How to keep your dog’s ears clean

Article by Dr Alex Crow

Dr Alex Crow is an RCVS licensed Veterinary Surgeon who has a special interest in neurology and soft tissue surgery. He is passionate about educating pet parents so they can better care for their pets.

Ear infections are one of the most common issues vets deal with on a daily basis and many owners will admit to not checking their dog’s ears at least once a week as part of their health care routine.

For some dogs, cleaning their ears is usually easier said than done; if your dog is not used to having their ears examined or cleaned then you may have a fight on your hands. But it is extremely important that you have a regular ear cleaning routine for their dogs. After all, the best form of cure is prevention. By preventing dirt and nasty bacteria from building up, you can greatly reduce the likelihood that your dog will suffer from ear-related issues.

How likely is it that my dog will get an ear infection?

Some dogs are naturally more susceptible to ear infections. Dogs with large hanging ears such as cocker spaniels and basset hounds are often more at risk, as the skin of the ear can trap dirt, providing a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.

Some dogs may also have underlying allergies that leave them more vulnerable to infection.

However, just because your dog seems to have clean ears now doesn’t mean that they couldn’t develop an infection in the future. It is important to get your dog used to having their ears examined and cleaned on a regular basis.

How often should I clean my dog’s ears?

There is no golden rule regarding how often you should be cleaning your dog’s ears. It will depend on many factors such as the breed of your dog, how dirty they get while out on a walk, and any underlying allergies, just to name a few. For example, if your dog likes to swim in dirty water then they will need their ears cleaning immediately afterwards to prevent any nasty bacteria from taking up residence.

However, cleaning more often is not always better. Your dog’s skin is covered in ‘friendly’ commensal bacteria that help fight off harmful microorganisms and their ears are no exception. Washing your dog’s ears too regularly will not only remove harmful bacteria but also healthy commensal organisms, further predisposing them to infection. Most dogs will get by with 1-2 washes per week but it’s best to ask your vet as they’ll be able to recommend a cleaning schedule that suits your dog’s unique needs.

What should I use to clean my dog’s ears?

While a damp cloth or gentle wet wipe can help remove some of the dirt from the outside of your dog’s ear, these products won’t be able to reach any dirt that may have accumulated deep down within your dog’s ear canal.

Instead, you should use a dog-specific ear cleaning liquid as these products have been specifically formulated for use in dogs and shouldn’t cause irritation to your dog’s sensitive skin. If you are unsure as to what to use, then your vet may be able to recommend an affective product.

You’ll also need some cotton wool or cotton wools pads to wipe out any dirt that the cleaner flushes out; avoid cotton buds or Q-tips as these can push dirt deeper down within the ear.

How do I clean my dog’s ears?

Before you start, check if your dog’s ears look sore or have any pus-like discharge coming from them. If they do, then it’s time to hand over to your vet as it’s possible your dog may have an infection that requires veterinary attention.

If your dog’s ears are just dirty, rather than infected, then you should be good to go. First off, see if you can find someone to help. A second pair of hands can be useful to keep your dog still, especially if they are not used to having their ears cleaned.

  1. Hold one of your dog’s ears with one hand to expose the opening to the ear canal. With your other hand insert the nozzle of the ear cleaner into the opening of the canal. Don’t worry about putting the nozzle in too far, a dog’s ear canal is much longer than ours, so you won’t cause any damage to the eardrum.
  2. Squeeze the bottle to release a good squirt of ear cleaner into your dog’s ear canal, remove the nozzle and gently massage the base of your dog’s ear where it meets the skull. This will spread the cleaner around and break off any dirt that might have adhered to the walls of the canal.
  3. Use cotton wool to scoop out any dirt that comes to the surface and have a good wipe around within the ear canal.
  4. Repeat these steps until the cotton wool comes out clean after wiping – you should then have removed most of the dirt!
  5. Finally repeat all the above steps for the second ear.

As you go, make sure to look out for any nasty pus-like discharge coming from the ear. If you spot any, consult your vet before continuing. Your vet will be able to take samples of the wax from your dog’s ear and put it on a microscope slide in order to determine what kind of bacteria is present. Your vet can then prescribe the appropriate antibiotic drops if necessary. Never use antibiotic drops without consulting your vet first, some ear infections can be caused by a particularly nasty species of bacteria called pseudomonas. Pseudomonas tends to be highly resistant to many conventional antibiotic ear drops, and in fact administering drops in these cases can make the infection worse. Always follow the advice of your vet if you suspect this to be the case.

In extreme cases, a dog’s ears can be too dirty to clean at home and so might require a professional clean at the vets. This is usually performed under a sedation or general anaesthetic. Your vet can assess the infection present using an otoscope and perform a thorough flush of the ears.

If your dog is suffering from repeated ear infections, then there could be an underlying allergy predisposing them to the problem. If this is the case, your vet may be able to perform allergy testing or prescribe anti-allergy medication to help. Always be sure to follow your vet’s advice.

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