Skip to main content

Cleaning a Dog’s Ears: The Whys, Whats, and How-Tos

My dog, Misty, was an insecure dog and I hope to educate fellow dog guardians so they can help their canine friends.

This article discusses the reasons why you should clean your dog's ears and provides a useful how-to guide for performing the procedure yourself.

This article discusses the reasons why you should clean your dog's ears and provides a useful how-to guide for performing the procedure yourself.

Should I Clean My Dog's Ears?

Cleaning my dog’s ears is not a topic I would create a Pinterest Board out of—at least not an interesting and must-do board. Well, interesting it is definitely not—it can sometimes be a smelly chore—but a must-do it certainly is.

A dog's ears have a far deeper canal than a human's, and if not thoroughly looked after, it can present a host of overwhelming problems. Canines are subject to a host of infections which can come as a result of our carelessness and neglect of their ears.

Consult Your Vet

If you are concerned about the health of your dog's ears, the very first step you should always take is to consult a veterinarian and have them examine your dog. Qualified animal professionals are the best first step you can take toward healing your dog's ear conundrum.

Why Do I Have to Clean My Dog’s Ears?

If owners can understand the importance of a canine’s hearing, the structure of its ears, and have a grasp of infections that can develop, they would be able to glean why cleaning them is so necessary. A build-up of debris and infection may result in soreness and even deafness in the most serious cases.

A Dog’s Hearing

A dog’s hearing is ever so important to the animal—it helps it to detect the things that we ourselves would not be able to. If your dog seems to overreact to sounds and you believe that there may be something wrong with it, it may be time to face the fact that a dog does hear better than you do. Sound, measured in hertz, is captured by a dog at the rate of 40 - 60000 hertz. Compare that to the significantly smaller number of 20-20000 hertz captured by a human ear and you would understand what I mean.

If a dog becomes deaf as a result of not performing proper ear care, it would be an extreme pity. The loss of a cherished sense will be by no means a small one.

The Features of a Dog’s Ear

A dog’s ear canal is, by far, deeper, curvier, and more twisted than our own. This makes it a perfect hiding place for parasites, yeast, and mites, making the cleaning of them imperative. Trapped debris can also result in infections and the development of masses in the ear—the removal of which can be rather smelly and unsightly.

The canine’s ear canal is long indeed, consisting of three parts: the pinna or outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. This creates many blind spots that can be neglected if not careful. The existence of these blind spots within a dog’s ear will make it important for owners to really ensure that they are well and thoroughly cleaned.

Infections in a Dog’s Ears

The ears of dogs are prone to infections of all kinds—those of the external ear (otitis medina) and the inner ear (otitis interna). The infections cause characteristic discharge or redness, and sometimes a very foul odor.

Hematoma can also develop when a dog scratches itself and its ears excessively. Blood vessels in the ears become damaged, causing internal bleeding.

Outer ear infections may include Histiocytoma. This is when a pink, lumpish pulp begins to form on the outer ear. These look very much like engorged ticks—they are actually small tumors that mostly regress over time. If you suspect histiocytoma in your dog, do pay your regular vet a visit to ascertain the problem.

Histiocytoma on the ears of a boxer dog.

Histiocytoma on the ears of a boxer dog.

Now That I Have to Clean Them, How Do I Know When My Dog’s Ears Are Infected?

Your dog may begin scratching more than usual—infections produce resulting itchiness and soreness. Excessive scratching is a sign of a problem that may require a vet to look into.

If you turn the ears back and find that they are constantly moist, it is a time for a little screening. That moisture may be the discharge emitted because of an ear infection.

Your pet may also be prone to shaking his head a lot more than usual. This is a result of the discomfort that they feel from discharge or itchiness of the ears.

There is also foul odor. Infections, of course, assail the nose at times and if the ears emit a putrid smell, it is time to pay a visit to Dr. Dog.

Tips for Cleaning a Dog's Ears

Ten-Step Checklist for Cleaning a Dog's Ear

Here are a 10 easy steps that must be followed to ensure clean ears in a dog.

Step 1: Always check your furry friend’s ears.

It is good to check your dog’s ears regularly - preferably every day - for signs of discharge or mites. This is especially if your dog, like my own, Cloudy, likes to play outdoors in the grass very often. Constant exposure to the outdoors can result in a buildup of debris that can coagulate to form masses and resulting ear infections.

Step 2: Smell your dog’s ear.

Again, this may not be on everyone’s Pinterest boards. However, some odors are not easily sensed until one makes the explicit effort to smell them. If a foul odor is detected, it is a sign that your pet needs a vet.

Step 3: Flip your dog’s ears back.

Ensure that your dog’s ears are turned backwards so that the canal is more exposed. this makes it easier to check for mites, discharge and debris that may be hidden in the inner ear.

