Updated 01 August 2013

Take care of your dog's ears

Proper ear care is a very important aspect of your dog's grooming routine. Neglecting your dog's ears can cause health problems which could require medical treatment.


Different breeds require different ear cleaning routines. Breeds with long, folded-over ears like cocker spaniels, labrador retrievers and basset hounds are more prone to ear problems than breeds with shorter, erect ears. The long ear captures moisture in the ear canal, creating a perfect place for yeasts and bacteria to grow. Breeds like labradors also like to swim, which makes the problem worse. Something that many dog owners don't know is that in some breeds the hair in the ears keeps growing and has to be trimmed or removed regularly to keep the ear canal healthy.

When caring for your dog's ears, aim to:

  • remove excess hair
  • clean the ears
  • create a dry ear canal
  • reduce odour

Ear check-ups

  • Check for excess hair, dirt, wax, foreign objects or redness in the ear canal.
  • Smell your dog's ear – if it smells bad, it is usually an indication of a more serious problem.
  • Mites like the dark, moist and inaccessible area of your dog's ear. Check for a dark waxy substance; it will almost look like dark brown coffee grounds.
  • Take your dog to the vet if he shows any of the above symptoms.

Signs that your dog might have an ear problem

  • Shaking his head more than usual.
  • Redness and swelling in the inside of the ear. His ear can also feel warm.
  • Excessive scratching of the ear and holding his head down on the side of the irritated ear, or whimpering while scratching.
  • Wax discharge and foul odour.

How to clean your dog’s ears

  • Have the dog sit. Work calmly and and gently, and use a relaxed soothing voice to reassure him. His ears may be very sensitive to touch, so be careful not to hurt him or he will avoid future cleaning sessions.
  • Start by cleaning the ear lobe with a wet cotton ball. Using a cotton ball or gauze gently clean any dirt you see. Use luke warm water, or better yet, luke warm pouring saline for wounds – it stings less. However, this may not effectively loosen the wax – veterinary hospitals and vet shops stock ear cleaning products designed to do this safely and easily. They also help promote a healthy ear canal.
  • Now clean the cartilage of the ear using a cotton ball moistened with water or saline to clean any dirt or debris from the hard-to-reach places of the ear.
  • Do not clean inside the ear canal, as this can cause your dog to flinch and possible ear damage can occur.
  • Remember it is best to only clean the part of the ear that you can see.
  • If there is an infection, you will need a vet’s prescription for an ear ointment. Your vet may also clean the ears thoroughly for you to begin with, which will help you effectively continue the treatment at home.

What not to do

  • Do not use soap and water to clean your dog's ears.
  • Do not poke or probe the internal ear canal, or surrounding tissues.
  • Do not use ear buds or any other objects in the ear canal. This can push the dirt further into the ear canal, leading to more serious problems for your dog. It is safest to only clean the part of the ear that you can see.
  • Do not ignore an ear problem – it never resolves on its own, and may cause chronic damage to the ear canal, not to mention significant pain to your dog.

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