Keep your dog's ears clean

By performing weekly home cleanings and inspections of your dog’s ears, you can reduce or eliminate her risk of developing a painful problem.

Dirty ears resulting from a lack of proper grooming can lead to serious medical conditions. By performing weekly home cleanings and inspections, or by having your animal professionally groomed on a regular basis, you can reduce or eliminate her risk of developing a painful problem.

Did you know your animal’s ears can influence her health? It’s true. Animals with upright ears are less prone to dirt accumulation and infection than those with drop ears. This is because upright ears allow for proper air circulation and do not trap dirt, moisture and heat the way drop ears can.

Any drop eared breed can be prone to ear issues. In fact, it has been estimated that 80% of all canine ear problems occur in drop ear breeds. In addition, terriers, poodles and any wire or curly coated breeds can be prone to developing hair in the ear channel that could become an issue. And all animals exposed to water, such as hunting breeds or dogs that enjoy swimming, can develop ear problems, as can dogs that encounter burrs or prickers.

Drop ear animals (typically dogs, but may also include some cats) require more stringent grooming protocols to ensure ear health and cleanliness. Whatever type of ears your companion has, you can ensure their health by performing basic grooming care at home on a weekly basis, and by working closely with your professional groomer and veterinarian.

Home care

It’s a good idea to perform preventative ear care and inspections every week. This entails nothing more than examining the ear for debris or damage, and gently cleaning the flap and the opening of the ear canal. Never probe deeply into the canal with your fingers, cotton swabs, or anything else, as this could damage the eardrum. And be gentle when cleaning the inside of the ear.

A soft cloth or cotton ball moistened with lukewarm water can do a thorough cleaning for some animals, while a solution of vinegar or witch hazel may be all that’s needed for others. There are also many companies offering natural, non-irritating ear cleaning solutions and wipes specifically for animals, including Solid Gold, Ark Naturals, and Earth’s Balance. Ear wipes are convenient new products that allow you to safely and gently clean the animal’s ears without the worry of applying too much solution. Avoid greasy or oily ear cleaning products, as they will encourage the accumulation of filth in and around the ear. For the same reason, avoid overloading ears with essential oils. These substances smell nice, but essential oils can be toxic to cats.

It’s not wise to squirt or force any liquid directly into the animal’s ear as this can damage the sensitive tissues of the inner ear. As well, an excess of fluid in the ear canal, even cleaning solution, can lead to infection by providing a medium for yeast and bacteria to grow in. By applying the solution to a cotton ball (don’t soak it), and then rubbing and squeezing some of this fluid into the ear, you will have more than enough to perform a satisfactory cleaning job.

What else you can do

• In addition to performing weekly cleaning and inspections, feeding your animal a high quality diet can help maintain ear health. One of the first indications of health problems in animals fed a low quality commercial diet is skin and ear discharge. These discharges are the body’s way of ridding itself of the harmful chemicals and additives found in low-end food.

• Watch for any changes in the normal appearance of your animal’s ears; behaviors such as scratching, head shaking, aggression or avoidance; or a black, brown, red or yellowish discharge or wax. These could all indicate something brewing in those deep, dark recesses. Bring any signs of ear problems to the attention of your vet.

Professional grooming

Groomers include ear inspection and cleaning in just about every service they provide. In addition to properly cleaning and deodorizing the ear, they may also remove parasites from the outer ear and excess hair from the opening of the ear canal. In some breeds, this excess hair can block airflow and lead to infection. Clippers, hemostats, ear powders, gentle otic cleaners, and soothing ear lotions are some of the tools and products used by groomers to perform a safe and thorough ear cleaning. Your groomer will also inform you of any unhealthy ear conditions she witnesses that require veterinary attention.


I never recommend that you attempt to clip the hair inside your animal’s ears with clippers or scissors. It’s too dangerous! These stray hairs should be pulled instead. A groomer should do this, or you can ask her to teach you how to do it yourself.

When to call the vet

Your veterinarian is the only person who can diagnose and treat medical ear problems. In addition to “flushing” seriously dirty ears and removing ticks from within the ear canal (both procedures may require anesthesia), only your vet can treat infections, allergies, parasitic infestations, remove foreign objects lodged in the ear, and address bite wounds or punctures of the ear flap.