Keeping your pet well-groomed is an important part of your dog’s care and health needs. We all know to keep our dog’s fur neatly combed, give them regular showers, have flea collars and make sure they are properly fed with lots of love, but many dog owners tend to forget about another important aspect of grooming: ear hygiene. While professional groomers often do take care of your dog’s ears as well, it is always a good idea to check in with them.
For those of us who prefer to groom at home, we have to remain vigilant about our puppy’s ears. Dog’s ears are one of their most important senses. Their hearing range is extraordinarily accurate and wide, giving them an evolutionary advantage over other animals, including humans. Thus, it is incredibly important that we keep those ears in tip-top, precision shape.
Why Do Dog’s Ears Need to Be Cleaned?
Grooming is an essential part of all dog’s routines.
Dog’s ears, one of their most important senses, just like human ears, need to be cleaned on a regular basis. As children, you must have been taught by your parents how to properly clean your own ears or been taken to the doctor to have them cleaned. Dog’s ears need to be maintained in the same format as well. Ear wax and oils can build up inside your dog’s ear, trapping dirt and allergens that can impact your dog’s hearing capabilities in the short and long run. If enough residue builds up, it can even damage your dog’s eardrum.
On the other hand, be sure not to overclean your dog’s ears. Mother nature and evolution has fashioned your dog’s ears to have some self cleaning features to a degree. Dog’s ears do contain skin cells that point and grow in the opposite direction of the eardrum in order to prevent and hold off on any damage to the eardrum. Overcleaning healthy dog ears can damage these cells. Therefore, it is very important that if your dog needs cleaning, that you are gentle when cleaning your dog’s ears, and avoid overcleaning.
Human and dog ear anatomy and care are very similar. A lot of the same care techniques and rules apply.
Dog ear’s anatomy are very similar to human inner ear anatomy. The outer ear contains the ear flap. The middle ear contains subcutaneous fat and the middle ear canal. The inner ear, through the ear canal, there is a cochlea where any vibrations due to surrounding noise will cause the bones to shake, transferring those sound waves to the inner ear drum. Surrounding the inner eardrum, ear wax can build up around the hair-like skin cells where sound waves transfer. Since human and animal ears have very similar structures, the same rules used when cleaning human ears can apply for dog ears.
For example, dog owners should be careful not to touch or injure the eardrum in the dog when cleaning the wax out. By using liquid solution or gentle wet cotton pads or cotton balls in the outer ear and the middle ear, you can avoid harming the inner ear. Just like with children, it is unhealthy and dangerous to poke cotton swabs into the inner ear, which can cause damage to the hairs that transmit sound waves from the cochlea to the eardrum.
When to Clean Your Dog’s Ears
Keeping dog’s ears healthy and cleaning them makes for a happy doggie and a happy doggie owner.
Knowing when your dog’s ears need a cleaning is tricky. For most dogs, it really depends on their breed and proclivity, or how prone they are to recurring ear infections. If your dog has a history of ear issues or is prone to ear infections, it is important that you at least check your dog’s ear, if not clean it, once a week. Some dogs can see ear problems due to allergies, a good warning to keep in mind.
The objective test for at-home dog owners who want to see whether their dog needs has an ear infection is to sniff your dog’s ears. Know what a healthy scent smells like for your dog. If you smell a moldy, stale, or any sort of unusual smell, it can be a sign that some sort of ear infection is festering in your dog’s ear.
Using the old flashlight trick with your dog’s ears will help you check for infections and keep their ears healthy.
If you are still unsure, take a small, concentrated beam flashlight and aim it inside the ear of your dog. You should see a pink ear with minimal, healthy looking wax. The wax looks similar to what human ear wax looks like, with the same coloring. Just like with humans, if it is red or a reddish-brown hue, then it can be a sign of infection. If so, a visit to the local veterinarian or animal clinic may be needed.
How To Clean Your Dog’s Ears Properly
In order to clean your dog’s ear properly, you will first need a few tools. You will need to have some cotton pads or cotton balls at hand, tweezers for hairy ears, a disposable or washable towel meant solely for your dog, and perhaps some treats to reward your dog for a job well done. Of course, you will also need to purchase a dog cleaner solution. Remember – be careful when cleaning your dog’s ears if there is already an infection. Contact your veterinarian immediately – they may prescribe antibiotics to help with your dog’s ear pain.
To begin, place the towel down, and put your dog into a sit and stay position. Gently hold your dog’s ear and begin to tweeze with your tweezers any stray hairs on the outer portion of the inner ridges of the ears only. Be gentle – it is not meant to be inserted into the ear canal – as tweezing deep hairs can cause hearing loss in your dog or even hurt the ear drum.
Next, gently fill the ear canal with a couple drops of your chosen cleaning solution from below. Be careful not to engage or mix up the ear flap with the ear canal when doing so. Close the ear and massage the ear to allow the cleaning solution to be swirled around inside the canal for approximately 20-30 seconds. Then, release your dog’s ear and allow him or her to shake any residual liquid out of their ears if they so desire.
Some treats will help make the experience more pleasant for your dog.
