The importance of cleaning dog ears

We all know that clipping your dog's nails and giving them a bath at least once a month is important for your dog's health, but did you know cleaning dog's ears is also essential?

Bathing your dog and keeping him clean will help to ensure that skin infections and bacterial problems will stay away. This also includes skin conditions from developing, such as severely sensitive skin.

Cleaning your dog's ears is part of every dog's grooming needs that help keep to keep their health in tip-top shape. There are many things that could go wrong when you don't keep your dog's ears dry and clean, which we are about to go over.

The Importance of Cleaning Dog's Ears

dog ear infection lookup

Health problems related to your dog's ears

A lot of things can go horribly wrong if your dog's ears are dirty and wet on a regular basis. The most common health issues when it comes to dog's ears are canine ear infections. Ear infections in dogs are typically caused by yeast, bacteria, or even both.

Veterinarians also warn that these infections in your dog's ears could also be caused by ear mites, hypothyroidism, allergies, such as an allergy to wheat or grain, and moisture, foreign bodies. If your dog has excessive hair in their ears, this may also cause an infection.

“Severe infections of the middle ear can lead to facial nerve paralysis, which gives a ‘droopy jaw' appearance on the affected side of the face. Another complication is an aural hematoma and needs to be corrected surgically.” says Dr. M.A. Crist

Dog's have a vertical ear canal, while humans have a horizontal ear canal, thus it's extremely easy for moisture and debris to set up shop in your dog's ears. This is why it's absolutely vital to clean your dog's ears out immediately whenever they get wet.

For example, if you have given your dog a bath and the insides of their ears are wet, use the towel or a special product to clean them out while you dry him off. it only takes a minute or two, and the effort is well worth preventing potential problems in your dog's ears.

cleaning dog's ears for infections

How to tell if your dog has an ear infection

If you don't have your dog at the vet once a month, which is normally fine, then there's a way to give their ears a small checkup at home. The following signs listed below are what you should be looking for if you believe your dog has an ear infection. Or, if you see any of the following signs randomly, then call and make an appointment with your vet.

Signs of ear infection in dog's ears:

  • Redness of the inside of the ear
  • Bloody, brown, or yellow discharge
  • Scratching around or in the ear
  • Hair loss around the ear
  • Constant rubbing of the head or the ear on the furniture or the floor
  • Swelling, crusting or scabbing around or on the ear
  • Loss of balance, or excess shaking or tilting of the head
  • Unusual eye movement
  • Walking around in circles
  • Hearing loss

It's extremely important that you take your dog to the vet as soon as any of these signs and symptoms arise. When your dog appears to be off balance, that is how you know they are having ear related issues, which should not be ignored.

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Pet owners whose dogs have any types of allergies will notice that their canines are more prone to ear infections, so you must keep an eye on them and what they are ingesting. An allergic reaction also adds to an infection of the ear, including dogs with excessive hair growth, such as Shih Tzus, in the ear canal.

Vets often stress how important it is that if you have a dog that is constantly outside, at places such as the dog park, and has excessive hair growth in their ears, you need to do plucking. Either that, or make sure they are always clean. Dogs with excessive hair growth in the ear canal are at a double risk for ear infections.

wiping dog ears with dog wipes

Treating dog ear infections at home

There are plenty of natural remedies for a dog's ear infection that you can use at home, but most veterinarians will advise this: don't even think about it! If you suspect that your dog is having issues with his ears, bring him to a vet immediately and do not delay dealing with this problem.

“Owners may be tempted to clean the gunk out of their pets’ ears themselves, prior to visiting the veterinarian, but Dr. White recommends against this. Cleaning could cause further damage to the ears, if owners have not been instructed on proper ear-cleaning techniques.” – University of Illinois

Natural remedies can only do so much, but once it gets to a stage where there's no going back, your dog could lose his hearing in one or both ears altogether. Your vet will clean your dog's ears and give you some medication to take home, which is the best road to recovery available.

What can you do to keep your dog's ears clean

I discovered a product a couple of months ago that I absolutely love, from a company who puts out some of the best products I've ever used for grooming my dog.

Professional dog groomers usually use cotton balls and a special diluted ear ointment or liquid, which is what I have used previously, but what I use now is so much better, and cheaper, too.

