How to Clean Dog Ears Properly

Alice Newen | 22 February, 2024

            How to Clean Dog Ears Properly

Whichever dog breed you have at home, we know you love them for their cute ears. They flap around, fold, and sometimes are stiff and upright—but equally adorable.

It’s also heart-melting to call their names across the room and see them raising their ears, then bobbing, dashing, or stumbling around just to rush to your arms. We know they’re paying attention through their ears—but we also need to pay attention to them.

Your dog’s ears aren’t just flappy tissues. Even for a Jack Russel's, these small but terri(er)ble parts consist of 18 muscles (compared to human ears with only six muscles). Regular ear cleaning is a crucial part of pet care as their ears are susceptible to common infections (which we’ll discuss below).

Some dogs are more vulnerable to ear infection

Many dogs have naturally clean and healthy ears and can live a full life without thoroughly cleaning their ears. However, others require regular cleaning to prevent dirt and bacteria buildup leading to ear infections.

For example, Basset Hounds, Dachshunds, and Cocker Spaniels have the highest risk of ear infections. Nevertheless, all dogs can develop them without proper hygiene and regular cleaning.

If you’ve been checking your dog’s ears since they were a pup, they might love getting ear scratches during pet grooming. But if your dog pulls away even at the lightest ear rub, your furbaby may suffer from sore ears and ear infections.

How do I tell if my furbaby needs ear cleaning?

At this point, you may be slightly worried about your pet getting unattended ear wax building up. But before you pop open your dog ear cleaning kit, here’s a quick mama guide to tell if your furbaby needs their ears cleaned:

  • Sandy/dirty ear exterior
  • Ears are red and swollen
  • It smells unusual and has discharge coming from the ears

Healthy ears should look pink, odourless, and dirt-free. Moreover, droopy-eared dogs such as Basset Hounds require more regular cleaning. Hairy and droopy ears blockairflow, allowing debris and moisture to hang around longer and result in yeast infection.

Dogs that love to swim, like one of our Ambassadors, Nomad, also need regular ear cleaning as the trapped moisture can introduce the perfect environment for yeast buildup and ear infections.

Three Common Ear Infections in Dogs

A dog’s ear has three major parts:

  • Outer ear: Consists of the Pinna (floppy or upright cartilage that makes up the exterior of the ear), ear canal, and the eardrum (tympanic membrane) 
  • Middle ear: Separated from the outer ear by the eardrum and consists of three small bones, the bulla (air-filled cavity), and the eustachian tube.
  • Inner ear: Responsible for balance and contains nerves responsible for hearing and connects to the brain

  • Each part of the ear is prone to each of the three most common ear infections that occur in dogs:
    1. Otitis externa: Affects the outer ear and is the most common type of dog ear infection. This is caused by exposure to allergens, parasites, dirt, moisture, and wax buildup. General practice recorded that 7.5% to 16.5% of reported canine cases are otitis externa infections.
    2. Otitis media: This ear infection affects your dog’s middle ear right after the eardrum. If otitis externa isn’t treated immediately, it will spread into the ear canal and middle ear. Sometimes, your dog’s anatomical abnormalities may also cause otitis media. 
    3. Otitis interna: Out of the three common infections, otitis interna is the most severe. As you’d expect from the name, it affects the inner ear and is caused by the spread of bacterial/viral infection. Otitis interna often results in balance problems, neurological impairment, and hearing loss.

    In most cases, primary infection or exposure to foreign matter alters the environment in your dog’s furry ears.

    Here are some factors increasing the chance of your pets acquiring an ear infection:

    • Too much moisture (from swimming, rain, or by staying in a very humid environment)
    • Excessive ear in canals or pinna
    • History of systemic disease in dogs (immune suppression or in a catabolic state)
    • Foreign bodies, debris, dirt, mud
    • Allergens (Food reaction, dermatitis, etc.)
    • Other ear diseases (obstructive ear disease, polyp, etc.)
    • Trauma

    In a nutshell, we as fur parents should be familiar with our furbabies’ healthy state. A healthy and clean one should be pinkish, odourless, and not dirty or swollen for the ears.

    When you notice a change in smell, visible dirt, and ear wax build-up, it’s time to bring out the cleaning supplies.

    Ear Care Products for Dogs

    If you found that your dog’s ears need immediate cleaning attention or are planning one for the future, here’s everything you need in your ear care kit:

    • Cotton wool pads. Avoid cotton buds, as inserting these can damage your dog’s ear canal
    • Gentle and all-natural ear-cleaning solutions (should be in a squeeze container for convenient use)
    • A clean and dry towel
    • A companion to help you with ear cleaning (especially if your dog doesn’t like their ears handled)
    • Treats! We can’t stress this enough, but you must keep praising your dog and keeping them occupied.