When I first understood the vital importance of checking my dog’s ears, I turned them inside out and was really surprised at what I saw—a whole mass of debris, mites, and uncomfortable discharge. The dog suffered for a long time before the dreadful discovery was made!

Step 4: Check for mites and fleas in your canine’s ears.

Mites have a knack for being able to camouflage themselves- they hide themselves in the waxy substance that is discharged from a dog’s ears. These awful creatures almost look like coffee grinds and are not detectable fugitives.

Step 5: Apply cleaning solution.

Apply cleaning solution gently to the ear - never pour it in excessively, as some solutions may cause a stinging sensation.

Step 6: Use Q Tips (for outer ears only)

Use a Q-Tip to clean the dog’s outer ear and remove solution, dirt and debris you may find.

It is very important to note that we should not use Q Tips for the inner ears. This is dangerous to the ear canal and digging too deep might result in you puncturing an eardrum.

Step 7: Use gauze to clean the inner ears.

A good substitute for the Q Tip for cleaning the inner ears is sponge or gauze. Remove all the visible debris from the canal. If there is an existent infection which persists and your dog still shakes his head uncontrollably after the cleaning, medication under veterinary supervision is the order of the day.

Remember that it is best to clean the part of the ear that you can visually see. Missteps can result in bleeding and a ruptured ear canal.

Step 8 : Examine your dogs ears after they are cleaned.

If cotton balls are used, do make sure that none is left behind in the ear. This can contribute to the build up of debris and prolong infections.

Step 9 : Give your dog a bath!

I personally recommend a good bath for your dog after the ear cleaning to remove any excess canine odor. Ear cleaning should, ideally, take place as part of the bathing and grooming process.

A tip when bathing is to make sure that your dog’s are protected from water - this is when cotton balls can be used to protect the inner ear from contact with excess moisture. Do remember, again, to remove the remnants of the cotton entirely.

Step 10 : Don’t forget to give Fido or Fluffy a treat.

This helps your dog associate ear cleaning with something positive. Dogs can be deathly afraid of grooming procedures and it can be a hassle to get them to calm down before regular grooming. Reassure your dog throughout, and will prove to be a cooperative companion.

Cloudy, my West Highland Terrier, is really afraid of grooming, ear cleaning, and bathing as well. I employ a few persuasive techniques with this little dog to ensure her devoted cooperation.

Keep your dog’s ears clean—you will find that cleaning your canine's ears will prevent many problems for yourself in future. You will be rewarded with a calmer, better balanced dog and his healthier ears!

How to Clean Your Dog's Ear

Sources and Further Reading

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can my dogs' ear Infection travel to the rest of her body?

Answer: Yes, it can. Inner ear infections often spread


Rebecca Long from somewhere in the appalachian foothills on February 14, 2013:

Great Hub. Got my dog when he was already grown and discovered he was prone to recurring ear infection. It is a miserable thing to watch-- just as you mention with the shaking his head and scratching his ears until he whines and bleeds. I have found that keeping up on the ear cleaning helps reduce the number of times he has to see a vet for this problem.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on January 25, 2013:

In fact, I think the cleaner probably did aggravate an inflammation, Amy. That's why it might be wise to seek a second opinion on him and get some allergy tests done. But it sounds like you've got quite good allergy medicines ready! McCartney sounds so sweet....deserves all the love and affection she's getting. And it sounds as though she''s getting lots of TLC now!!

You're right, the puppy mills might have brought about her condition, actually. It is so easy to get infections there. Thanks for sharing, and blessings!!!

Amy Becherer from St. Louis, MO on January 24, 2013:

Thank you so much, Michelle! The vet has an employee at the clinic that bathes the dogs. Since they were bathing McCartney daily to promote healing of her skin, I wonder if her ears got water in them, in addition to the flea infestation. I used Epi-Otic, a vet recommended ear cleaner, but she seemed to do a lot more head shaking and tilting after I used it, so I am wondering if there isn't inflammation that the cleaner aggravates. I am continuing with the Tritop, as it has antibiotic and steroid properties that seem to help her ear symptoms. I think the problems I have been seeing are all a result of the negligence of a puppy mill environment. She's only 19 lbs, obviously underfed with a tired looking coat. The diet she had was probably the lowest quality, too. I have her on Avoderm for sensitive skin, allergic dogs. The primary ingredient is duck and it is both grain and gluten free. She likes it, too. Her skin is already now smooth, with no flaking and the bare spots have filled in with black, shiny fur. She is so sweet, happy and adorable, with black, sparkly eyes, she makes me want to cry when I think about her 4 previous years. She went wild when we got a brief snow, and is mesmerized by the sound of traffic, all unknown before now. When I got back a short time ago after taking my mom to the store, you'd have thought I was St. Francis! When I took her out right before I left for my moms, the bitter cold made me anxious for her to do her thing. I told her to "go pee" and SHE DID! I just checked on her, as usually she sits right by me. She was in the bedroom putting all of Mac's toys into his former bed, which she immediately laid in (that is exactly what MacGregor use to do!) She is fitting right in perfectly!!!

