Dog ears come in all shapes and sizes, but they have one thing in common: They’ll all need a good cleaning at some point. However, how often you should clean your dog’s ears depends on many different factors, and it’ll vary from dog to dog. Some dogs need regular ear maintenance; others, you’ll need to keep an eye out for signs of ear problems.
So how do you know when to clean your dog’s ears, and how do you do it? Let’s find out.
Do You Need To Clean Your Dog’s Ears?
That might be the first question you ask yourself, especially if you have a dog who doesn’t like any type of regular grooming. Training my German Shepherds to let me trim their nails was hard enough — trying to get them to let me clean their ears is a constant uphill battle.
My German Shepherds need regular ear cleans, but not all dogs do. Some dogs ears will be just fine left alone, said Dr. Evan Antin, a veterinarian at Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital in Thousand Oaks, California.
“They’re more or less like people ears, in that we don’t have to do any type of intense kind of cleaning on any regular basis,” he explained.
However, while some dogs need little-to-no regular ear cleanings, some dogs are the exact opposite.
“Some dogs need more routine ear maintenance, care and attention due to factors like the conformation of their ear or if they have allergies,” Dr. Antin said. “They might need more cleaning due to the lifestyle they lead, like if they spend a lot of time in water or not.”
So basically, the question of needing to clean your dog ears comes down to your dog. You might be able to leave dog ear cleanings to your veterinarian and never have to worry about it… Or you might need to beg your dog to stand still long enough to let you clean his ears.
It all depends on your dog.
Certain Dog Breeds Are More Prone To Ear Issues
As I mentioned above, I have German Shepherds, and they constantly need ear cleaning or I’ll be up to my neck in possible ear infections. They’re not the only breed with this problem either.
“Breeds that have a higher predisposition for ear issues are dogs with big ears or floppy ears, like Basset Hounds or Beagles,” Antin said. “That’s because their draping ears cover their ear canals, and they have a lot of nooks and crannies [inside the canal] where bacteria can grow out of control.”
What Causes Dog Ear Problems?
The most common culprits of ear infections are the bacteria Staphylococcus, and a yeast fungus called Malassezia, Antin said. However, there are other causes, including ear mites or hormonal issues, such as thyroid disorders. Allergies are a big source of dog ear problems, either from natural causes like pollen or due to your dog’s diet itself.
Foreign objects can sometimes get stuck in a dog’s ear, which can lead to ear problems. However, cleaning won’t solve that problem. If you suspect something is inside your dog’s ear, it’s time for a trip to the veterinarian.
How Often Should You Clean Your Dog’s Ears?
For dogs not prone to ear issues or infections, most veterinarians recommend cleaning them out once a month. For dogs who need routine maintenance, Antin recommends cleaning your dog’s ears out once or twice a week.
Confirm with your veterinarian on the best cleaning routine for your dog, as it is possible to clean a dog’s ear too much and cause other issues.
Signs Your Dog’s Ears Need Cleaning
So how do you know when a dog needs an ear cleaning? If you’re not doing regular maintenance, there are a combination of signs and symptoms to look for.
There are two major signs to look for. One is smell: Ear infections have a distinct, often foul odor that says something is wrong inside. It’s one of the easiest ways veterinarians determine if a dog has ear problems, Dr. Antin said.
If you’re not prone to smelling your dog’s ears, however, you might see your start messing with their ears more. He could start scratching at it more often, shake his head more or try to rub his head against objects.
Other signs include:
- Inflamed, red ears
- Scabs or crusty around your dog’s ear
- Dark, almost black, wax/discharge
- Hair loss around the ear
How To Clean Your Dog’s Ears: A Step-By-Step Guide
What you need to clean dog ears is simple. You’ll only need two items:
- An ear cleaning solution, either one your veterinarian recommends or ones you can make yourself using natural oils, etc. You can also use a vinegar and water solution that is one part vinegar and three parts water. Read more about that at “Regular Care and Meds Fix Dog’s Ear Infections.”
- Cotton balls
Cleaning a dog’s ear isn’t always simple, however, especially if you have a dog who doesn’t want you to touch his ears. You might want to consider having another person restrain your dog while you work on his ear, and also bribe him with treats so he learns to tolerate the procedure.
Step 1: Pour ear solution into your dog’s ear.
With an ear cleaning solution that comes in a bottle, you can easily squirt the solution right into your dog’s ears until it overflows. If you are using your own home remedy, use a turkey baster to get the solution into your dog’s ears.
Step 2: Squeeze your dog’s ear shut and massage the base of the ear
With this step, you’re basically trying to keep the solution in your dog’s ear. By closing your dog’s ear, you keep him from shaking it out or from it spilling out.
Make sure you are massaging the base of your dog’s ear (near his jawline). This gets the solution moving around and cleaning the various nooks and crannies of the canal. You should be able to hear an audible noise while doing this, often described as a squishy or smacking sound.
You don’t need to massage your dog’s ear for very long, maybe 15 seconds at the most if you have a dog with a really dirty ear. Most dogs won’t tolerate you massaging their ears for very long anyway.
Step 3: Let your dog shake the solution out.
Get ready to duck and cover! Once you finish massaging, let go of your dog’s ear and let him shake the solution out. Ear solution can fly everywhere at this point, so you might want to consider having a towel on hand to wipe up solution.
Step 4: Repeat steps 1 to 3 if necessary.
Sometimes one cleaning session isn’t enough. If your dog has really dirty ears, you should repeat the cleaning and massage process a few more times.
Step 5: Pour solution onto a cotton ball to clean the shell of the ear.
Once you’ve finished cleaning out the canal, you can then clean the shell of your dog’s ear with a cotton ball. Some experts recommend going a little deeper into the canal to clean some of the wax buildup there, by using a cotton ball with ear solution on it or your finger with gauze on it. However, you should only do this if you’re confident in your ear-cleaning abilities. There’s a lot that can go wrong in this instance. (See below for dog ear cleaning cautions.)
Step 6: Repeat steps 1 to 5 on your dog’s other ear.
You might want to consider giving your dog a break between ears, but once you’re ready, tackle the other ear.
Dog Ear Cleaning Cautions
A dog’s ear canal is very delicate and you want to be very careful while cleaning to avoid damaging it. Here are some things to keep in mind before you start cleaning your dog’s ears.
No Q-Tips! Dr. Antin warned that you should never use Q-tips in your dog’s ears, as it’s easy to accidentally injure your dog unless you know what you’re doing. If your dog needs a deep cleaning that requires more than the steps referenced above, let your veterinarian do it. They are trained for that.
Be delicate. Don’t go to town on your dog’s ear. If you decide to clean parts of the ear canal that you can reach with a cotton ball, move slowly and gently. You don’t want to accidentally scratch your dog’s ear canal, or worse, rupture an eardrum.
Signs of bleeding or dog in pain? Stop. If your dog yips in pain or you see signs of blood, stop immediately. If you do see blood, get your dog to the veterinarian in case you accidentally damaged your dog’s ear.
Learn from an expert. My dog trainer, who is an expert on German Shepherds, taught me how to clean my dog’s ear, and that can go a long way to ensuring your clean your dog’s ears right. This a great idea if your dog has a more complicated ear canal conformation, such as with a Beagle, and you need to know the best way to clean those nooks and crannies. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to clean your dog’s ears, so you know exactly how to do it with your dog.