Dog ears consist of a furry outer ear flap and an internal canal. The canal has an outer vertical portion and a deeper horizontal portion, which leads to the eardrum and inner ear structures. 

We are only able to see the outer portion of the vertical canal when we look into a dog’s ear; the remaining structures can be visualized with an otoscope, which a veterinarian may use during a physical exam. 

The ear allows dogs to hear, and the inner ear also contributes to a dog’s sense of balance. Read on to learn more about dog ear cleaning and how to tell when a dog has an ear infection.

How Can I Tell if My Dog's Ears Need Cleaned?

You should examine your dog’s ears frequently. If you notice buildup of any yellow, tan, or brown material in the ear canal, redness of the canal, or if your dog begins scratching its ears or shaking its head frequently, ear cleaning may be needed.

What to Use to Clean a Dog's Ears?

Only specifically-formulated dog ear cleaning solutions should be used to clean dog ears. These are available over-the-counter at the pet store or online, or can be purchased from your veterinarian. 

It is not recommended to use household products such as vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, olive or coconut oils, or water to clean dogs’ ears, as these may damage the ear or predispose dogs to ear infection.

How Do I Clean My Dog’s Ears?

Ear cleaning can be performed at home with cooperative dogs, but may require two people; one to hold the dog and one to clean. 

Wiggly dogs may benefit from being wrapped in a blanket for cleaning, and using treats like peanut butter to distract and reward dogs during cleaning may also help.

 Dogs that are painful or become aggressive during cleaning should have this performed by a veterinarian.

Follow These Steps to Clean Your Dog’s Ears:

1. Pour ear cleaning solution directly into the ear canal from the bottle, or soak a cotton ball or gauze pad with solution and squeeze this into the ear canal. You should fill the ear canal as much as possible; you cannot pour too much solution into the canal or “drown” the ear.

2. Gently massage the outside of the base of the ear, where the ear canal meets the head, for 10-20 seconds to work the solution down into the lower ear canal and help break up debris.

3. After massaging, allow the dog to shake its head to clear the ears of solution and debris.

4. Wipe out the ear canal with a cotton ball or soft gauze pad, only to the depth that you can see, to remove any remaining debris. Do not try to reach the deep inner ear canal and do not use Q-tips to remove debris, as these may cause pain to the dog or damage the ear.

How Often Should I Clean My Dog’s Ears?

In dogs without a history of ear issues, ear cleaning should be performed only as needed.

 Ears should be cleaned after swimming or bathing to remove water from the canals, as most ear cleaning solutions have a desiccant which helps to dry the ears. 

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For dogs that have had past ear infections, the ears should be cleaned regularly every 1-2 weeks for maintenance of ear health.

 Ears should be cleaned no more often than twice per week on a regular basis, as too-frequent cleaning can cause irritation.

If your dog has signs of an ear infection, please see your vet

If your dog has signs of an ear infection, please see your vet

Signs a Dog Has an Ear Infection

Signs of an ear infection may include significant itching or rubbing at the ears, head shaking, redness of the ear canal, moderate to severe ear discharge (may be white, yellow, tan, or brown in color and may have an unpleasant odor), blood or pus in the ear canal, pain when the ears are touched, a swollen or fluid-filled outer ear flap, or tilting of the head to one side in severe cases.

When a dog has an ear infection, it most often requires prescription medication for treatment. External ear infections are treated with ointments that are instilled into the ear canal.

What Causes Ear Infections?

Yeast and bacteria are common causes of ear infections. These microorganisms inhabit the skin and can overgrow to cause infection in certain conditions (discussed below). 

Additionally, ear mites are microscopic arachnids that can cause ear infections; mites are often encountered in young puppies.

Certain dog breeds may be predisposed to ear infections due to their conformation, especially those with long, floppy ear flaps or narrow canals that prevent good ventilation. 

Exposure to moisture, such as with frequent bathing or swimming, can predispose to infections. Ear infections are often associated with underlying environmental and/or food allergies. 

Lastly, the presence of foreign material in the ear canal can cause irritation and infection.

Ear infections in dogs should be treated as soon as possible to avoid complications

Ear infections in dogs should be treated as soon as possible to avoid complications

What Can Happen if a Dog's Ear Infection is Not Treated?

Ear infections should be treated as soon as possible to avoid complications. Dogs with ear infections that are not treated may experience chronic pain. 

Aural hematomas, blood-filled swellings of the outer ear flap, may develop with frequent head shaking and must be surgically drained to prevent ear flap deformity.

 When untreated, outer ear infections can progress to infections of the middle or inner ear, potentially involving eardrum rupture, significant pain, loss of balance, and/or head tilt. 

Middle and inner ear infections require treatment with oral antibiotics in addition to ear ointments, involving longer recovery time and greater cost.

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