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Believe it or not, healthy dog ears actually come with a self-cleaning feature. In this process, known as epithelial migration, the skin in the ear canal gradually migrates from the tympanic membrane, or eardrum, outwards, carrying with it excess debris.

So, if the ears aren’t bothering your dog, it’s usually best to leave them alone if your furry friend gets regular checkups.
Sometimes, however, underlying allergies, secondary bacterial or fungal infections and other problems can disrupt the natural ear-cleaning process and make it necessary for you to clean your dog’s ears. Here’s how to make it easy on you and your dog.

1. Help your dog become accustomed to having their ears handled. Ideally, you can do this before your dog ever has an ear problem. The next time your dog is sprawled on the couch relaxing with you, gently touch his or her ears and praise them for calm behavior. Over time, gradually advance to lifting the ear flap, or pinna, and looking inside the ear. Again, offer praise or a treat when your dog remains calm.

Notice how your dog’s ears look when they’re healthy. Depending on your dog’s skin pigmentation, the skin on the inside of the pinna should typically be soft and pink, but not red, inflamed or thickened. If your dog is scratching at one or both ears, and shaking their head, that’s usually a sign there’s a problem in the ear. Other signs include unusual odor and a brownish, waxy buildup. The ear may also be painful to the touch.

2. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Never put anything in your dog’s ears without first consulting your veterinarian. Some cleansers or medications may include ingredients that can be problematic if your dog’s eardrum is ruptured. Alcohol may sting and further inflame the skin.

Your veterinarian can examine your dog’s ear canal, including the eardrum, and take samples of ear discharge to help diagnose what’s causing the problem.

In more complicated cases, your veterinarian may need to perform an ear flush to enable proper examination and treatment. Sedation is usually recommended for your pet’s safety and comfort. Severe cases may require surgery, so it is important to control infection if you want to avoid getting to this stage.

3. Set up in an area that’s easy to clean up, such as a bathroom or outdoors. During ear cleaning, your dog may want to shake his or her head, releasing the cleaning solution and ear contents, so you may also want to dress accordingly.

Use only the ear cleanser that has been prescribed by your veterinarian. Again, you want to avoid any ingredients that could make your dog’s ear condition worse.

4. Instill the cleanser. Since dogs have L-shaped ear canals, you’ll want to gently pull up on the pinna to slightly straighten the canal, then fill the canal with cleanser. Gently massage the base of your dog’s ear to help loosen any debris deep in the canal. Your dog may lean into this because it feels good.
After a few minutes, allow your dog to shake its head, releasing the cleanser and any debris.

5. Gently remove the remaining cleanser with soft gauze squares or cotton balls. Never put anything, including cotton swabs, into your dog’s ear canal, because this can pack debris deeper into the canal or damage the ear itself. Simply mop up what you can using a gauze wrapped around your finger or with a cotton ball.

6. Reward your dog for a job well done. Lavish your dog with plenty of praise and perhaps a tasty treat so they always associate ear cleaning with a positive experience.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.