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How to Clean a Dog’s Ears – A Handy Guide

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When cleaning your dog’s ears, invest in a good quality ear cleaner solution so that they are cleaned properly! You can invest in a good ear cleaner from most pet stores or through a veterinarian.

A Hello Ralphie virtual vet consultation can shed some light on which ear cleanser products are the best to use and provide additional tips on using them correctly to clean your dog’s ears. 

dog external ear canal diagram

It is important to keep your dog’s ears clean to prevent them from developing ear infections. An ear infection occurs when debris and wax build inside the ear. This buildup can allow bacteria, yeast, or other infectious agents, like ear mites, to develop and replicate inside the ear.

These issues can cause your dog to experience serious discomfort and, in many cases, they need to be treated with vet-prescribed medications.

To help you keep your dog’s ears clean and reduce the likelihood of infection, we have provided this handy guide, which will explain how you can keep your dog’s ears clean.

boston terrier at grooming salon

Dog Ear Anatomy

The anatomy of the canine ear is less complex than one would expect. The portion of the ear that you are cleaning is the ear canal. It is important to know about the anatomy of the ear canal, as it does contain some structures that you can damage if you clean them incorrectly.

The Pinnae

The other portion of the ear that you can clean safely is the outside inner flap of the ear, which is called the pinnae. The pinnae have many grooves that trap wax and dirt. The pinnae are easy to see, making it much easier to clean with a simple damp cloth.

The Ear Canal

The ear canal has three different sections: the external ear canal, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The eardrum divides the external and middle ear canal. When cleaning your dog’s ears, you are cleaning the debris from the pinnae and the external ear canal.

The most important structure to avoid is the eardrum. Any damage you do to the eardrum or the structures of the middle of the ear can cause neurological symptoms and pain for your dog!

How to Clean a Dog’s Ears

When cleaning your dog’s ears, apply the ear cleaning solution directly into the ear canal and use a cotton pad or clean cloth to cleanse the ear. The external ear canal is L-shaped, so you can clean quite far down without damaging any structures, like the eardrum. If you picture a hockey stick, the eardrum is at the end of the stick that is used to hit a puck.

Never use a cotton swab to clean your dog’s ears, as they can fall apart during use, which increases the chances of damaging the interior of the ear. Once the ear solution is in your dog’s ears, gently massage the base of the ears and allow the solution to clean and penetrate deeper. Shortly after being massaged, use a dry cotton pad or clean cloth to absorb the excess fluid. You can also use it to clean wax and debris from the pinnae or surface of the ear.

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Be Cautious About the Amount of Fluid You Use

Be careful when applying the ear cleansing solution, as you want to be sure that you do not leave excess fluid behind. This fluid can predispose your dog to ear infections, as excess moisture combined with a lack of airflow is the perfect condition for bacterial growth.

An alternate way to clean the ears is to apply some ear cleaner onto a cotton pad or gauze square rather than directly into the dog’s ears. Use the pad to gently clean the canal using a gentle twisting motion to limit the amount of fluid in your dog’s ear canal, helping prevent ear infections.

What if Your Dog Will Not Sit Still?

If your dog is not the type to sit still and allow its ears to be cleaned, it can help to distract them during the cleaning.

Have one person feed your dog treats or distract them with a toy or treat to allow you to clean the ears without the dog’s focus is on you. Always be sure to reward your dog after a cleaning, so they are more willing to allow the process in the future!

This tip becomes handy when teaching a new puppy how to tolerate ear cleanings. It is also a good idea to introduce your puppy to having its ears touched before you start cleaning them. Start playing with your new puppy’s ears and massage them frequently at a young age to get them used to the sensation of their ears being touched so they will react less when it comes time for a cleaning.

When they are more comfortable with you handling their ears, you can then start to touch the inside of their ears with gauze squares or cotton pads. Finally, use the cleanser on the pad while rewarding your puppy with treats. One of our Hello Ralphie virtual veterinarians can help guide you on training tips for your new puppy and help you prepare them for future cleanings.

What if Your Dog’s Ears Are Very Dirty?

If your dog always has dirty ears, despite frequent cleanings, it may have an ear infection. Signs of an ear infection include smelly ears, itchy ears, or dark debris inside the ear canal.

If you suspect that your dog has an ear infection, one of our virtual veterinarians can provide you with tips on how to treat it, as well as recommend certain products and tests that can help narrow down the cause of your dog’s ear infections.

Typically, ear infections are treated with medicated drops that contain antibiotics or antifungal agents. These drops require a prescription from a veterinarian, so it is best to speak with a vet as soon as possible if your dog seems as if it has an ear infection.

For more information about cleaning ears, as well as other ways you can care for your dog, consider reading our Senior Dog Care and New Puppy Tips guides.

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