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Caring for your dog’s ears


Dog’s ears vary enormously, both between different breeds and also within a specific breed. There are different factors that may make your dog more prone to ear disease e.g. the shape of your dog’s ear pinnae, the amount of hair growth in the ear canals, the area(s) where your dog is exercised, underlying allergies etc.

Not all ears need cleaning, but some ear canals are particularly prone to the accumulation of wax and debris and regular cleaning can prevent disease in these ears. Cleaning is also useful in dogs predisposed to ear disease e.g. dogs with pendulous ears, dogs that swim and certain breeds such as Cocker Spaniels and Labradors.

Regular handling of your dog’s ears before there is a problem will help to make cleaning your dog’s ears less stressful. Ideally you will want to check the ears once or twice a week even though you may not need to clean them this frequently.

What to look out for when checking your dog’s ears:

  • Wax, debris or discharge
  • Fleas, mites and ticks
  • Inflammation (redness)
  • An unpleasant odour
  • A constantly moist ear
  • Shaking his/her head more often than normal

Otitis externa is the term used to describe inflammation of the ear canal. A normal ear canal will contain a small number of bacteria & yeasts. However if there is inflammation and the canal becomes narrowed, the airflow through the canal is reduced and the temperature and humidity in the canal increases, allowing the bacteria and yeasts to multiply.

This causes further inflammation, itchiness and soreness especially if your pet then scratches at his or her ears. If you notice inflammation, abnormal discharge or a bad smell or if your dog is scratching at his or her ear(s) or shaking their head more than normal then you may need to book an appointment to see a vet. Please ask a vet or nurse for advice.

There are different ear cleaners available specifically for dogs and cats. The best ones are those with a neutral pH, soothing, don’t dry or irritate the skin, antibacterial and antifungal. Please ask for details of an ear cleaner that will suit your dog

It is usually worth cleaning your dog’s ears once or twice a month on average unless they are prone to infection or inflammation e.g. if they swim or have an underlying allergy in which case your vet may advise more frequent cleaning.

Always ensure the cleaning liquid is at least at room temperature or slightly warmed by placing the bottle in your pocket or between warm hands for a few minutes.

It is normally preferable to clean ears in a tiled room or outdoors as it is likely that your dog will shake the excess solution over the floor!


How to clean your dog’s ears

  • Start by wetting some cotton wool with the cleaning fluid and placing it in the ear. Gently wipe away any debris from the opening of the ear canal. This allows your dog to become used to the feel of the ear cleaner & cotton wool without giving them the sensation of too much fluid in the canal
  • As your dog becomes used to this you can start to squeeze more of the liquid into the ear canal until you can almost fill it
  • Massage the ear canal gently but thoroughly from the base of the ear. At this point your dog will shake his or her head and some of the loosened wax and debris will be expelled!
  • With a cotton ball over your fingertip, gently wipe the accessible part of the ear canal. Do not insert anything other than the end of your finger into the ear canal, especially cotton buds, as they can cause damage to the eardrum
  • Inspect the ear and repeat if necessary
  • Repeat in the other ear.


Some breeds of dog have particularly hairy ears e.g. Poodles. Hairs are present to protect the ear canal but if the hair is excessive then it may be advisable to pluck some out to stop debris & wax becoming trapped.

Please feel free to discuss this with a vet or nurse.