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Here’s How Often You Should Be Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears

Yes, you really should be cleaning your dog's ears—here's how to do it without alarming or harming your pup.

Street Dog itching its ear with legs due to allergyPRL/Shutterstock

Why should I clean my dog’s ears?

Cleaning your dog’s ears is important for keeping ear infections and wax build up at bay. “Excessive wax and discharge create a favorable environment for bacteria and yeast to grow, which can lead to infection,” says KT Boyle, DVM, Banfield Pet Hospital. “The primary goal of cleaning your dog’s ears should be to remove excessive discharge or wax from the ear canal with the least amount of irritation to the ear,” adds Dr. Boyle. For example, ear mites feed on the wax and oil in a dog’s ear. They don’t bite the skin but they do cause your dog to scratch his ears, and that can cause serious damage from his claws. Watch for these 10 signs that your dog isn’t feeling well.

Labrador Retriever, Happy dog swimming, Dog smilingWasitt Hemwarapornchai/Shutterstock

Do active dogs need more cleaning?

Yes: Swimming and running through the woods can increase your dog’s risk of ear trouble. “Complications are primarily seen in the form of ear infections, which are most typically caused by bacteria or yeast. When water becomes trapped in the ears, the usually harmless bacteria and yeast can cause problems that may require veterinary attention,” says Dr. Boyle. Keep these 28 safety tips in mind when you take your dog outside to play.

dachshundVerbitskaya Juliya/Shutterstock

Do floppy ears need cleaning more often?

Basset hounds, beagles, labs, and cocker spaniels may need more frequent cleaning. That’s especially true if your dog’s ears are thick with hair like a cocker spaniel, Afghan hound, and setters. These breeds are prone to ear infections because their ears are long, heavy, and hairy; this impedes air flow in the ear canal, creating a moist and humid environment for wax—and bacteria and yeast—to accumulate. “If you have any questions about how often you should clean your dog’s ears, it’s best to partner with your veterinarian to determine what’s best for your individual pet’s needs,” advises Dr. Boyle. (When it comes to your dog’s health, it’s also important to know whether or not to neuter.)

dog ear anatomy moldTodorean Gabriel/Shutterstock

What happens if I don’t clean my dog’s ears?

According to the American Kennel Club, a dog’s ear canal is more vertical than the one in humans, plus it has an “L” shape that tends to trap fluid. This makes dogs more prone to painful ear infections. Before you clean the ear, take a closer look and check for odor, scaly skin, stinky discharge, redness, and swelling—these are signs of trouble and your dog should see a vet before you try cleaning his ears. Watch out for these 10 common hidden dangers for dogs that lurk in your backyard.

Dog Ear CleaningKhomkrit Songsiriwith/Shutterstock

How often should I clean them?

The simple answer is once a month, says Dr. Boyle, but that depends on the health of your dog’s ears. When a dog has an infection, your vet may prescribe medication and cleaning more frequently. If your dog doesn’t spend a lot of time outdoors, you may get away with less cleaning.

Playful beagle dog sits on the green grass outdoor in the park after paying with the owner,hand hold its ear.kobkik/Shutterstock

How should I prep my dog?

If you’ve never cleaned your dog’s ears before, it’s smart to “practice” first for you and your dog’s sake. Jessica Ring, a certified professional dog trainer and owner of My Fantastic Friend dog training, favors a step-by-step approach for how to clean dog ears. “The beginning step might be just touching the dog’s ear. Next, flip the ear open. Then, flip the ear open with one hand then pick up the cleaner with the other hand,” says Ring. “Repeat each step several times and reward him with a yummy treat after each successful repetition.” If he stumbles, go back to an easier step and repeat. Don’t worry if it takes of few days of role-playing before you’re ready for the real thing. Check out the 50 secrets your pet wishes he could tell you.

Wet Beagle dog shaking his headLunja/Shutterstock

How to clean dog ears?

OK, you’re done playing doctor and ready for the real deal. Since your dog will inevitably shake his head during the cleaning, plan to do the job outside or in a room that will be easy to clean. Here’s how Dr. Boyle suggests you do it:

  • Apply a generous amount of ear cleaning solution into the ear canal.
  • Massage the base of the ear to disperse the cleaning solution deep into the ear canal. If your dog is sensitive to the solution being applied directly to the ear, try soaking a cotton ball with the solution first, then using it to clean the ear.
  • Stand back and let him shake his head to remove the excess solution.
  • Use cotton balls to absorb the excess solution from the ear canal and to gently wipe away any loose debris from the surface of the ear.
  • Do not use cotton swabs for cleaning, as they can push wax further into the ear canal or damage the eardrum.
  • If there is a lot of debris in the ear, repeat the application until the cleaning solution is clear.

Read on for the 14 things you do that your dog actually hates.