Take your cotton pads or cotton balls and swab the visible portions of your dog’s ear. Do not insert into the ear canal, and avoid using cotton Q-tips if at all possible. Always be sure to acclimate your dog to each step of the process by allowing him or her to examine every item before you proceed to the next step. Reward them at the end of cleaning to positively reinforce the experience in your dog’s mind.
1. Zymox Ear Cleaner: Best Ear Cleaner Overall
While pricey, this ear cleaner is one of the best and highly rated ear cleaning products. The Zymox makes many variations of ear cleaning products, but their product that comes with hydrocortisone is by far the most popular. Earning almost a perfect 5.0 star review on amazon, it has a unique formula that makes it effective for killing bacteria and clearing out ear wax. This particular brand can also be used for cleaning out ears during ear infections. The 1.0% hydrocortisone chemical can clear up the inner ear canal and severely reduce ear irritation. This prescription strength medication is available over-the-counter, and can be used for clearing out mites in ear canals as well.
Insert the tip of the applicator just above the dog’s ear and let a few drops fall.
The ear cleaner, unlike others, are oil-based instead of water based, making it difficult to clean out, but very effective as well. It also doubles as a great yeast treatment option as well. The cleaner works better than some prescriptions from veterinarians. The enzymes in the solution heal chronic ear infections and have an incredible success rate in ensuring that drainage and odd smells from your dog’s ears are taken care of.
The enzymes in this bottle are naturally cultivated and not chemically engineered, from dairy. Since enzymes are naturally active ingredients that react when exposed to the correct conditions (i.e. your dog’s ears) it works similar to antibiotics, antifungals, and antivirals, mimicking their properties to give your dog a clean, fresh ear. Each 1.25 ounce bottle lasts for approximately two weeks if administered daily for an active infection.
2. Runner-Up Pick for the Economically Minded Owner
While this brand is a little less-established compared to some of the others on this list, it is well reviewed and works wonders. This antiseptic solution works well for dogs who find other solutions or cleaning pads a little rough on the ears. It works well to reduce and treat microtears or cuts on your dog’s skin and inner ear. This particular solution is not meant to be used in case of infection, which is why the price point is so economical. But in lieu of this, it can be used on a regular basis to allow cleaning of debris accumulation. The wax in the inner ear and crust is easily broken up by this water-based drop solution. It also contains aloe vera to soothe your dog’s ears and diminish the scent afterwards to ensure that their ears are not affected by any future infections or wax build ups in the ears.
3. Best Ear Cleaner for the Eco-Friendly Dog Owner
This 90% five star reviewed product is known on the dog owner market as one of the best ear cleaners in town. The EcoEars Dog Ear Cleaner is healthy for the environment and all natural as well. This product is plant-based, including ingredients that are key to reducing inflammation and irritations, such as tea tree oil and rosemary extract. This ear cleaner can help with infections. However, this product isn’t the best for dogs with overly sensitive ears and can be drying.
Even better, this ear drop is made in an FDA regulated facility, meaning that the quality control and processing is top-notch and safe for your dog. Aside from itching and scratching and discharge, it also will do well with treating ear complications due to your dog’s allergies. The product is recommended to be used twice a day for ten days in a row for the best form of treatment if there is an active ear infection.
4. Best Ear Cleaning Wipes
These wipes are a great and convenient way of cleaning dog’s ears for those dogs who aren’t as comfortable with drops.
The Pet MD – Dog Ear Cleaner Wipes safely cleans dog’s ears. These wipes are easy to use and handle, about the size of 2.5 inches, although they can vary by a quarter of an inch depending on the size of the pad you choose for your dog. These wipes also control and inhibit yeasts and mites preemptively. They are known for soothing itchy ears in dogs. The Pet MD wipes come pre-soaked and ready to use. Users say that they are very thin, but soft on the ears and work well for preventing infections and cleaning. Especially since they are aloe vera and eucalyptus scented, my dog tends to tolerate them better and with more comfort than the ear drops.
Since these cleaning products are wipes instead of ear drops, they don’t enter the ear canal. These wipes are meant to clean the auditory canal of a dog’s ear. The lactic acid infusion of these wipes also aid balance and maintain the acidity of the skin cells in the dog’s ear canal.
5. Best Gentle Professional Cleaner
Used by even veterinary technicians, the Virbac Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleaner is known in the dog world for its reliability. Unlike the other products on this list, instead of relying on enzymatic activation or hydrocortisone solely, the active ingredient in this bottle is salicylic acid. For dogs who have chronic or recurrent infections, their ears can easily become red and inflamed, just like humans, a condition called otitis externa. This can cause inflammation, loss of balance, and overall discomfort.
Since this bottle has a strong formula meant to treat infections and help prevent ones from exacerbating, massage the drops in your dog’s ear one at a time for a couple minutes.
This bottle is specially made to treat the inflammation and topical discomfort. While some dogs may not agree with antibiotics and prescribed steroids, this formula take a more proactive approach, actively preventing infections in your dog’s ears. The unique acidic nature of the drops clear out debris and wax that can be irritating or exacerbating infections as well as kills microorganisms that can do harm to your dog’s ear.Since it is non-drying and not alcohol based, it can even be used on a daily basis if necessary. However, in case of severe infections, it will not be strong enough to treat the infection, and a veterinarian’s immediate intervention may be necessary.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.