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“I’m a Veterinarian and This Is a Red Flag That Your Dog’s Ears Need Cleaning!”

Plus the easy way to clean them yourself at home


Notice your dog has been shaking her head excessively, scratching or pawing at her ear and tilting her head a lot? Together these are signs that your pooch may need to have her ears cleaned. The good news: You don’t have to pay for a vet visit to have it done with these tips from a pro vet on how to clean dogs’ ears at home. Keep scrolling to learn more!

Why is it important to clean you dog’s ears?

How to clean dogs ears at home: Close up of a young veterinarian woman examining dog's ears
Cris Cantón/Getty

Regular ear cleaning is an important part of dog grooming and hygiene. If a dog’s ears are not cleaned regularly, it can lead to various issues, including:

  1. Ear infections: Dogs are prone to ear infections, especially those with floppy ears or hairy ear canals. Earwax, debris and moisture can create an environment conducive to bacterial or yeast growth, leading to infections, says veterinarian Sara Ochoa, DVM, founder of How To Pets.
  2. Discomfort and pain: Accumulated dirt, wax or debris can cause discomfort and pain for your dog, Dr. Ochoa explains. “Excessive scratching may suggest that your dog is trying to relieve discomfort caused by built-up earwax or debris.” 
  3. Odor: Dirty ears can emit an unpleasant odor. Regular cleaning helps prevent the buildup of odor-causing substances. Plus,”an unusually strong odor emanating from your dog’s ears can indicate an infection or an accumulation of dirt and bacteria.” 
  4. Hearing issues: Excessive earwax or debris can affect a dog’s hearing. Cleaning the ears ensures that their ear canals remain clear, allowing for optimal hearing.
  5. Inflammation and redness: Neglected ear hygiene can result in inflammation and redness in the ear canal. This can be uncomfortable for the dog and may require veterinary attention. It helps to “inspect your dog’s ears regularly for signs of swelling or sensitivity to touch,” Dr. Ochoa explains. “These symptoms could be a result of an underlying infection, allergies or ear mites.” 

If you start to notice puss coming out of your pet’s ears, that’s another sign her ears are bothering her. “While light earwax is normal, excessive or abnormal ear discharge is not,” Dr. Ochoa says. “If you notice an increase in the amount of wax or observe any yellow, brown or black discharge in your dog’s ears, it may be an indication of a problem.” 

Related: Vets Reveal the Best Foods to Calm Your Dog’s Upset Stomach So They Feel Better Fast

How to clean dogs’ ears at home

How to clean dogs ears at home: Groomer working on dog in pet grooming salon. She cleaning dog ears

Ready to give your pup some much-needed relief? These steps make learning how to clean dogs ears at home easy! What you’ll need according to Dr. Ochoa: a canine ear cleaning solution (Buy from PetSmart, $9.99), cotton balls or pads and some treats to give your dog after. 

How to clean dogs ears at home: Step 1

Before you start, look into your dog’s ears to see exactly what you are dealing with. This will help you be more prepared for the actual cleaning. Just make sure to do it gently so you don’t irritate any infection even more.

How to clean dogs ears at home: Step 2

Next, “read the instructions on the ear cleaning solution carefully and follow them closely,” Dr. Ochoa warns. ” That’s because some solutions may need to be diluted with water. So you’ll want to make sure to use the recommended amount and mix it as instructed.”

How to clean dogs ears at home: Step 3

Then, “gently lift your dog’s ear flap and place a few drops of the ear-cleaning solution into the ear canal,” Dr. Ochoa explains. “Massage the base of the ear for about 20 seconds to help the solution work its magic. You may hear a squishing sound, which is perfectly normal.” 

How to clean dogs ears at home: Step 4

Use the cotton ball or pad to wipe away any dirt, wax or debris that comes out of the ear, says Dr. Ochoa. “Be careful not to push it farther into the ear canal. Repeat this step until the cotton ball comes out clean.” 

After cleaning their ears, the last thing you have to do is give your pup a treat! “This helps create a positive association with the process and makes future cleanings easier,” Dr. Ochoa explains.

How often should I clean my dog’s ears?

“A general rule of thumb is that routine ear cleaning is typically recommended every 1 to 2 months,” Dr. Ochoa explains. This helps prevent a buildup of wax and debris that could lead to infections.

“Some breeds, like Spaniels, are prone to ear infections due to their long, floppy ears. These dogs may require more frequent cleaning,” she elaborates. “Apart from the breed, several other factors might impact how often you should clean your dog’s ears. These include their activity level, overall health and any existing ear problems.” 

When should I take my dog to the vet? 

How to clean dogs ears at home: Dog medical checkup at veterinary clinic
Lourdes Balduque/Getty

While you can and should clean your dog’s ears at home, there are times when you need to take them to the vet for a professional cleaning. 

1. If the ear infection comes back

If your pup’s ears are getting infected more than normal, it’s a sign that they’re in need of some professional help. “If your dog has a history of repeated ear infections, it’s wise to consult with a vet to explore potential solutions and preventative measures,” Dr. Ochoa advises. “Some dogs are predisposed to recurring ear infections due to factors like anatomy, allergies or moisture accumulation.” 

2. Persistent itching or scratching

If you notice that even though you are cleaning her ears, your pup is still scratching at them, that might mean it is time to go to the vet, as it may be a sign of other ear issues. 

3. Excessive redness, swelling or discharge

“Visible inflammation, redness, swelling or any discharge — such as wax, pus or blood — from your dog’s ears can indicate an infection,” Dr. Ochoa says. “Your veterinarian will be able to examine their ears and recommend suitable medication to alleviate the issue.” 

4. Behavioral changes 

If your furry friend still seems off after you clean their ears, that might also mean it is time to go to the vet. “If you observe your furry companion showing signs of pain or discomfort, such as increased irritability, reluctance to be touched around the ears or a decrease in appetite, it may be indicative of an ear problem,” Dr. Ochoa says. “A veterinarian will be able to determine the cause and provide appropriate solutions.” 

Related: Dogs Get Dementia Too, Say Scientists — Here Are the Red Flags To Watch for in Your Senior Pet

To learn more about your dog’s health, click through the links below!

Ginger for Dogs: Vets on What You Need to Know Before Feeding the Spice to Your Pup

Can Dogs Eat White Chocolate? Vets Reveal What You Need to Know to Keep Pups Safe

Vets Reveal the Best Foods to Calm Your Dog’s Upset Stomach So They Feel Better Fast

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