Ask The Experts: Why and How To Clean Your Dog’s Ears

Is your dog constantly scratching the side of his head? Do you ever notice an odor coming from your pup’s ears? Are they filled with unwanted wax? If so, you need to read this! I recently interviewed Shayla McConnell–the owner of, a well-respected groomer, and former vet assistant–about caring for our dog’s ears. Read on to find out how often doggy ears need to be cleaned, how to properly clean them, and an often overlooked cause of infection! 

Q: Do all breeds need their ears cleaned?

A: All dogs should have their ears inspected regularly for signs of wax buildup or infections, but some breeds are more susceptible than others. More specifically: dogs with floppy ears (Labs, Hounds, Beagles, etc…), because having that enclosed ear canal creates a perfect moist environment for bacterial and yeast growth. I can tell you that 95% of the dog’s that come through my shop with a buildup of wax, or other ear infections, all have floppy ears.

Q: How often should a dog mom clean their pup’s ears?

A: I personally own a Lab that is prone to a lot of wax buildup and have found cleaning at least once every two weeks is ideal. Dogs with propped up ears generally need less maintenance, but you should still inspect and clean (if necessary) once a month. However, summertime can mean lots of swimming. That’s when ears fill up with water and all sorts of bacteria and algae found in rivers and lakes. Again, moisture is the key ingredient to infections, so after each swimming session, I like to do a quick ear cleaning and ensure there’s no leftover moisture.

Q: What tools should someone use?

A: The ideal tools are actually really simple. Use some dry cotton wipes (usually used for medical aid or makeup removal). They come in huge packs and are very affordable, just make sure they haven’t been treated with any chemicals. Alternatively, you can just use some cotton balls or a soft cloth. Personally, I recommend an ear cleaning solution purchased from your vet or pet store. They’re cheap, gentle on the ears, and very effective. Just dampen your cotton wipe with some cleaning solution and remove any buildup within the surface part of the ear.

Q: Why are Q-Tips a no-no?

A: You might have seen your vet use Q-tips on your dog and assume it’s fine for you to practice at home. Here’s the problem, though: A vet fully understands the structure of a dog’s inner ear canal and you don’t. Going too deep or hitting the wrong spot can lead to severe pain and rupture your dog’s ear drum. Furthermore, it’s just not necessary for you to go that deep. Vets only do this to clean out deep level infections. But for regular cleaning at home a cotton wipe, or soft cloth, work perfectly for removing surface level buildup.

Q: Would you step me through how to properly clean my dog’s ears? 

A: The absolute best way to clean your dog’s ears is very simple:

  1. Use a soft cotton wipe, cotton ball, or cloth.
  2. Dampen the wipe with an ear cleaning solution (do not spray directly in the ear).
  3. Using your index finger and the wipe, gently wipe away ear wax build ups.
  4. Get into every little crevice, cleaning out all the wax.
  5. Do not push your finger too deep into the ear, as you may cause damage to the ear drum. Just focus on the surface level of wax.
  6. Finish with a dry cotton wipe to gently dab away any leftover moisture.

Our policy as groomers is to never directly spray any fluid (ear cleaner or water) directly into the ear, for two reasons:

  • It makes ear cleaning stressful for the dog, especially if they’re not used to having their ears cleaned.
  • Studies have shown that moisture can get trapped deep within the ear canal, and later grow into infections.

Proud Dog Mom Note: If you’re like me and have a dog where hair grows inside the ear (like poodles), plucking that fine, inner hair will also be an important step in keeping the ears clean! You can do this with a little ear powder and a hemostat. Like with Q-Tips, though, don’t stick the hemostat down into the ear canal because you can cause more harm than good.  Just grab the hairs that you can easily see.   Think of it like tweezing your eyebrows – grab onto a hair with your hemostat and pluck. Talk to your pooch to keep him calm while you are plucking and I always like to end the session with treat.  

Q: Anything else pet parents should know about their dog’s ears? 

A: Sometimes an ear infection is actually being caused by another factor, we call that “secondary-infection”. Typically, this is due to allergies, and it’s very common in some breeds. Just like humans – dogs with allergies will experience puffy eyes, runny nose, and itchy skin. But they’ll also be prone to secondary infection, so you need to address the main problem and treat allergies as well. We have a Labrador with chronic allergies and have him on meds to control his allergic reactions. When we treated his allergies, his constant ear infections suddenly disappeared.

A Little About Our Expert – 
Shayla McConnell

I knew I wanted to work with dogs from the time I was born, and that’s exactly what I did. So straight out of high school, I went to college and shortly after got hired as a Vet assistant at a local practice. After several years in the medical field, though, I felt it was time to try something slightly different. So I tried my hand at dog grooming. I instantly fell in love with grooming and I’ve been doing that ever since.
No matter what field I’m in, I feel most at home dedicating my time to dogs and helping owners.