How Do You Clean a Dog’s Ears?

Owner showing how to clean dog’s ears

Cleaning your dog’s ears can be simple, and you can do it yourself from home.

You just need a few items from around the house and a dog-specific ear cleaning solution. Purina’s experts are here to walk you through how to clean your dog’s ears. Of course, your veterinarian or local groomer are also great resources.

How Often Should I Clean My Dog’s Ears?

Cleaning your dog’s ears regularly may help prevent debris buildup and ear infections but cleaning too often can cause irritation or damage to the ear canal.

Before you start an ear cleaning regimen, it’s important to make sure your dog does not have an existing ear infection. If he does, your veterinarian may recommend a specific cleanser and/or medications along with a regimen of when to clean and apply medication.

If your dog’s ears seem sensitive or painful when touched or he shakes his head a lot, please schedule a visit with your veterinarian.

How often you clean your dog’s ears may depend on his breed, activities and other challenges like allergies, which can lead to debris buildup. Dogs with droopy ears like Cocker Spaniels and Basset Hounds may need more frequent ear cleaning.

Droopy ears get less air flow and can trap moisture and debris, which can lead to yeast infections.

Dogs who like to swim also need more frequent ear cleaning. The extra moisture can increase their risk for ear infections.

In general, pay attention to symptoms like itchy ears and head shaking, as these can signal an ear infection.

What is the Best Way to Clean a Dog’s Ears?

Comfort is the most important consideration when cleaning your dog’s ears. Handling and cleaning your dog’s ears as a puppy will make him more comfortable with the process later.

If you adopted a rescue or you have an adult dog who never had his ears cleaned before, you’ll need to start slow and consider positive reinforcement tactics like treats.

Gently touch and stroke his ears to see how he reacts. If he doesn’t like it, don’t force it. You can always take him to your veterinarian or a professional groomer for an ear cleaning if needed.

Before you start cleaning your dog’s ears, gather everything you’ll need:

  • Damp cloth or cotton rounds
  • Dog ear cleaning solution (ask your veterinarian for a recommendation, as there are different cleansers for different situations)
  • Clean towel
  • Help from a family member or friend to keep your dog calm
  • Treats for encouragement and good behavior

Please, never use cotton swabs in your dog’s ears. It’s easy to insert them too deep into the ear canal, which can cause damage.

Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning a Dog’s Ears

  1. Make sure your dog is comfortable. Then, lift his ear, holding it between your thumb and forefinger so you have a good look at the inside of his ear.
  2. Examine his ear and check for any redness, discharge or a bad smell. A small amount of light-colored wax is normal. If you see a large amount of wax, the ears are red or you see pus or notice a foul smell, you’ll need to call your veterinarian.
  3. If everything looks normal, wipe around the entrance of the ear with the damp cloth to remove dirt and excess wax.
  4. Insert the tip of your dog’s ear cleaning solution into the ear canal. Take care not to push in too deeply or firmly. Squeeze the bottle to release an appropriate amount solution into the ear. Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer on how much solution to apply into the ear.
  5. Massage the base of the ear to help the solution flow into the ear canal.
  6. Wipe away excess solution with the towel.
  7. Repeat on the other ear.
  8. If your veterinarian gives you medicated ear drops to use, apply them soon after cleaning. This ensures the medicine can enter the ear and be absorbed without getting stuck on excess wax.

Signs of an Ear Infection

If your dog has an ear infection, his ears will be sensitive to touch. You may also see redness and inflammation. Frequent head shaking and scratching at the ears are also strong indicators of an infection.

Ear infections are more commonly caused by yeast and bacteria but ear mites are another possible cause. Ear mites in dogs look similar to coffee grounds.

Regardless of the cause of the infection, prompt treatment is critical to ease your dog’s discomfort.

For more tips on dog health and care from our experts, visit our Pet Expertise page.

Purina Petfood Finder Chatbot

Find the Best Food for Your Dog or Cat


Dani and the Pet Food Finder tool make it easy to find a nutritious option specially formulated to give your pet a head start.