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Your Happy Pet: How to clean your dog's ears

Original Publication Date: September 15, 2014
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Dog grooming basics include brushing, bathing, clipping nails, and cleaning ears.

A professional groomer accomplishes these tasks in one visit. You and your dog will be happier if you concentrate on one job at a time, and make each as stress free as possible for your pup. Here is what you need to know about cleaning your dog's ears.

The outside flap of the ear orpinna stands up in breeds like the German shepard and flops over in others like the cocker spaniel. The external canal begins at the base of the flap, travels inside of the head, and ends at the eardrum.

Glands in the external canal secrete wax and other substances that need to be cleaned out along with dirt and debris that may collect.

Left untreated, the accumulated materials can cause a painful ear infection.

Cleaning ears should be part of your weekly grooming routine. Get supplies together before you start. You need a gentle ear-cleaning solution that you can purchase from your veterinarian, lots of cotton balls, and a towel or two. You may want to put things near the tub or on the patio. Ear cleaning can be a bit messy.

Begin by cleaning the ear flap. Wet a cotton ball with ear-cleaning solution, and squeeze out excess fluid.

The cotton ball should be wet but not dripping. Start near the opening of the ear canal and wipe toward the tip of the ear. This may take several cotton balls if the flap is dirty. Once the flap is clean, gently squirt a few drops of the cleaning solution into the ear canal. Massage near the base of the dog's ear to get the fluid into the ridges of the canal. This helps loosen ear wax and debris. Your dog will shake his head at this point. That is very normal, but fluid and debris fly out. That's why cleaning ears in the tub or on the patio may be a wise decision. You may want to have a towel handy to protect yourself from spatter from the shake.

Use a cotton ball moistened with the ear cleaning solution to wipe the ear out. You want to get into the ear canal and its crevices but only where the cotton ball will reach. Do not use cotton-tipped applicators as they may go too far into the canal and damage the eardrum. You may have to repeat cleaning if the ear still seems dirty. Dry the ear when cleaning is complete. Any excess hair in the ear canal is best plucked by a professional groomer or your veterinarian.

Done on a regular basis, ear cleaning will become old hat to you and your dog. Remember to use lots of praise during the process and end the session with treats. Make it fun.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at