The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

How to Clean Dog Ears

By Dr. Jacqueline Brister

owner checking golden retriever's ear

Dog ears are surprisingly similar to human ears. However, many dogs have a much larger and longer outside area, known as the pinna, which makes the ears appear taller or floppier than human ears. Dogs also have longer ear canals, which have a sharp bend to them, compared to the short, straight canals found in human ears. Researchers believe this helps dogs hear better, keep cool, and gather more information about their surroundings. Unfortunately, angled ear canals and floppy ears can lead to trapped wax and debris.

The good news is that not all dogs need their ears cleaned regularly. Those with upright ears, who are otherwise healthy, rarely need to have their ears cleaned.

Dogs that need their ears cleaned regularly include those:

  • With big, floppy ears
  • With allergies
  • Who experience ear infections frequently
  • That spend time swimming

Always discuss these concerns with your veterinarian at your dog’s yearly check up to see if regular ear cleaning is something recommended for your pet.

Why do dogs' ears smell?

If your pup has dark brown, waxy discharge or a strong odor to their ears, you should have them checked by a veterinarian before attempting to clean their ears by yourself. Strong odors and a lot of ear wax could mean an infection known as otitis externa.

What’s more, many dogs that develop ear infections have an underlying issue that causes them, such as food or pollen allergies. If your dog has an ear infection, cleaning their ears won’t solve the problem, and delaying treatment can make the infection worse. Some ear infections get bad enough to cause a ruptured ear drum and putting certain cleaners or ear drops for dogs into the ear can lead to deafness.

How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears

To clean your dog’s ears, you will need:

  • Cleaning solution
  • Cotton balls
  • Dry towel or wash cloth
  • Treats

The best cleaning solutions are formulated specifically for dogs, but dilute vinegar (less than 25% vinegar) will also work as a dog ear cleaner. Do not use hydrogen peroxide and alcohol for ear cleaning because they can damage the ear canal and cause discomfort.

To Clean Dog Ears

  1. Gently fill up the ear canal with cleaning solution
  2. Lightly massage the base of the ear to help break up the wax inside the ear canal
  3. Clean out excess moisture and wax gently with cotton balls or a cloth
  4. Reapply cleaner 1-2 more times until all the wax & debris has been flushed out
  5. Wipe the inside of the pinna (ear flap) thoroughly with cotton balls too
  6. Clean & dry your pet’s face, ears, & neck after you’re done with their ears. Ear cleanings can get messy, so dogs tend to shake their heads a lot to get rid of the extra moisture in their ears

Do not use cotton swabs or Q-tips because they can damage the ear drum or ear canal.

If you have repeated the process several times and your dog still has a lot of waxy buildup in their ears, you should have them seen by the vet. Some dogs require a sedated ear flushing procedure to clean the ears out thoroughly.

Regular ear cleanings can be performed one to two times a week for maintenance or any time a pet has gone swimming, especially in dirty water like a pond or creek. Clean and dry the ear BEFORE you put medication in If your veterinarian is has directed you to use dog ear drops.

If you need tips and tricks to clean your dog’s ears, your veterinary clinic will have several staff members who are pros at it and they are happy to assist you with more information.

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