How To Keep Dog Ears Clean

Joel DeJaynes, DVM
By Joel DeJaynes, DVM. Reviewed by Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on Nov. 29, 2023
A pet parent cleans their pup's ears.

Keeping your dog's ears clean is an important part of their overall health and grooming, and can prevent or treat potential health issues, such as an infection. However, cleaning your dog’s ears can be challenging—especially if you’ve never done it before.  

Your vet can advise you on the frequency in which your pup’s ears need cleaning. Your dog’s ears may also need cleaning if they develop an infection.

Since proper ear care is a necessary when caring for your beloved pup, it’s important that it’s performed correctly to prevent injury or damage to your dog’s ears. 

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Should You Clean Your Dog’s Ears?

Your veterinarian can help you decide if—and how often—you should clean your dog’s ears. Your vet may ask you the following: 

  • Does your dog have a lot of ear wax?  

  • Is your dog groomed regularly?

  • Does your dog swim?

  • Does your dog have an underlying allergy?  

Some dogs don’t have earwax or have lifestyles that require frequent ear cleaning (dogs who swim, play in the dirt, or have long, floppy ears filled with fur).

However, dogs that get water into their ears from either swimming or bathing will benefit from having their ears cleaned.

Dogs with allergies or ear infections will also benefit from routine ear cleaning. In fact, cleaning your pup’s ears can help prevent or reduce the frequency of ear infections.  

Check your dog for earwax once a month. Your groomer may also perform a routine ear check.

Bath time provides a great opportunity to inspect your dog’s ears. You can also peek at them when you’re brushing your dog, or trimming their nails

If you aren’t sure whether your dog should get their ears clean regularly, ask your vet to examine your pup. They can determine if there’s a reason to avoid ear cleanings.

Vets may recommend against routine ear cleanings at home for dogs with damage to their eardrum or pups that have an inflamed ear canal. Pups with trauma to the eardrum or ear canal need careful cleaning performed by their vet.

If ear cleaning at home isn’t recommended for your dog, your vet may also provide ear cleaning services. This may be a good option for dogs with an infection, other health issues, or if you are simply uncomfortable cleaning your dog’s ears.  

When To Call Your Vet

If your dog’s ears are red, painful, or have a bad odor, they may have an ear infection. If you spot these symptoms, don’t attempt to clean your dog’s ears. Contact your vet immediately.

Some ear infections can be minor, while others can be severe. Your veterinarian will guide you on the best course of treatment and follow-up care. 

When To Clean Your Dog’s Ears

There’s no standard timeframe to follow for routine ear cleaning. However, if you notice a buildup of wax in your dog’s ear, it’s time to clean them.

Dogs are all unique and can develop wax in their ears based on their breed, health, and other factors. Your vet can help you determine a cleaning schedule that’s best for you and your pup.

Ear Cleansers for Dogs

It’s important to only use a cleaner that’s approved specifically for dogs.

Don’t use household items like alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or essential oils. These materials will not efficiently clean your dog’s ears and may lead to ear infections or damage to their ear canal. An example of a recommended vet-approved ear cleaner is Virbac Epi-Otic® Advanced Ear Cleaner for Dogs & Cats.

When you clean your pup's ears, use clean cotton balls or cotton wipes.

Cotton swabs should never be used as they can push wax down into your dog’s ear canal, making it harder to dislodge the buildup in your pup's ear.

In fact, cotton swabs could potentially cause damage to the eardrum. 

How To Clean Your Dog’s Ears

  1. Make sure you have all your supplies within arm’s reach. Have a pet-approved cleaner, cotton balls or wipes. 

  1. Have support. If your dog is not used to ear cleanings, you may need another person to help hold them while you clean their ears. Restrain your dog by gently placing an arm around their neck to prevent your pup from pulling away. Use your other hand to gently stabilize their head or the back half of their body.

  1. Expect a mess. Until you know how much your dog will fight or wiggle, clean your dog’s ears outside or in a place that’s easy to clean. A towel may be helpful to keep the rest of their body clean. 

  1. Be gentle. Carefully hold the exterior floppy or erect portion of your dog’s ear, which is made up of hair, skin, cartilage, and blood vessels (pinnae). This will allow for entry to their ear canal. 

  1. Use your cleaner. Fill the ear canal with your vet-approved ear cleaner. Make sure the dog ear cleanser fills both the horizontal and vertical ear canal. Gently massage the base of your dog’s ear while slowly moving your hand upward so the entire ear canal is massaged. 

  1. Allow your pup to shake it out. Your dog will shake their head. Shaking lets your dog expel most of the cleaner and wax on their own. 

  1. Clean up. Use a clean cotton ball to wipe out as much of the ear canal as you can see. Don’t shove the cotton ball into your dog’s ear. This will avoid injury and the cotton ball from getting stuck. Repeat the flushing and wiping process until the cotton ball is clean and there’s no more visible discharge in your pup’s ear canal. If there is a lot of debris, you may need to flush three to four times.

Keeping your dog’s ears clean isn’t just a matter of hygiene—it will help you notice problems early.

If you notice things like redness, frequent heavy debris, odor, or pain, it's time to move past your routine cleaning at home and contact your veterinarian. 

This can help you to nip a problem in the bud and prevent a more severe infection and pain from developing in your pup.

Featured Image: kali9/E+ via Getty Images

Joel DeJaynes, DVM


Joel DeJaynes, DVM


Hailing from the Hawkeye State, Joel DeJaynes always wanted to be a Cyclone. His early childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian came true...

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