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Most dogs have fairly clean ears most of the time. As a general rule, most dogs can benefit from having their ears cleaned about once a month.
Some dogs are prone to otitis externa (ear infections of the outer ear canal) and need their ears cleaned more often. Some dogs get wet ears from swimming or baths and need their ears cleaned right after so they do not stay wet. Some dogs with active ear infections need their ears cleaned daily with a specific prescription ear cleaner. Some dogs have their ears cleaned by their groomers or never have issues and you will never ever need to touch their ears except to pet them.
The safest bet is to ask your veterinarian how often your dog needs his or her ears cleaned and what product to use. Most veterinary teams will even demonstrate for you how to clean ears.
You will need:
Ear Cleaner – Use a cleaner prescribed or recommended by your veterinary team. No alcohol! No peroxide. No water. Nothing stingy! Nothing that smells gross because it will probably end up on your T-shirt!
Cotton swabs (maybe)
Either open space (outdoors) or a non-carpeted room like the bathroom
1. Turn your dog’s first ear inside out. He or she will look super cute:
Joy the Puppy Demonstrating an Inside Out Ear
2. Pour a small amount of cleaner into one ear until the ear canal is full and you can see cleaner at the ear’s opening.
Joy the Puppy Being a Good Sport
The external ear canal of a dog has a vertical (up and down) and a lateral (sideways) component. Basically, it is a “L” shaped structure that starts at the external opening, goes down a bit and then in a bit to the ear drum. The external ear canal should now be full of cleaner.
4. Gently wipe out the parts of the ear you can see – the external opening of the ear canal and the underside of the ear flap.
2-4. “Alternate scene” If your dog seems super stressed over having a head full of liquid, soak a cotton ball in the ear cleaner and use that to wipe out the external opening of the ear canal and the underside of the ear flap without filling the ear canal with ear cleaner first. Sometimes that is less stressful.
5. Wipe out the remainder of the cleaner with cotton balls.
6. Detailing – If you are very gentle with cotton swabs, you will not hurt your dog. Use them to clean the crevices of the inner ear flap and canal opening that you can see. You will not damage the ear drum if you go further into the canal with a cotton swab, but you may accidentally pack debris into the canal, so keep the tip of the swab where you can see it.
7. The residual cleaner in the canal will work out any debris you can not see, and if it is really bothering you, use a cotton ball to reach into the canal to clean it more thoroughly. Make sure every cotton ball that goes into the canal comes out!
8. Repeat steps 1 – 7 with the other ear.
9. Finish with treats and play time for you and your dog so you both remember that ear cleaning can be (very) fun.