Education Center

Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears


By Dr. Al Townshend

Signs of a Problem

Your dog’s ears should be free of debris, dirt, or excess wax with no odor, sores, or inflammation. A quick inspection of your dog’s ears can rule out any surface area issues. If your dog is shaking his head, tilting his head, or rubbing the ears, it can indicate an internal problem. An ear that is too warm, pink, swollen, or appears to be sensitive can also be an ear that needs veterinary attention.

Common Ear Problems

  • Ear mites – if you notice black debris that resembles coffee grounds, this can be an indication of mites. Ear mites are microscopic parasites that cause severe itching and require treatment with insecticidal ointment obtained from a vet.
  • Ear Infections can be severe if not treated by a vet promptly. If you notice a brownish, yellow discharge accompanied by a strong odor, do not touch the inside of the ear.
  • Broken blood vessels and bruising can occur with excessive shaking. Occasionally, swelling will occur on the tips of the ears, especially in dogs with pendulous ears. Bruising can also occur when excessive matting has been removed or in dogs who have recently had their ears shaved.
  • Excessive scratching can lead to open sores and possibly secondary infections. Fleas, allergies, dry, flaky skin, and many other things can cause a pet to scratch the ears. Catching the problem early and getting to the veterinarian is essential in resolving the issue quickly and easily. 

Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears

A dog’s ear canal curves downward, and then it takes a sharp turn horizontally. Because of the shape, it is very difficult to harm the eardrum during cleaning unless you are using cotton swabs or other objects. It is far safer to clean with a cotton ball wrapped around your fingertip. Dampen the cotton ball with commercial ear cleaner, do not use alcohol as this can dry out and irritate the ear lining. Wipe gently but thoroughly, reaching all the folds and crevices where dirt or wax can build up.

It’s always best to have help when attempting to clean a pet’s ears. Two people can do a much better and safer job and, at the same time, cause less stress for the pet. Having an extra helper can also reduce the risk of damaging the ear canal.

Ear Plucking

For most dogs, especially those with a natural coat, such as Labrador Retrievers, cleaning is sufficient. Other dogs, such as Shih-tzu’s, Bichon Friese’s, Poodles, and most terriers, require the ears to be plucked. Hair growing inside the ear canal impedes air circulation and promotes wax buildup in many breeds of dogs.

Ear powder, a chalky white resin, makes the hair much easier to grab and pull and should be sprinkled lightly in the ear before plucking. Pull out only a few hairs at a time, as this causes less pain to the dog. For dogs with very thick hair, a hemostat can be used, as long as you are very careful not to push it too deep into the ear canal or pinch the sensitive skin inside the ear. Ear plucking should be done prior to cleaning for those dogs that need it, as the cleaner will also remove any remaining traces of the resin. 

Your Pet Planet store has many products to assist you with cleaning and maintaining your dog’s ear health. If you are unsure where to begin, ask a Pet Planet Ambassador to help you get started.

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Additional Resources

Wondering How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears? A How-To Guide

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