We’re reader-supported. When you click on our chosen products, we may receive a commission. Learn more.
dog parent must-knows
Cleaning dog ear with cotton ball

The essentials 

  • Regular cleans prevent infection — Keeping your dog’s ears clean will prevent infection and discomfort from debris or excess ear wax.
  • It’s important to use the right kind of cleaner —  Steer clear from DIY remedies like hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. A cleaner made for dogs is always the best choice.
  • You can clean your dog’s ears too much — Unless they have allergies, every other week is generally enough. Examine your dog’s ears weekly to see if they need cleaning.

A look inside your pup’s ears 

It’s incredibly easy for debris and dirt to get trapped inside your pup’s ears, which is largely because of the way dogs’ ears are structured. Your doggie’s ears have three parts :

  • The outer ear. The outer ear contains the ear flap, or the part you can see, and the ear canal. The shape of this part of the ear allows sound waves to filter into your dog’s ear.
  • The middle ear. Your dog’s eardrum and eustachian tubes are located in their middle ear, which also contains several tiny bones and muscles.
  • The inner ear. The inner ear contains the cochlea, the organ your dog uses to hear, and the vestibular system, which is used for balance.

Routine cleaning can also prevent infection and make you aware of issues like ear infections, ear mites, or allergies.

Diagram of a dog ear

Source: Wikipedia Commons

👉 When you clean, it’s best to stick to the outer ear to avoid causing any damage. 

When should you clean your dog’s ears? 

Keeping your dog’s ears clean is a good hygiene practice, but there is a right and wrong time to do so! Your pup might be ready for a clean if:

  • Fido suffers from allergies. If your dog suffers from allergies, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends that you clean their ears weekly to remove debris.
  • You recently took your pup for a swim. Water that ends up in your dog’s ear can lead to infection. It’s best to ensure your dog’s ears are clean and dry after any time in the water — even if just the bathtub.
  • Your dog has an ear infection. If your pup has an ear infection, make sure you’re following their vet’s instructions to keep their ears clean. Whether your dog is suffering from a yeast infection or another type of infection, it’s important to keep your dog’s ears clean and dry.
  • You’ve noticed any changes. If you notice that your dog’s ears are dirty, red, or inflamed, it’s time to clean. You’ll also need to check with your veterinarian to see what’s going on and get it treated.

When to avoid cleaning your pup’s ears

There are times when you should avoid cleaning your pup’s ears or check with your vet before doing so. Some of these situations are as follows:

  • Your pup is in pain. If your pup seems like they’re in too much pain or has a head tilt, avoid putting cleaner in their ears unless you’ve gotten the go-ahead from your veterinarian.
  • Your dog is on antibiotics. If your dog has an ear infection and your vet treats them with an oti-pack or a long-acting ear medication like Osurnia and Claro, you should avoid cleaning your dog’s ears. These antibiotics are placed directly in pups’ ears and need to be left there for two weeks.
  • You’re concerned your dog’s eardrum might have ruptured. While this is rare, it can be difficult to tell if this has happened to your dog. If you have any reason to believe your pup’s eardrums have ruptured, you’ll want to head straight to the vet.

There are times where you should not put ear cleaner into a dog's ears, like if the eardrum is perforated. This is rare, but it's hard for people to know when it's actually happening.

Dr. Erica Irish

DVM

Dog breeds most likely to require frequent cleans

All dog breeds need to have clean and healthy ears, but long-eared dog breeds tend to need more frequent cleanings. Some breeds that fall into this category include:

  • Basset hounds
  • Bloodhounds
  • Black and tan coonhounds
  • Afghan hounds
  • Cocker spaniels
  • English cocker spaniels
  • English setters
  • Irish setters
  • Gordon setters

Some breeds are also more prone to ear infections than others, meaning they need to have their ears cleaned more regularly. These breeds include:

A step-by-step guide to cleaning your dog’s ears 

  1. Gather supplies. You’ll want to make sure you have cotton rounds or cotton balls, treats (like peanut butter or spreadable cheese), and a good ear cleaning solution ready.
  2. Get your dog in a comfortable spot. You can take your dog to a smaller space, like a bathroom, that’s quiet and distraction-free. Avoid restraining your dog to clean their ears, as doing so can add to their stress, especially if they dislike having their ears cleaned or are in pain due to an infection.
  3. Moisten the cotton pad using your ear cleaner. Follow the directions on the package so you don’t use too much or not enough product.
  4. Wipe the outer ear. Using the moistened pad, wipe the outer ear, making sure not to go in too far or press on your dog’s eardrum. This shouldn’t be a big concern since dogs’ eardrums are deep inside their ears! You can also massage the base of the ear while you clean to ensure you’re getting all the wax and debris out and that the cleaner is doing its job.
  5. Repeat until the dirt is gone. It might take a few cotton pads before your dog’s ear is fully cleaned and gunk-free. You can repeat the process as needed to make sure the ear is completely clean. Remember to check in with your pup as you work, as they might need a break. If your dog is showing signs of stress, you can also give them a few minutes to relax before you finish the cleaning.
  6. Offer your dog some praise and a tasty treat. While you’re cleaning, offer lots of praise and some tasty treats. Try to choose something extra delicious so your dog has a positive association with ear cleaning, as well as a reward for a job well done!

5 things to avoid when cleaning your dog’s ears

  1. Q-tips. Using Q-tips or any other type of cotton swab in your dog’s ear can be dangerous and puncture their eardrum. For their safety, avoid Q-tips.
  2. Hydrogen peroxide. Avoid using hydrogen peroxide to clean your dog’s ears. It can be irritating to your dog’s skin, which can cause itchiness and excessive head shaking.
  3. White vinegar. You shouldn’t clean your dog’s ear with white vinegar as there are more appropriate cleaners on the market. Dog-safe cleaners also typically contain drying agents, which help ensure no water or moisture gets left behind.
  4. Apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar isn’t a good choice for treating an ear infection. It can add moisture to your pet’s ears and make the infection worse.
  5. The wrong cleaner for your dog. If your dog has an ear infection or another medical issue, they may need to use a specific cleaner, so chat with your vet to find a product that will work best for your pup.

Our recommendation for the best all-around cleaner

Frequently asked questions

How often should I clean my dog’s ears?

It depends on your dog’s needs. Some dogs, like those with allergies, need to have their ears cleaned weekly, while other dogs can go about two weeks. Remember to always clean your dog’s ears after a bath or swim. You can check your dog’s ears regularly to make sure they’re clean. If your dog is itching or shaking their head or you notice redness, inflammation, or an odor, you should call your vet.

What can I use to clean my dog’s ears at home?

You should use a cleaning solution specifically designed for dogs. Our favorite to recommend is Virbac Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleanser.

What’s the brown stuff in my dog’s ears?

It might be an overproduction of earwax, but it could also be a sign of infection. If your dog is showing other symptoms of an ear infection, like odor, scratching, redness, or swelling, you might want to get them to the vet right away.

How do you know if your dog has ear mites?

You’ll want to wipe your dog’s ears gently with a soft cloth and then examine the residue. If you see some tiny white spots, you might be looking at ear mites.

How do you know if your dog has a yeast infection?

If your dog has a yeast infection, their ears might smell cheesy or musty, be red or swollen, and have a red or brown waxy discharge.

Can I use hydrogen peroxide to clean my dog’s ears?

No. You should not use hydrogen peroxide to clean your dog’s ears. An ear cleaner made specifically for dogs is always best.