BTW, Michelle, your pups are adorable, too. Thank you for your help.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on January 24, 2013:

Wow, Amy. The one possibility I have in mind, since her ears have already been thoroughly cleaned out, is that she could be suffering from an allergic reaction from the parasitic infection or from the fleas. Perhaps, check on the food that you're giving might want to read the hub I wrote on the food toxic to dogs. A high possibility of an allergy, and always keep her ears dry. You might want to try going to another vet to find out if she has an allergic reaction or swelling within the ears because of all that cleaning.

Amy Becherer from St. Louis, MO on January 23, 2013:

Very informative hub, Michelle. Thank you. I brought a Scottish Terrier home this past Friday, who was rescued by a local vet from a Potosi puppy mill. She is about 4 years old, sweet and adorable. She was only rescued by the vet (who has 40 other rescue pups) a few weeks ago. She has dermatologic issues from fleas, with patches of hair loss that are now growing back in. I've already had her back at the vet, as she is still showing evidence of intestinal parasites. She was only treated with one round of Panacur, which the vet suggests I repeat with another round of Panacur. I had the vet look at her ears the day after I brought her home as she is shaking her head and scratching, which seems to worsen at night. The vet cleaned her ears aggressively, going far deeper than I feel comfortable doing. When she checked the pups ears with the otoscope, she said she saw nothing...whatever that means. She prescribed an ear ointment called Tritop, an antibiotic/steroid combo, and charged me another $53. However, McCartney is still having the same difficulties with her ears. (Vet office is closed today or I would have taken her in again.) The costs are beginning to scare me as I don't see improvement. Her ears don't smell, but she cried when the vet cleaned down inside her ears. I have the feeling that she was adopted to me too soon, as the health issues she arrived were with not adequately addressed in her brief stay with the vet. I have limited funds, and as much as I want this to work, I am between a rock and a hard place. Do you have any suggestions, Michelle? I am familiar with Scotties, as I lost my beloved MacGregor to bladder cancer in July 2012. His skin issues eventually required prescription Atopica, which I could afford while still married and employed. I realize that all pets need to see the vet, of course, but I thought this sweet pup was on the mend per the vet. Stressed and sleepless in St. Louis

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 29, 2012:

Mary, will be popping by your hubs in a bit!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 29, 2012:

Audrey, I will do a hub on dental care then! My pleasure to share!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 29, 2012:

Since she seems alright with the ears, you probably don't need to clean them as often, perhaps once a month. But do check every day, though. Your dog belongs to the short eared variety- so it won't be as difficult to maintain!

Aloe Kim on June 29, 2012:

Ok so I went to clean my dogs ears and they are perfect... nothing to clean out... I haven't cleaned them in at least 3 years, since I bought her as a puppy. How often do dogs need their ears cleaned or is it her breed? shes half husky half samoyed.

India Arnold from Northern, California on June 29, 2012:

What a great hub! A really good lesson on how to and why cleaning your dog's ears is so important.


Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on June 29, 2012:

Marvelous tips on cleaning your dogs ears! Do you have suggestions or a hub on how to clean dog's teeth? My rescue dog is older and never had his teeth cleaned. Whenever I try to even put my finger near his teeth or gums he trys to bite, growls and runs away. My vet says he needs to be put to sleep for a teeth cleaning but I am against that procedure. Would appreciate any help with this. Voted up!

Mary Hyatt from Florida on June 29, 2012:

This is a "must read" for all dog owners. When I hold my miniature schnauzer, Baby, I just smell her ears just from habit. I worked with my husband, a veterinarian in his clinic, and I have seen ear mites under the microscrope. They are horrible. They move around in the dog's ears; that must drive the dog nuts!

I voted this Hub up, Etc.etc. and will share.

Joshua Zerbini from Pennsylvania on June 28, 2012:

Ok sounds good! Thanks! :)

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 28, 2012:

Most welcome, Josh. Help hold the dogs down as their ears are being cleaned. They may struggle a bit.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 28, 2012:

Kim, thanks for reading! Yep, follow the steps nd his years will be as good as new. Take him to the vet if you notice anything.

Joshua Zerbini from Pennsylvania on June 28, 2012:

Thanks midg, this is very informative! My family has four dogs, and so this hub will be awesome for them! Thanks again!

Aloe Kim on June 28, 2012:

Wow what an informative hub! I think I'll be cleaning some doggie ears today!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 28, 2012:

Most welcome - hope you can use it on your dog!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 28, 2012:

Interesting and useful suggestions about a task most of us don't want to think about doing. Thank you for a very handy hub!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 28, 2012:

Hello, tips on how to clean a dog's ears the right way!