How to Clean a Dog’s Ears

Dr. Michael T. Robbins, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Michael T. Robbins, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/9/20242-4 minutes
person cleaning a dog's ear

If you’re wondering how to clean dog ears, the good news is it can be a simple task you do at home. (Of course, you can also leave the job to a professional groomer or ask your veterinarian for guidance.) 

To get started, you just need a few items from around the house and some dog-ear cleaning solution (dog treats may also come in handy). 

Read on to learn more about how to clean dog ears, including tips for getting started, step-by-step instructions, and how to tell the difference between dog ear wax and ear mites. 

Should I Clean My Dog’s Ears?

Your dog may likely benefit from having their ears cleaned. Ear cleaning can be important as it removes dirt and can help prevent infections. In addition to brushing, bathing and nail-trimming, ear cleaning can play a crucial part in your pet’s overall grooming routine. 

When & How Often to Clean Your Dog’s Ears 

Cleaning dog ears regularly may help prevent the buildup of dirt, excess dog ear wax, and ear infections. On the other hand, cleaning too often can cause irritation or damage to the ear canal. If you have questions about cleaning frequency, ask your veterinarian. 

How often you clean your pet’s ears may depend on breed, activities and other challenges like allergies, which can lead to the accumulation of debris. 

Canines 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.) 

Does your canine like to swim? They may also need more frequent ear cleaning. The extra moisture can increase their risk for ear infections. 

Bottom line: if you’re wondering how often to clean dog ears, your veterinarian or a professional groomer can advise you based on your individual pet. 

Dog Ear Cleaning – How to Spot an Ear Infection

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

These are common signs of an ear infection: 

  • Sensitivity or pain when ears are touched 

  • Excessive shaking of the head 

  • Itchy ears 

  • Redness or inflammation 

Dog Ear Mites vs. Wax 

Ear infections are more commonly caused by yeast and bacteria but ear mites are another possible cause. 

If dog ear mites are present in your pet’s ear canal, they may be dark, look similar to coffee grounds, and have a foul odor. Other symptoms can be crusted skin on or around the ear. 

Dog ear wax, by contrast, ranges in color from yellow to light brown, and has no smell. 

What Do Healthy Dog Ears Look Like?

When looking inside dog ears, they should appear mostly clean, light pink, free of debris and without inflammation. They also should be odorless. These are all healthy signs. 

If you see a small amount of dog ear wax, this is normal and not cause for alarm. 

how to clean a dogs ears step-by-step infographic

How to Clean My Dog’s Ears – Tips for Getting Started

Comfort is the most important consideration when cleaning your canine’s ears. 

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

Gently touch and stroke the ears to see how they react. If they don’t like it, don’t force it. You can always take them to your veterinarian or a professional groomer for an ear cleaning if needed. 

What to Use to Clean Dog Ears

Before you start cleaning dirty dog 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 and praise for encouragement and good behavior 

Please, never use cotton swabs in your dog’s ears unless instructed by your veterinarian, who will usually provide proper instructions for your pet. When doing so, take care, as it’s easy to insert them too deep into the ear canal, which can cause damage. 

How to Clean Dog Ears: A Step-By-Step Guide

  1. Make sure your dog is comfortable. Then, lift their ear, holding it between your thumb and forefinger so you have a good look at the inside of the ear.  

  2. Examine the ear. Check for any redness, discharge, a large amount of ear wax, or notice a bad smell. These are signs that you should call your veterinarian.  

  3. Wipe around the entrance of the ear. If everything looks normal, use a damp cloth to remove dirt and excess wax.  

  4. Use positive reinforcement. Before using a dog-ear cleaner, offer praise and pets. Also, be aware that your dog is likely going to shake their head after the solution is applied.   

  5. Apply the solution. Insert the tip of your dog-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 of solution into the ear. Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer on how much solution to apply.  

  6. Massage the base of the ear. This helps the solution flow into the ear canal. Don’t worry, it is okay if some of the solution flows out and onto your hands while massaging.  

  7. Wipe away excess solution with the towel.  

  8. Continue to offer praise and treats. If your dog seems stressed, it’s okay to take a break before doing the other ear.  

  9. Repeat on the other ear.  

  10. Apply medicated ear drops, if necessary. If your veterinarian gives you medicated ear drops, apply them soon after cleaning. This ensures the medicine can enter the ear and be absorbed without getting stuck on excess wax. 

How to Clean Puppy Ears

As puppies, dogs form impressions of new experiences that may last forever. 

If your young canine has never had their ears cleaned, try to make it a positive, supportive event. Puppy treats can help keep them happy and relaxed, especially if they don’t like having their ears touched. 

Positive reinforcement can help you ease any tension your dog might be feeling and so can a treat, but make sure not to go over 10% of their daily calories. 

Follow the steps on how to clean dog ears, and remember to offer your puppy lots of love and encouragement along the way. 

What to Avoid When Cleaning Dogs’ Ears

When it comes to choosing a dog-ear cleaner, not all options are created equal. For example, a hydrogen peroxide dog-ear solution can be harmful to your pet and irritate healthy skin cells. 

If you’re wondering how to clean dog ears without solution, or are curious about a natural substance like vinegar, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian first. They can advise you on what’s appropriate for your canine. 

Additionally, remember to not clean your pet’s ears too often. 

Don’t forget, if you want to know how to clean dog ears, you may be able to do it at home as the steps are fairly straightforward. If you have any questions, you can always ask your veterinarian or outsource the job to a professional groomer. 

For more expert tips on grooming your canine companion, explore our other dog routine care articles. 

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