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How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears

Sara Lippincott, Manager, Shelter Outreach, Petfinder

Whether they are pointy or floppy, long or short, dogs’ ears are a sensitive part of their bodies. Unattended ear infections can lead to serious problems and possible hearing loss. If the ears smell bad, your dog is scratching at them or shaking his head, or if he acts in pain when you touch them, it could be a sign of an infection and the time to call your veterinarian. Also, just like the warnings for human ears, dogs’ ears are no place for cotton swabs.

Get Ready

How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears


Dogs have no interest in having their ears cleaned. You’ll want to have all your supplies handy so you can devote your full attention to the dog and not get distracted looking for the wayward cotton balls. Your vet’s office can provide you with a safe ear cleaner, and you’ll want several cotton balls close at hand. Clean hands (so as not to cause additional problems) or gloves and treats are a must. If your dog is squirmy, a second person is a huge help. One person or two, you’ll want to close the dog into a small room like the bathroom.

Go In

Starting from the outside and working in, you’ll clean out all areas of the ear that you can reach. Wet the cotton ball with the cleaner and wipe down the inside surface of the dog’s ear flap (the part that you can easily see). Once that is clean, get a new cotton ball wet with the cleanser and clean the inside part stopping when you feel resistance. Pushing further than the ear wants you to go can cause damage. If the cotton balls are very dirty, it may be time to schedule a check up with your veterinarian. When you’re finished cleaning, it is time for lots of treats and praise!


Even though we give them lots of good scratches, when it comes to grooming, the ears of dogs are frequently the most neglected parts of their bodies. But their ears are also one of the most important areas to attend to. Ear infections can be serious, and can begin easily if an animal’s ears are not kept clean. After all, how will Biffer know when to start salivating if his ears don’t pick up the sound of kibble hitting his bowl? Make sure your furry guests keep their ears perked up by following these simple steps.

How To Clean a Dog’s Ears: More Tips


1. To Clean or Not to Clean, That is the Question
Be careful! If the dog’s ears have an offensive odor, or if he has been scratching them repeatedly, you should not remove the icky stuff that might have accumulated; whatever’s there can help your vet determine the cause of the “ear-itation” and figure out how to treat it. So if he’s scratching, or if you’re tempted to plug your nose while cleaning his ears, you should turn the task over to your veterinarian or veterinary technician first; she can take swabs of the substance for examination.

2. Ear We Are
Before you start your scrubbing, make sure you’ve set the table. You should have your supplies set out and ready to go. Put out your cotton balls and cleanera commercially prepared ear cleaner with a low alcohol content is best. Wash your hands thoroughly so you don’t introduce any infectious particles to the dog’s ears. You may want to work with a buddy; your friend can provide distracting pats while the ear cleaning takes place.

3. Wipe Out!
Once you’ve determined that your dog’s ears are merely dirty and not full of mites or infection, you can remove the dirt. Using a cotton ball moistened with mineral oil, gently wipe out the inner surface of the animal’s earflap. Discard the first cotton ball and moisten another; with this one, clean out the part of the ear canal that you can see. Stop when you feel resistance-don’t try to stick the cotton ball any farther into the ear than it should go. Repeat this process on the other ear. Make sure you remove any foreign matter, whether it’s dirt, bugs, or just waxy buildup.

4. Ears to You!
Give your furry friend a pat, give your helper a high-five, and send your little buddy on his way. Now he’ll be well-prepared to hear those wonderful words:

“Look, honey, he’s beautiful! He’d be a wonderful new member of our family.”

“Oh, you’re right. And his ears are so clean!”

Cues and Tips on Q-Tips
While cotton swabs are a natural choice for cleaning human ears, you should not use them on animals. Not only are they less efficient (imagine how long it would take to clean a basset hound’s ears with a Q-tip), they can be dangerous: If an animal is startled and jerks his head while you’re cleaning his ears, the cotton swab could get jammed into his ear canal, causing all sorts of pain and distress. Use cotton balls instead; they’re much softer and less likely to get stuck in the animal’s aural orifices.
A Note on the Ears of Kitties
Since cats are even more meticulous than professional groomers, your kitties probably won’t need to have their ears cleaned. But their ears should always be checked when they enter the shelter, and if you notice one of your feline charges scratching his ears, or if his ears have a bad smell, you should notify a veterinarian and have the cat checked out. Don’t remove any substances, because swabs of the secretions will help the veterinarian diagnose the cause of the infection.

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