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Let's Talk About...Ear Hygiene

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

Ever wonder how to best clean your dog's ears? Not sure which products to use? Are you hurting them, or are they just not used to it? Continue reading to learn more about cleaning your dog's ears.

Bella's bat ears

*This post is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any ailments you or your dog may have. I am not a medical professional; the only medical advice I can give is to see your veterinarian. Any questions or concerns you may have regarding your dog's health need to be directed to a licensed veterinarian.

How often should you clean your dog's ears?

The frequency at which you clean your pup's ears will vary depending on a number of factors: how much time they spend outside; whether they have ear problems (such as infections or deafness); and the type of ear they have (upright vs. floppy).

You should clean your dog's ears at least once per month. More often is definitely fine, but less frequently will run the risk of developing ear infections. However, cleaning them too often can garner the same result. If you clean your dog's ears too frequently, you will irritate the ear canal, leading to raw skin that is more prone to infections.

Again, the frequency at which cleaning is needed will depend on the factors mentioned above. The more time a dog spends outside, the more frequently you will need to clean his ears. Dogs who are outside most of the time collect more dirt than dogs who spend all day inside on the couch. A dog who is prone to ear infections or who is deaf may need more frequent cleanings due to discharge. Also, the type of ear your dog has can affect how often you clean them. Floppy ears will need to be cleaned more often than upright ears. While it may seem the opposite would be more accurate (the ears are floppy, so they don't collect as much dirt, right?), floppy ears don't get as much airflow as upright ears. Not only does this keep the wind from being able to blow out loose dirt, but it also creates a moist environment. Bacteria love a moist environment.

Upright ears

Floppy ears

Upright Ears Floppy Ears

(The white flecks on her ear are paint; she decided she needed to supervise.)

How should you clean your dog's ears?

There are a couple of ways to clean your dog's ears. You can use a washcloth, a cotton swab, a rinse, or a combination. Washcloths are easiest for bigger dogs, while cotton swabs work better on smaller dogs. I always recommend a rinse; the liquid can get deeper than you can, and it will work longer.

If you're going the washcloth route, be sure it's soft and damp. A rough or dry cloth can be abrasive and lead to scratches or raw patches inside the canal (again, leading to infection). Only go as far as you can see; you don't want to jab your finger into your dog's eardrum. Use your finger to clean the canal and scoop out any dirt or wax you see (am I the only one who finds it oddly satisfying to see that gunk come out on the cloth?).

If you want to use a cotton swab, be sure you're comfortable doing so. It is much easier to damage your dog's ear with a swab than it is with a cloth. If in doubt, just use a cloth. Use the cotton swab to wipe out the gunk. Again, be sure to only wipe the areas you can see. DO NOT go too far down.

With a rinse, you'll want to have a towel handy. Put the tip of the dispenser right at the opening of the canal (again, going too far down can cause damage) and squeeze a good amount into the dog's ear. Pull the dispenser away and use the dog's ear flap to gently massage the liquid down into the canal. Once you let go of the ear, raise the towel to cover your face; your dog will shake its head, and liquid (and possibly gunk) will go everywhere. Use the towel to clean off any extra liquid. Go ahead and give the ear flap a good wipe-down while you're there.

Honestly, a combination is, in my opinion, the best way to go. You can use a cloth or swab to get out the visible gunk, then use a rinse to get a deeper, longer clean.

How does Bella get her ears cleaned?

Bella, like many small dogs nowadays, has allergies, so she usually gets her ears cleaned once per week. She has a special rinse from the vet that I may use between cleanings if her allergies are really bothering her. For Bella, I use a cotton swab. Her ears are pretty small, and I worry I would hurt her if I tried to use a cloth and my finger. Once I've gotten the gunk out with a swab, I use the rinse. Her ears are left clean and fresh, though she's not usually happy about it.

What if my dog doesn't like having his ears cleaned?

Many dogs don't like having their ears cleaned. Some really enjoy it (cleaning the ears can really scratch an itch they can't quite reach) while most merely tolerate it. However, there are those few dogs who absolutely hate it. Usually, these dogs just aren't used to having their ears cleaned. All they need is a little help. I recommend having a partner (or hiring a trainer). Have someone distract the dog with treats while you clean his ears. For most dogs, this is all it takes. However, remember that things can be a little more complicated than they seem and that there is always a bite risk. If you are at all worried about how your dog will react to having his ears cleaned, take him to the vet or a professional groomer (be sure the groomer is reputable; not all groomers know how to handle bite risks).


How do you clean your dog's ears? Have a suggestion not listed here? Leave it in the comments! Be sure to subscribe to catch all the upcoming Let's Talk About...Hygiene posts.

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