The product that I use with my dog is all natural, comes from a very reputable brand of grooming products for both humans and dogs, and sometimes I even use them to take my makeup off when I run out of remover. This is how safe this product is, and you won't catch me using anything else ever again.

burts bees dog wipesI use Burt's Bees Hypoallergenic Dog Wipes with honey. This is a product that is 98% natural, and won't bother my dog's allergy to grains. These wipes can be used all over your dog's body, they're not just strictly for their ears, but I choose to use them for this purpose. However, they also work great for wiping down muddy, wet paws if you've just walked your dog in the rain. Although, a good pair of wellies works for that, too!

RELATED: How to Calm Your Dog Before Grooming

Baby wipes will also work, but I do not recommend them if your dog has an allergy to anything. The sames applies also for dog shampoos, but remember my column about using human shampoos on dogs. Next, I'm going to show you how to properly use the wipes to clean your dog's ears.

Cleaning your dog's ears with Burt's Bees wipes

First, take out a single wipe and spread it out completely. Don't crumple it up and jam it in the dog's ear, because this will only clean what you can see. The method I'm about to explain to you will ensure you get right into your pet's ear canal and clean it all out.

However, if you have a dog that has a lot of ear hair, unlike my Labrador Pit Bull mix, then you're going to need to pull that out first. Don't worry, because this doesn't hurt the dog at all; it may make him a little uncomfortable, so having someone to hold your Fido while you do this should help.

Begin by having your dog lying down in a comfortable position, and give him a tasty doggy treat. Next, open his ear up, stick your fingers in, grab the excess ear hair, wrap it around your fingers, and pull. Again, this shouldn't hurt if you do it properly. If you're unsure, here's a good video about plucking your dog's ear hair.

After you have plucked all the excess hair from both of your dog's ears, you can proceed to cleaning his ears.

flat dog wipe for ear cleaningNext, put the dog wipe in the palm of your flat hand (picture to the right), and place your index finger onto the wipe in the center of your hand.

Wrap the wipe around your finger, so the center of the wipe is on the tip of your index finger. If your dog has large ears, then use two fingers. Make sure to start slower to “familiarize” yourself with your dog's ear.

doggy wipe wrapped around finger for ear cleanIf you have a German Shepherd or a Rottweiler, or a Labrador, then you're going to need two fingers for this, most likely. Large dogs have bigger ears and ear canals after all.

Medium-sized dogs only require one, while small dogs, such as Chihuahuas, will need minimal work to clean their ears. So if you're one of the pet owners with a small dog, consider yourself lucky because your dog's ear cleaning procedures will go quick.

dog ears being cleaned with wipesNow, put your wrapped finger inside of your dog's ear and begin to twist it, which is what you can see me doing to the picture on the right. Don't worry, this doesn't hurt your pooch at all either.

It doesn't really matter which way you twist your finger when cleaning dog's ears. Your canine's ear will get clean anyway after you've done it enough. It's best to do this after the dogs have been playing outside, especially if they got dirty and wet, or after they have had a bath. You can read my previous column on how to bathe a dog where I talk about the whole bathing process in more detail.

cleaning outside of dogs earsOnce you have finished cleaning inside the dog's ear canal, take your finger out and remove the wipe. Lay it flat in your hand, like you've done before, with the dirty side against your palm. Now you can clean the inside, visible area of your dog's ear, so proceed to do that, as pictured to the right.

You're going to be cleaning the part of the area that is shown with a red arrow in the picture above. Take a section of the dog wipe and wipe the entire ear down, including the other, furry side.

Once you're done one ear, throw that wipe out and use another. Do not use the same wipe for both ears, because you'll just be putting the dirt and bacteria that you cleaned out of one ear and putting it into the other.

Remember to do this often!

If you bring your dog to the dog park regularly, and especially if you do this every day, then it's a good idea to have these dog wipes on hand. They're fairly inexpensive, I only paid around $20 for them and they come in a pack of 50 from Amazon, which is a great deal. Alternatively, I'm sure you can find something similar to these doggy wipes in your local pet store.

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If your dog gets dirty after a walk, or has come in from the yard covered in dirt, then these doggy wipes also help as a quick wipe-down method. Either way, remember to look out for the signs of ear infections in your dog, or other ear-related health issues. Don't forget to clean your dog's ears often, and give them a tasty dog treat after you clean or bathe them to ensure they'll love having their ears cleaned next time.

Katherine is certified in Domestic Animal Sciences and Animal Grooming with primary focus on dogs. She has had her pet canine, Anastasia, for two years now, who is also her ESA service dog. Katherine has written multiple articles about pets and their grooming, and has knowledge on multiple specialty pet grooming products for dogs.