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Ear Infections

If you see your dog shaking their head a lot, might be a sign they have an ear infection. See info on cleaning your dogs ears and why.

As pet owners, we know that keeping our dogs’ ears clean is an important part of their care. But cleaning those ears can be challenging if our dogs aren’t conditioned to accept ear cleaning, or we don’t feel comfortable doing it.

Some dogs naturally have healthy, clean ears and may almost never need to have their ears cleaned, while other dogs require regular ear cleaning to prevent the buildup of dirt that can lead to ear infections. Dog breeds with long hanging ears, such as Labrador Retrievers, Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels, are among those with the highest risk of getting ear infections, but all breeds can develop them.

Checking the health of your dog’s ears is something you should be doing on a regular basis. Your dog might enjoy having his ears rubbed when they are healthy, but if they pull away from you they may be sore. So you can begin to assess their condition by gently massaging your dog’s ears.

How to Tell When a Dog’s Ears Need Cleaning

Before you break out the dog ear cleaner, check to make sure your dog actually needs ear cleaning. Over-cleaning your dog’s ears can lead to infection and irritation, so familiarize yourself with what a healthy, clean ear looks like (pink, odorless, and not dirty or inflamed) and smells like (not yeasty or stinky), and clean it only when you notice a change.

Some dogs require infrequent ear cleanings, while others, such as those predisposed to ear infections or dogs who spend a lot of time in the water, may need them often. The Merck Veterinary Manual recommends that the ear canals be kept dry and well ventilated by using topical astringents in dogs that swim frequently and by preventing water from entering the ear canals during bathing.

If you notice a mild odor or see that your dog is shaking his head more than usual, it is probably time for a cleaning. And if your dog’s ear looks red and inflamed, smells yeasty, or he appears to be in pain, contact your veterinarian. These symptoms could indicate an ear infection, fleas, or ear mites, or allergies, and require medical attention. Cleaning an infected ear often causes more harm than good.

Ear-Cleaning Supplies

You only need a few supplies to successfully clean your dog’s ears: a cotton ball or gauze, dog ear-cleaning solution, and a towel. Avoid using cotton-tipped swabs (Q-tips) or anything with a pointed tip. These tools can shove dirt and debris deeper into your dog’s ears, causing infections, and can even lead to trauma to the inner structures of the ear itself.


Ear cleaning, while simple, can get messy. You may want to clean your dog’s ears in a bathroom or a room that is easy to clean in case your dog shakes his head vigorously during the process.

Dog Ear-Cleaning Solutions

The internet is full of homemade ear-cleaning solutions for dogs. However, veterinarian-approved ear-cleaning solutions are the safest choice. Some homemade ear-cleaning solutions contain harmful or irritating ingredients. Others simply don’t do a good job.

Most veterinary offices carry ear cleaner for dogs. You can also ask your veterinarian what product they recommend for your dog, as some solutions may be more beneficial for your pup’s specific needs than others.

Should You Use Hydrogen Peroxide to Clean Dog Ears?

No. Don’t use hydrogen peroxide on your pup. This common household product can actually cause irritation to healthy skin cells. Ears contain very sensitive tissue, and extended use of hydrogen peroxide could eventually lead to damage of the ear itself. Stick to veterinarian-approved cleaners.

How to Clean Dog Ears: A Summary

Now that you know how to clean dog ears, here are the basics one more time:

Know what a healthy, clean ear looks and smells like.
Check your dog’s ears regularly after bathtime.
Cleaning ears too often can cause excessive irritation
Use a veterinarian-approved ear-cleaning solution for dogs.
Contact your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has an ear infection.