Because of the way a dog's ear canal is structured, debris or other materials (ear wax) caught in the horizontal canal cannot be ejected without cleaning. When ignored, this may lead to itchiness in best case scenario, and ear infections in the worst case.
Not all dogs require ear cleaning. While some breeds need more frequent cleanings, especially those prone to ear infections, others may never need it. Over-cleaning your dog's ears may cause irritation and infections. Only clean a dog's ears if you smell odor, notice wax/debris buildup or discharge.
Dog ear cleaners differ from human ones because they cannot contain toxic to dogs ingredients such as Xylitol, Chlorhexidine, Chlorine compounds or alcohol. They generally use benzyl alcohol, which does not contain any ethanol and is used as a fragrance. Some brands like Zymox will also include ingredients such as Lacoperoxidase, Lactoferrin and Lysozyme for minor bacterial, fungal control.
Warning: Ear cleaners for dogs are not to be used for ear infections. Ear cleaners contain “simple,” less harsh ingredients for long-term use that are gentle on the skin, and won't be effective for treating infections. Sometimes, use ear cleaner for yeast infections can make the situation worse, by creating a favorable environment for yeast to grow. If your pet has ear infections (otitis), a vet prescribed (or OTC) ear infection treatment is required, and to be used for short-term only until the infection clears up.
The best ear cleaner for dogs will contain anti-bacterial and anti-fungal ingredients to prevent more serious complications. They should also be good at clearing up build-up of wax, debris and keeping the ears clean for longer, without irritating them.
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How to Pick the Best Ear Cleaner for Dogs
Look for dog ear cleaners made with soothing ingredients without any irritants. Note that some “natural” treatments are not effective and will not clear the ear properly, nor provide any bacterial/fungal prevention, which is what you need.
The most common type of ear cleaner for dogs is a liquid solution that you dump into the ear, massage gently for a few moments, and then wipe it off. They will work deep down into all the nooks and crannies of your dog's ear.
Alternatively, you can use dog ear cleaning wipes, which are more convenient. These cleaning wipes are made with gentle ingredients so as not to scratch the ear or irritate a dog's delicate skin. However, they may not be as effective as liquid solutions, depending on the type of a dog's ears and their condition.
If your dog has an ear infection (yeast, otitis), seek veterinary care and advice on the appropriate ear infection treatment. When left untreated for too long, dog ear infections could worsen and cause permanent hearing loss, more serious infections or permanent damage to a dog's ear.
“Treatment for canine ear infections depends on the underlying cause of the infection as well as the specific type of infection involved. Ear cleaners or topical medications, such as ear drops or lotion, are common in soothing canine ear infections.” – Dr. Alison Diesel, DVM [source]
How to Clean a Dog's Ears?
Note: Before you start cleaning, check if a dog's ear is red, inflamed or painful to the touch. If that's the case, DO NOT clean the ear and contact a veterinarian instead. This is likely a sign of an ear infection.
The cleaning process is very simple (see here). All you need is a good ear cleaner for dogs, some gauze or cotton balls. Do not use q-tips because you won't know how far you can push and risk damaging your pet's ears.
(1) Have your dog lie down, then tip them on their side. Drop a tiny bit of ear cleaner straight into the ear (fill the canal). Be ready to hold your pup, because they'll want to shake the liquid out of their ear.
(2) Cover the dog's ear, then rub in circular moves and massage it, feeling to the ear's base for approx. 30 seconds. That's it. Now let your pooch sit up and shake it off.
(3) After the shake, go back to the same ear. Wax build-up should've been broken up, and it'll be out of the canal. Gently wipe off the inside of the ear with gauze or cotton balls until it's clean and there's no debris left.
When you get to clean a dog's ears, do not simply focus on the inside of the ear flap alone. This is your chance to inspect and check for any growths, lesions, discharges and even smell the ear. A stinky ear can be a sign of an infection or other problems.
The Best Ear Cleaner for Dogs Brands
1Zymox Ear Cleanser with Bio-Active Enzymes
by Pet King Brands
An ear cleaner that’s mild, non-toxic and one that works is what your dog needs. The Zymox dog ear cleanser contains only non-toxic ingredients for maintaining pet's ear hygiene, and none of the harsh components that may cause irritations or other undesirable effects.
Prevention is better than cure, and this best ear cleaner for dogs is a must-have for warding off bacteria and fungus that may infect the ear. Most discover Zymox when their dogs already have infected ears, but this can be used as prevention too.
Zymox Ear Cleanser with Bio-Active Enzymes is the first choice since it's the only cleanser that could be used in conjunction with the otic solution. After the treatment period, they’ve continued using this mild cleanser for maintenance and ear cleansing. It has since become part of our pet’s grooming kit and has significantly reduced bouts with redness, smelly discharges, inflammation, itching, and other stressful issues affecting dog’s ears.
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Ingredients: Purified Water, Glycerin, Coco-Glucoside, Propylene Glycol, Benzyl Alcohol, Lactoperoxidase, Lactoferrin, Lysozyme, Glucose Oxidase, Zinc Gluconate
2Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleaner
Healthy ears must be kept clean and in tip-top condition at all times to discourage microbes from inhabiting them and causing infections. Don’t wait until there’s scratching or head-twitching. This cleanser from Virbac Animal Health contains no alcohol or chlorhexidine. It contains 0.2% salicylic acid as its active ingredient and has a neutral pH.
