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How to Clean Your Dog's Ears 101

How to Clean Your Dog's Ears 101

Grooming is an essential part of responsible pet ownership, and it doesn’t just include trimming nails and fur. Dogs’ ears are one of the most overlooked parts of the grooming routine, but it can be risky to leave out. Dirty dog ears can sometimes lead to inflammation, ear infections and vet visits.

Luckily, most pet parents can learn how to clean dog ears relatively easily. Some also choose to have their dog’s ears cleaned at the groomer. Wondering how to clean puppy ears? You may not need to start yet, but you’re on the right track—getting your puppy used to a regular grooming routine is important to help them feel comfortable or tolerate the process as adults. 

Whether your dog is shaking their head and you think something may be wrong, or you’ve just brought home a new pet and want to get ahead of grooming skills, here’s everything you need to know about how to clean out dogs’ ears.

Do I need to clean my dog’s ears?

Many dogs do require regular ear cleanings to help with wax and dirt removal. Their anatomy can make it difficult for them to get rid of these substances on their own. However, some dogs can sometimes go their entire lives without an ear cleaning. How can you know if you need to learn how to clean out a dog’s ears?

It’s an important thing to learn how to do to help your pup live comfortably, but certain dog breeds are more prone to ear issues—especially those with big, floppy ears or hairy ears. Spaniels, Shih Tzus, Poodles, Lhasa Apsos, Maltese, Old English Sheepdogs, Bluetick Coonhounds, Basset Hounds and giant breeds like Saint Bernards and Newfoundlands all may especially require regular maintenance. 

Dogs with allergies or those that swim frequently may also be more prone to ear issues. Regular maintenance can help reduce any risk of inflammation that may occur due to allergies or water trapped in the ear.

Keep in mind that cleaning a dog’s ears too much may actually disrupt their body’s natural cleaning process and potentially cause irritation or even infection. Consult your veterinarian and if regular dog ear wax removal isn’t required—and your dog doesn’t suffer from allergies—you should still check their ears regularly and look for the following signs:

  • Dirt or wax buildup 

  • Red, irritated skin inside the ear 

  • Dark brown or black coating on the ear 

  • Discharge or an odor 

How often should I clean my dog’s ears?

How often to clean dog ears may often depend on their unique breed and sensitivities. If your dog hasn’t had any ear problems—or you’re wondering how to clean puppy ears, which may not be required—simply use the list above to check their ears every week or so. For excessive wax buildup or allergies, a dog ear flush every week or two weeks can often be enough. 

If you’re wondering how to clean a dog’s ears with infection, you’ll want to follow your veterinarian’s advice for treatment, frequency and duration. For any chronic ear issues—including allergies—consult your veterinarian.

What do groomers use to clean dogs’ ears?

Groomers often begin with medicated ear powder to dry out the wax. Next, they may use a tool called a hemostat—or tweezer-like device—to remove debris. They’ll usually choose the best dog ear cleaner for your pup’s breed and gently swab the ear canal. When it comes to learning how to clean dog ears at home, only this last step is recommended for everyday owners. 

If your dog already goes to the groomer, it may be convenient for you to add ear cleaning to your regular routine. On the other hand, if your dog has particularly hairy ears or long fur with floppy ears, you may want to sign them up for professional grooming. Groomers can trim ear hair and ensure their coat is brushed out and unable to block the ear opening. Petco’s grooming appointments put your pet’s health first and allow you to customize your grooming solutions to help keep your pup looking and feeling great.

What can I use to clean my dog’s ears?

If you’re not a groomer, supplies like powders and tweezers may not be the best solutions. For the everyday pet parent, the basic set of supplies to clean out dogs’ ears are:

  • Cotton balls or gauze

  • Treats to reward your brave pup

You may want a towel to catch any excess liquid. And it may be helpful to know what not to use to clean your dog’s ears. You never want to use cottoned-tip applicators to clean your pup’s ears, as they may easily damage the ear canal. And while supplies like grooming wipes can often work in a pinch, it’s usually best to invest in a dog ear cleaner. Check out our new dog and puppy checklist to help ensure you have the supplies you need for your furry friend.

What is the best ear cleaner for dogs?

If you’re still wondering what to use to clean dogs’ ears, it’s important to choose the right dog ear cleaner for your pup’s particular issue and makeup. Basic ear cleaners will often be antimicrobial and have wax-dissolving properties. Some may include antifungal or antibacterial ingredients—which can often help with ear infections. 

If your veterinarian has prescribed a solution for an infection, use it as directed. And avoid using anything with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to clean your dog’s ears. We have various dog ear cleaners to choose from, and consulting your veterinarian for recommendations on how to clean dog ears and what to use is appropriate.

How can I get my dog to cooperate with ear cleaning?

Having a cold liquid poured in your ears often isn’t fun for dogs, and not every dog is willing to casually accept an ear cleaning. That’s why it can be best to start this and every grooming routine when your dog is a growing puppy. However, that’s not always an option. 

You may approach getting adult dogs used to ear cleaning slowly. Introduce them to the supplies and tools without using them, and then go through the motions of ear cleaning without actually performing a dog ear flush. Give them lots of treats and praise throughout the process.

If your dog is already at the point where they won’t even let you get close with the bottle of ear solution, you might try soaking cotton balls in the solution and then squeezing it into your dog’s ears. Never try to sneak up on your dog or force them into ear cleaning—that will only make them less cooperative in the long run. If all else fails, head to a groomer.

How to clean dog ears: A step-by-step guide

Once you’ve chosen your best dog ear cleaner, you’re ready to get started. These steps apply to how to clean puppy ears as well as adult dogs’ ears.

  1. Gather your supplies and have them within reach—including cotton balls or gauze, your dog ear cleaner and a towel.

  2. Depending on the size of your dog, sit in a chair or on the floor. Have your dog sit or stand in front of you with their backend in between your legs.

  3. Position your dog on the towel to help catch any dripping solution. Pro tip—clean your dog’s ears outdoors or at least away from expensive furniture and drapes. Your dog will often shake their head when the cleaning is done.

  4. Hold the ear solution in one hand. With the other hand, pull one ear straight up, directly away from your dog’s head. This will help expose the ear canal as much as possible.

  5. Without putting the tip of the bottle inside the ear, squirt in enough solution to almost fill the ear canal.

  6. Put down the solution and use that hand to massage your dog’s ear at the base for approximately 30-seconds. Dog ear wax removal depends on this step as it can often help allow the solution to work its magic on the buildup.

  7. Use your cotton ball or gauze to gently clean the outside of the ear canal from any visible dirt or wax. Don’t reach into the inner part of the ear canal, as this may actually push debris further down. 

  8. Let your dog shake their head to help remove excess ear cleaner and debris—this is why you probably won’t want to be near your fancy down comforter or custom silk curtains.

  9. Give your pup a treat—they deserve it.

  10. Repeat on the other ear, and you are done.

Now you know how to clean dog ears, you and your pup may well be ready to get started with this new addition to their grooming routine. For other questions about dog care, view our veterinarian-approved guides to help keep your dog happy, comfortable and living their best life. Or consult a veterinarian in person to get their advice on the unique needs of your dog.