The ABCs of DIY Dog Ear Cleaning

Floppy or erect, cropped or entire, bat-like or rose-like: these are just some variations of dog ears you’ll see around. But one thing that all of them have in common (aside from being adorable) is that they need to be cleaned regularly.

The importance of keeping your furry buddy’s ears clean and free of debris isn’t just so they can hear your commands better. The vestibular system that keeps your dog’s balance is located deep within the ear. Any infection in this area could lead not only to discomfort and poor hearing but an altered sense of balance too.

The Pros Of Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears At Home

While many dog owners opt to have their pooch’s ear cleaning done at the veterinary clinic or grooming center, knowing how to do it yourself is a useful skill. Cleaning your dog’s ears at home not only saves you time and money, but it is also a way for you to monitor their ear health regularly.

When To Leave It To The Professionals

But it is important to note that cleaning your dog’s ear at home is different from treating ear infections at home. The latter should not be attempted.

The problem with treating your dog’s ear infection at home is that you aren’t 100% sure what’s causing it. It could be due to a proliferation of microbial pathogens like bacteria or yeast, a mite infestation, mechanical damage to the sensitive structures within the ear, or even be a foreign object that somehow found its way inside.

Each diagnosis has a different treatment plan, and substituting one for the other would be ineffective at best, and harmful at worst. In addition, inappropriate dosage and frequency of administering drugs could lead to microbial resistance, rendering that drug ineffective over time, not just for your canine companion, but for other animals.

So if you notice red ears that are warm to the touch, a build-up of a waxy, funky-smelling substance within it, loss of hairy or crusty skin around the ear canal, or behavioral changes like intense scratching and head shaking, stop ear cleaning immediately as that may worsen some conditions.

There may be other signs of sickness that don’t seem directly related to the ears, but maybe a consequence of it if the infection has been going on for a while. Keep an eye out for those as well. Set an appointment with the vet so they can find out what is wrong and give you the appropriate treatment plan for your best friend.

How To Clean Your Dog’s Ears At Home

If your dog’s ears are light pink, relatively free of odor, and only have a little wax on it, then you can do a DIY ear cleaning session. Here are the factors to consider as you begin.

Assess How Often It Must Be Done

The number one enemy of healthy dog ears is humidity. Heat and moisture are two things that microbes love when looking for a new home.

Dogs with droopy or furry ears should receive a good earn cleaning at least once every other week because they tend to retain moisture and pick up dirt. If your dog’s ears are pricked up and surrounded by only a short coat of fur, once a month should be fine.

Cleaning should be done regularly, but that does not mean often. Too much ear cleaning can cause irritation and strip the ears of its naturally-produced protective secretions.

Buy The Necessary Cleaning Materials

Make sure that you buy a veterinarian-approved ear cleaning solution. You can buy these at most animal clinics or hospitals. There are a lot of choices, but one good rule of thumb is to avoid anything that contains alcohol or hydrogen peroxide as these can be too harsh for the sensitive structures of the ear. Another factor to consider is the ease of administration. Most ear cleaning solutions come in easy-squeeze bottles with a tapering but blunt tip.

You will need cotton balls or gauze to wipe off wax and dirt. Do not use cotton tips or q-tips as these can easily go too deep within the ear canal. It may push debris deeper within the ear, or else damage the tympanic membrane.

Conduct Behavioral Training To Make Cleaning Easier

Different dogs react differently to ear cleaning. If you’re lucky, your furry buddy will just sit back and enjoy the satisfying sensation of getting their ears rubbed and cleaned. But more often than not, dog owners are not so lucky.

Note that there are some dogs who become aggressive when their ears are touched. It is possible that they have an existing infection that is causing pain and sensitivity if so, have your dog checked at the vet to rule this out. On the other hand, some dogs have healthy ears but have experienced trauma that makes them wary of ear touching. You may want to get help from veterinarians or professional pet groomers who have the expertise and equipment needed to safely restrain your pet.

But for a majority of pet owners, it is just a matter of getting your dog to understand that ear cleaning isn’t something to fear. Training them to tolerate ear cleaning is just like training them to roll over or shake hands. All you need is time, patience, and lots of positive reinforcement.

  1. Sit your dog in front of you. With one hand, offer a high-value treat. With the other, reach for her ear. If she does not move as you reach, give her the treat and lots of cuddles. Repeat multiple times.
  2. If your dog’s ears are droopy or semi-pricked, you will need to open the ear flap to access the ear canal. With one hand, offer a high-value treat. With the other, reach for her ear (if she flinches, go back to step 1), then flip the ear flap up. If she stays still throughout, give her a treat. Repeat till she gets it.
  3. Wet a cotton ball with your ear cleansing solution. With one hand, offer a high-value treat. With the other, reach for her ear, flip the ear flap up, and do a single swipe of the wet cotton ball. If she doesn’t move throughout the process, reward her generously! What a good girl!
  4. Do the same as step 3, but try to do two swipes, then three. Work your way up to multiple swipes, rewarding heavily all throughout.
  5. Douse the cotton ball heavily with ear cleanser. Squeeze it so that some of the fluid drips down into the ear canal. This is so that your dog will get used to fluid flooding her ear. You may want to have someone hold up a treat that will keep her busy for a while, like a spoonful of sticky peanut butter or something out of a squeeze tube.

Remember that Rome wasn’t built in the day. There may be days when you return to previous steps, but the effort you put in now will make for an easier cleaning session tomorrow.

Just Do It

Once you get to the point that you’re sure your dog won’t run away or flinch at getting their ears wiped, you can actually clean your dog’s ears.

First, examine the ear to make sure it is not infected. Proceed only if it looks healthy.

Ideally, you should be able to pour the ear cleaning solution into your dog’s ear to flood it. It’s okay if it overflows. Your dog may shake their head to get rid of the excess, so make sure to do this in a place where you don’t mind splatters.

Then firmly massage the base of your dog’s ear for around 15 seconds. The clue that you’re doing it right is the squish-squish sound which means that the liquid reached the inner, horizontal part of the ear canal. This motion also helps loosen up the wax and debris within the ear for easier wiping.

Use a cotton ball to wipe around the ear smooth outer portion and the crevices deeper within. Only go as far as you can see. Trying to reach further may lead to damage to the inner ear structures. This may take a while, so a long-lasting treat may help keep your dog preoccupied.

And don’t forget to give your dog lots of hugs and kisses after every ear cleaning session. That way, they won’t dread the next one, making them healthier and happier in the future!

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Regina Ranada

Regina graduated with a degree in Psychology and worked in Human Resources for four years before she decided to pursue her dream of becoming a veterinarian. She is interested in companion animals and wildlife medicine. She sidelines as the social media manager of her pitbull, Pablo.

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