This second best ear cleaner for dogs is indicated as a maintenance cleanser for healthy dog ears or as a preparatory cleanser before the application of therapeutic drugs, but this is a new (and stronger) formula. It is available in bottles of 4 oz and 8 oz. It comes highly recommended by pet owners and vets for its efficacy as a routine cleanser and preventative ear care product.
It has worked well for us in tandem with prescription medications for otitis extrema and other common ear maladies in pets. Virbac Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleaner has a mild scent, is simple to apply, and dries well. This self-drying property discourages growth of moisture-related ear irritations and onset of infections. It's also effective for minor cases of yeast infection and very effective for accumulated wax, gunk buildup.
This second best ear cleaner for dogs is not without it's faults, though. The original formula worked great on our pets' ears before, but this advanced formula is too strong and irritated their ears a little.
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Ingredients: Salicylic acid (2%), also contains Disodium EDTA, PCMX, a monosaccharide complex (l-rhamnose, d-galactose, d-mannose), and FD&C Blue#1.
3Dog Ear Cleaner Wipes
by Pet MD
Pet MD cleaner wipes are another quick way to clear your dog’s outer ear from wax, debris and odor, and discourage the onset of infections. A jar contains 100 disposal sheets of moisturized cleansing wipes. These are a convenient way to clean your pet’s ears, deodorize, and moisture at the same time. This US-made product is alcohol-free and non-irritating.
They contain purified water, aloe vera extract, eucalyptus oil, lactic acid, and salicylic acid. This third best ear cleaner for dogs is easy and quick to use – just apply topically to rub off dirt and dispose of the used wipe properly; there’s no need to mess with your fingers.
We've used this one for years, and these wipes have significantly reduced episodes with ear infections and made visits to the vet much less frequent for us back in the day. These may not work for all cases, however, such as for dogs that need a liquid cleanser that washes the ear canal fully. It's mostly for the surface cleaning and specific dog breeds.
We are not happy with the odor of these wipes, and they are also much thinner than you would think. Also, we didn't like the amount of liquid the wipes held. Later, they were too wet and left a lot of solution behind in our dog's ear that needed to be wiped out after cleaning was done.
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Ingredients: Purified Water, Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Polysorbate 20, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe) Leaf Juice, Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Oil, Lactic Acid, Salicylic Acid, Tetrasodium EDTA, Methylisothiazolinone, Sodium Benzoate, Fragrance, Red 33, Blue 1.
4EcoEars Natural Dog Ear Cleaner
by Vet Organics
- Find it on Amazon ($21.88)
- Unavailable on Chewy
This formula from Vet Organics is made from natural ingredients – including extracts from mullein leaf, tea tree oil and rosemary – each chosen for its beneficial effect on dirt buildup and inflammation. This is best used regularly, at least once a week, to remove wax, gunk, and dirt, and to make the ear uninhabitable for mites and microorganisms.
When used to restore dirty ears to their normal condition, it must be used twice daily for 7-10 days. I know of pet owners with dogs that chronically suffered from ear irritations and that were ecstatic to have finally come across this ear cleansing product, and they claimed that this one got rid of the ceaseless episodes of ear infections. However, we did not try it for infections, nor does the ingredients list look like it'd be effective. For cleaning, however, this works well just about. It helped to remove the odor from our pet's ears, but did not completely clear up the gunk.
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Ingredients: Denatured Grain Alcohol, Organic Mullein Leaf Extract, Witch Hazel Extract, Rosemary Extract, Ionic Silver Solution, Boric Acid, Vegetable Glycerin, Tea Tree Oil, Polysorbate 20 (food grade).
5Zymox Otic Pet Ear Treatment with Hydrocortisone
by Pet King Brands
Here is something stronger and different to the above four best ear clean for dogs brands – a hydrocortisone treatment for infections. Dog ear infections, whether acute or chronic, are quite common among dogs. Infections can be caused by bacteria, virus or fungus. When the cause is not readily identifiable, the infection can be pretty tricky to treat. This Zymox pet ear treatment contains three natural anti-microbial enzymes – namely, lysosome, lactoferin, and lactoperoxidase.
It comes in a 4-ounce bottle but is also available in 1.25 and 8 ounces. When applied once a day for 7 days in an acute infection and 14 days for chronic cases, improvement is usually observed 2 or 3 days after the treatment.
Dog owners and veterinarians have long used and trusted this brand for the treatment of common cases of ear infections, or otitis extrema (swimmers ear), in dogs. It’s known to have worked on ear mites and other bacterial issues too. Zymox has been regarded by pet owners and vets as the first line of defense when it comes to inflammation in their pet’s outer ear, and so far, it seems to be the number one choice still.
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Ingredients: Hydrocortisone (1.0%), Benzyl Alcohol, Deionized Water, Dextrose, Glucose Oxidase, Glycerin, Hydroxypropyl Cellulose, Lactoferrin, Lactoperoxidase, Lysozyme, Potassium Iodide, Propylene Glycol.