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A Step-by-Step Guide to Safely Cleaning Your Dog's Ears

Anna is a lifestyle writer who spends way too much time with her two dogs. When she is not writing, she is probably gardening, reading, tripping over dog toys, or trying to acquire more farm animals than she really needs.

Get your pup's ears squeaky-clean without a struggle

The first time I tried to clean my dogs' ears, they both hightailed it into the other room. Apparently, having cold ear cleaner squirted into their ear canals was not their idea of a good time, but we eventually came up with a system that worked.

Luckily, you don't have to make my mistakes. Here is a step-by-step guide to cleaning your dog's ears with advice from veterinarians.

Why clean your dog's ears?

Ear cleaning is one of those things a lot of owners overlook, but it turns out that ear cleaning plays an important role in preventative health, especially if your dog is prone to ear infections. Clean, healthy ears are less likely to get infected with fungi or bacteria, which lowers your dog's risk of infection or developing otitis.

How often should you clean your dog's ears?

Some dogs require more frequent ear cleanings than others. The best way to tell if your dog needs a good ear scrubbing, according to veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, is to take a sniff.

Healthy dog ears don't have much of an odor beyond general dogginess. Dirty dog ears, on the other hand, can smell anywhere from vaguely yeasty to decidedly stanky, and these odors are a sign that your dog needs her ears wiped out.

More: Life with a dog doesn't have to include bad doggy breath

You can also take a peek. Clean, normal ears are pink, with a light coating of wax. The wax should be a pale, yellowish color. If your dog's ears are red or if there is a layer of black or brown waxy discharge, it is time to grab the cleanser.

There is such a thing as too much cleaning. Overcleaning your dog's ears strips away the natural wax, which can also lead to problems, so only clean your dog's ears on an as-needed basis.

How to clean your dog's ears

Now that we've gotten the preliminaries out of the way, let's get down to the actual process of de-stankifying your pooch.

Step 1: Acquire cleanser

The first thing you'll need is a good ear cleanser. Most veterinary offices carry one, as do pet supply stores, so this should not be too difficult.

Step 2: Treat your dog

You don't want ear cleaning to be a chore. Grab a few pieces of your dog's favorite treat, and reward her for good behavior so she associates ear cleaning with delicious snacks instead of the worst thing ever. This is especially important for dogs with sensitive ears or who may have had bad experiences in the past.

Step 3: Apply cleanser

Once your dog is relaxed and sitting, tilt your dog's head down with one hand and gently squirt the cleanser into your dog's ears until it fills the canal. This may also be a good time to shove a treat under your dog's nose to distract her from this new sensation.

More: My grooming mistake almost killed my dog

Step 4: Rub the ears

Hold that earflap closed to keep the cleanser from spilling out, and rub the ear. Give it a good massage to work the cleanser in. This process loosens up any gunk inside, and many dogs actually love this part. I mean, who wouldn't want a good ear rub?

Step 5: Let your dog shake

Hopefully you read these instructions through all the way before following them, because this part can get a little messy, so you may want to do ear cleanings on the porch or on a tile floor. After you have rubbed for at least 60 seconds, step back and let your dog shake (trust me, she will) and try not to get splattered.

Step 6: Wipe out the ear

Once your dog is done shaking, reward her and wipe her ears out gently with a piece of gauze or a tissue. Don't go digging around in there. A good rule of thumb to follow is to go no deeper than your first knuckle on most dogs. If you have a very small dog, you might find the first knuckle is too deep.

More: How to tell if your dog is going deaf

That's it! You're done! Tell your dog what a good dog they are and get on with your day.

Things not to do while cleaning your dog's ears

Now that you know how to properly clean your dog's ears, let's go over a few don'ts.

  1. Don't use a cotton-tipped applicator. You could damage your dog's ears, and you will also end up pushing debris further into the ear canal.
  2. Don't use witch hazel or alcohol to clean out ears, as these can dry out the ear canal and sting.
  3. Don't assume that ear cleaning is a replacement for veterinary care. If your dog has an ear infection, she may need to see the vet for an in-depth cleaning and medication.
  4. Don't make the experience unpleasant for your dog, or she will dread ear cleanings in the future.

Ear cleaning is pretty straightforward and with a little patience and training can actually be an enjoyable experience for your dog. If you are having trouble or if you have any more questions, ask your veterinarian for advice or a tutorial at your next visit.

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