How To Clean Your Dog’s Ears: A Complete Guide

Four Minutes
Mar 02, 2023

Many dogs need to have their ears cleaned as part of their whole grooming routine. This is especially true of certain breeds with floppy or low-hanging ears — like basset hounds and cocker spaniels — because they can be prone to ear infections.

If you take your dog to the groomer, ask if they offer ear cleaning with their grooming services. They may already be incorporating it into their grooming cost and process.

If you don’t take your dog to the groomer, you’ll likely need to learn how to clean dog ears at home. This guide will walk you through when to clean your dog’s ears and give you some tips to make it easier.

When To Clean Dog Ears

Most healthy and clean dog ears should look pink, dirt-free, odorless, and not inflamed.1 If this isn’t what you experience when you look in your dog’s ears, they may need to be cleaned. Checking your dog’s ears when you groom them once or twice a month is a good baseline to see if they need cleaning.

Some dogs may need very little ear cleaning throughout their life, but there are some times they may need it outside of your usual routine. This could be because of the breed or their lifestyle habits, or it could be due to an ear infection, fleas, ear mites, or allergies.1 However, cleaning them too often may cause irritation or even an ear infection. So how can you know when they need more cleaning versus when something is wrong? Let’s take a look.

You may need to clean your dog’s ears more often if:

  • They have low-hanging ears.
  • They spend a lot of time in water.
  • They need medication for an ear infection.

You may need to get your dog’s ears checked by a veterinarian if:1

  • Your dog pulls away or yelps when you pet their ears.
  • There’s discharge, bad odor, redness, or inflammation in their ears.
  • Scratching their ears is becoming a habit or causing distress.
  • Your dog keeps shaking their head, but their ears are clean.

If your veterinarian diagnoses your dog with an ear infection, they may prescribe a topical medication. Sometimes you need to clean your dog’s ears before applying it. However, if they have an ear infection, be especially gentle while cleaning their ears. You don’t want to cause more irritation or pain.

A dog’s ear being held open for cleaning.

How To Clean Dog Ears

Cleaning your dog’s ears can be a pretty straightforward process. First, gather your supplies: a towel, some cotton balls, treats, and a cleaning solution. You’ll want to use a veterinary-approved solution to clean dog ears, not hydrogen peroxide or soap. Some cleaners have antibacterial or antifungal properties that can help prevent ear infections. Ask your vet which cleaner is right for your dog before you begin.

Once you’ve got all of your supplies, here’s a step-by-step guide for how to clean dog’s ears:2

  1. Make sure your dog is calm and comfortable before you get started. You can give them a treat, pet them, or even play with them for a while to tire them out. If they won’t sit still, you may need to hold them in place as you clean their ears.
  2. Hold your dog’s ear flap up and gently squeeze in the cleaning solution to fill the ear canal. Don’t touch the ear with the tip of the bottle. If you do, wipe it down with rubbing alcohol to prevent any bacterial or yeast contamination.
  3. Continue to hold the ear flap up while you massage the base of the ear for 30 seconds. This coats their ear canal with the solution and breaks up any earwax or gunk. If you hear squishing sounds, you’re doing it right.
  4. Place a cotton ball just inside your dog’s ear canal while still holding the flap up and gently massage the base of their ear, letting it collect the debris. Do this a few times with new cotton balls until they come back clean and wipe away any debris you can see from the outer ear canal and flap.
  5. Wrap or hold a towel loosely around your dog's head and let them shake the solution and gunk out of their ear canal. This brings more debris and liquid out of the ear canal to where you can clean it. The towel will help catch most of the solution and make less of a mess.
  6. Use more cotton balls to wipe any debris from in and around your dog’s ear. Don’t go further than the length of your finger and don’t use a cotton swab because it may push debris further in the ear canal or damage the eardrum.
  7. Reward your dog with a treat and then repeat the process with your dog’s other ear. Depending on how your dog handled the first cleaning, you may need to take a break. But if possible, get them both done at the same time.

Tips for Cleaning Dog Ears

Your dog might love getting their ears cleaned. Since they can’t scratch the inside of their ears, it can provide great relief to them. However, some dogs may not like to sit still or even dislike the process. In this case, cleaning your dog’s ears may not be a pleasant experience for either of you. Here are a few things you can do to help the cleaning process go smoother:

  • As previously mentioned, consider giving your dog a treat before you begin, at the end, and anytime during the cleaning process. This can help keep them happier and more apt to sit still for you.
  • Let your dog sniff the cleaner bottle, towel, cotton balls, and anything else you use. This lets them get comfortable with your tools before you stick them in their ears.
  • Do it in a space that’s easy to clean like a bathroom, tub, garage, or even outdoors. When your dog shakes their head to expel all the liquid cleaner and debris, it could go all over the place.
  • Wear old clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty, especially when your dog is shaking cleaning solution everywhere.

Add Ear Cleaning to Your Dog’s Care Routine

Routinely cleaning your dog’s ears can help prevent ear infections, itchiness, keep their hearing sharp, and just keep their ears from getting too gunked up. However, ear cleaning is only part of your preventive care routine. It can be a good idea for your entire pet care routine to include grooming, routine vet appointments, vaccinations, and parasite prevention.

A dog insurance policy with MetLife Pet may help pet parents afford preventative and emergency care.3 Get your free quote today.

Protect your Dog

Enroll in 3 Easy Steps

1 “How To Clean a Dog’s Ears,” American Kennel Club

2 “Instructions for Ear Cleaning and Administering Ear Medication in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospitals

Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC.

Coverage underwritten and issued by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85254 or Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations. Application is subject to underwriting review. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC for details. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator for this coverage. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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