    What to look for when buying an ear cleaner?

    An ear-cleaning solution removes dirt and disinfects your dog’s ear canals to remove yeast and wax buildup. 

    We can also relate to the joy of shopping for new pet care solutions and treats (check out our Dog Treats collection!), so on your next trip to the pet store, look out and avoid dog ear cleaners with the following chemicals:

  • Dioctyl Sodium Sulfosuccinate: That’s a mouthful! But in a nutshell, this chemical is a known irritant for your dog’s (and your) eyes and lungs!
  • Propylene Glycol: This is a toxic chemical for animals and humans. Repeated eye, skin, nasal exposure, and ingestion of propylene glycol may lead to acute ethylene glycol poisoning and experience nausea, vomiting, and kidney damage or failure. It is commonly used in pet care solutions to absorb extra water and moisture, but you can fare better without it in your dog’s ear care solution.
  • Added Fragrance and Dyes: These ingredients are unnecessary and may lead to ear canal irritation on more frequent cleaning routines. 
  • We recommend shopping for all-natural ear-cleaning solutions such as those with essential oils. Look for products that target a broad range of ear infections and target ear mites, fungus, yeast growth, and bacteria that cause common ear infections.

    A Step-by-Step Guide to Dog Ear Cleaning

    Once you have prepared your kit, gloves, and towels, you’re ready to do your first (hopefully not your last) dog ear cleaning. 

    Here’s how to do it safely and successfully: 

    Note: It shouldn’t be very painful for your pet, but expect to get wet from all the shaking off!

    1. Sit on your dog’s level and position his back between your legs. You should be facing in the same direction as your dog (and not face to face). 
    2. You can give them their treats this early. How about a couple of shark cartilage treats?
    3. With one hand, gently hold one ear and fold the ear flap (pinna) up, exposing the ear and straightening your dog’s ear canal.
    4. While holding the pinna, firmly hold the ear-cleaning solution with your other hand (make sure it’s in a squeeze bottle).
    5. Squeeze a fair amount of ear-cleaning solution into your dog’s ear until the solution fills theentire ear canal.  Avoid touching your dog’s ears with the tip of the bottle. If it does touch, just wipe it off with a piece of cotton soaked in alcohol to prevent contamination.
      Yes! We know that flooding your dog’s ears sounds a bit violent. But this is generally safe, ensuring the active ingredients in your solution reach every nook and cranny in your dog’s ears and disinfect it.
    6. Continue holding your dog’s ears vertically and massage the base of the ear with another hand for about 30 seconds. This further spreads the cleaning solution and breaks up debris stuck in the ear canal.
      While you’re at it, wipe away any dirt and wax stuck in the ear flap using a gauze or cotton ball.
    7. Let go of your dog’s ears and let them shake their head. This should push the ear-cleaning solution out of their ears, along with any dirt and wax.
      Give your dog’s ear a final wipe using a gauze and cotton ball, but only as far as the cotton can reach. Don’t use cotton buds to reach deeper wax and dirt, as it could permanently damage the ear canal or eardrum and push ear wax further.
    8. Keep your dog occupied by giving them treats.
    9. Repeat this process with the other ear.

    If your dog reacts in pain during cleaning, immediately stop it and bring your furbaby to your veterinarian. You can tell them how you did the procedure and repeat it as your vet recommends.

    Moreover, if you see that your dog has an ear infection, you may need to apply medication. Follow the whole ear cleaning process, and use the prescribed medication afterwards. You don’t have to clean your dog’s ears every time you apply medicine—only the first time in most cases.

    Here are a few ear care tips from our fur moms!

    Pet ear cleaning is something every fur parent should know how to do safely and correctly. If it’s your first time cleaning your dog's furry flaps, here are a few ear care tips from our experienced fur moms:

    • Avoid harsh chemicals, particularly hydrogen peroxide, when cleaning your dog’s ears
    • Don’t use cotton buds!
    • Avoid overcleaning and wiping your dog’s ears too much, as it may irritate their ear canal.
    • Use the right dog ear cleaning products. You may speak with your veterinarian for the correct product for your dogs. Certain products may be excellent in removing mites in ears, while others are better in removing yeast/bacterial growth and infection.
    • Inspect your dog’s ears at least twice a month.


    Maintaining clean and healthy ears is essential for your dog's well-being, as it can help prevent infections and discomfort. It's a simple process you can easily incorporate into your pet care routine

    Following the steps and using the right products ensures that your fur baby enjoys clean and trouble-free ears. But always consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns or if your dog displays unusual symptoms related to their ears.

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