4. Massage, shake, and repeat as above.

Our Tips

  • If your dog starts to get restless throughout the process, stop for a moment and massage their ears to promote a feeling of calmness. You can also give them a treat, wait a moment, and continue. 
  • If it's your first time attempting to clean your dog's ears or you have a particularly large or skittish dog, you might want to enlist the help of a household member. One person can keep the dog still while the other focuses on cleaning the ears.

How To Clean A Dog's Ears With Infection

So what do you do if you notice signs of infection when cleaning your dog's ears? If your canine seems in pain or discomfort, we suggest holding off the cleaning and booking an appointment with your vet instead. Your vet will examine the ear and determine what the problem is.  If diagnosed with a bacterial or yeast infection, your vet will prescribe ear drops and possibly antibiotics, depending on the severity. You'll need to apply drops into your dog's ears following your vet's schedule. They will also inform you whether you should clean the ear before using the drops. To apply ear drops:
  1. Lift the ear flap and gently squeeze the bottle to release the prescribed amount of drops.
  2. Rub the base of the ear for 20 to 30 seconds in a circular motion to help move the medication down the ear canal.
  3. Release the ear and let your dog shake their head. 
  4. Wipe the ear with a cotton pad, removing any debris and wax.

Some ear drops need to be stored in the refrigerator. So, to make the experience more pleasant for your pup, ​​you can warm it up first by placing the bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes. Check with your vet before doing this, and never put it in the microwave.

Ear Mites

Another common ear problem with dogs is a parasite known as ear mites. Dogs can have a small amount of black dirt in their ears, which is not a cause for concern. However, if you notice excess dirt resembling coffee grounds or thick black gunk in dog ears, this could signify ear mites. You might even suspect your pup of having this common parasite before you look into their ear. Mites can cause itching, making your dog excessively shake their head. Like with infections, if you suspect ear mites, it's essential to get it checked by a vet. Luckily, treating ear mites is not too complicated. Some spot-on treatments cover this annoying parasite, which you can apply to the back of the dog's neck. Although these treatments are available over the counter, not all of them cover mites. What’s more, your dog’s condition may require additional treatment so always get a prescription from a vet. For example, your vet may prescribe ear drops to be used daily for several weeks, too.

Final Thoughts

Cleaning a dog's ear can help you spot and treat any ear problems before they become serious. A regular ear cleaning routine can also prevent future issues, keeping your dog healthy and happy.  However, because every dog is different, we recommend discussing an at-home ear cleaning routine with your vet first. Your vet will advise how often your particular breed needs ear cleaning and check for any signs of ear problems, too.
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