Step-by-step Guide to Cleaning Your Puppy's Ears

Take proper precautions when cleaning your pup's ears to keep them comfortable and get the job done right.

Published January 5, 2023
A Dog Beautician Cleaning Dog's Ear

Every dog lover knows that having a puppy is a lot of work. From the endless supply of treats to the constant shedding and chewing, puppies require special care. To help you keep your pooch healthy and happy for years to come, you should also know how to clean their ears properly. This is an important part of their grooming routine, and many veterinarians recommend owners begin ear cleaning early. This helps puppies get used to having their ears handled as a part of grooming. It's also a good opportunity to check for signs of infection, such as redness or discharge from the ear canal. Find out what tools to use and how often should you clean a puppy's ears with this guide.

Gather Your Supplies

First, put together the supplies you'll need to clean your puppy's ears safely. Puppy ears are delicate, so keep this in mind as you prepare to perform a cleaning:

  • A soft washcloth: In order to clean puppy ears completely, it is important to use a soft cotton towel or gauze. Instead of using cotton balls, which can be too abrasive for a puppy's sensitive ears, use a soft cloth that is less likely to cause any irritation.
  • Cotton balls: If you prefer to use cotton balls, make sure that they are 100% cotton and that there are no added perfumes or dyes.
  • A bottle of dog shampoo: This is likely not needed, but good to have on hand if necessary.
  • An ear-cleaning solution: Pick one made specifically for dogs.
  • A small light: a handheld flashlight or bright lamp - or even the light on your phone - can help you see any waxy buildup inside the ear flap.

If you do not have any of these items on hand, you can pick them up at any pet supply store or pharmacy. Talk to your groomer, as well. They might have suggestions or sell supplies for at-home ear cleaning.

A Step-by-step Process

If you have never cleaned a dog's ears before, you're in for a surprise with your new puppy. Puppies can be rambunctious, making it more difficult to clean their ears. They aren't used to the feeling of having their ears handled, so go slowly. That's why it's important to follow a step-by-step guide and remain patient. Don't get discouraged. This is a process your puppy will need for years to come, and if you start young, they are more likely to be OK with it as an adult.

1. Before You Begin

Don't try to jump right in with a full cleaning. Start by gently petting your puppy's ears when they're calm. Do this often, when they first come home with you, well before you plan to clean their ears. Make it part of your routine.

Play with their ears a bit every few days, and get them used to the sensation. Gently lift their ears if they have droopy flaps, and check the insides of their ears for crud and buildup. This is a good habit to start doing a few times a week. Give your pup a treat if they remain calm, and slowly work up to lightly rubbing their ears and checking them often. Also, be on the lookout for any foreign bodies - thistles or debris - that might get stuck in your pup's ears, and remove these carefully.

2. Cleaning the Ear Flaps

Cleaning the ears of a puppy is an important part of their health care. The first step is to make sure your puppy is comfortable. If they're squirming around and trying to escape, give them time to calm down on their own before you begin. Once your puppy has settled down, you can begin by cleaning the outer ear flaps. Gently wipe them with a soft washcloth dipped in warm water and a mild soap or shampoo made for dogs. Rinse well and dry with a clean towel or paper towel.

3. Cleaning Inside Your Puppy's Ears

For this step, hold the ear up gently but firmly with one hand. You want to keep the ear in a position where the inside is facing up toward the ceiling and the outside faces down toward your other hand or whatever else is available. Using the corner of one gloved finger, gently fold back the flap of skin that covers the outer ear canal.

You'll see several small flaps of skin just inside the ear. This is where dirt tends to build up and cause infections, so you want to clean as much of this area as possible without going too deep into your puppy's ear canal. It's easy to see the waxy, brown or slightly orange wax buildup, and the dark deposits of dirt inside your pup's ear.

Use a soft cloth to wipe out any dirt or wax. If there are still pieces of debris left behind after these two steps, repeat them until there are no leftovers under your puppy's ear flaps and the opening to their ear canal, but don't get too aggressive. You need to be gentle throughout this process. You want your puppy's ears to be as clean as possible so they can remain healthy, but you don't want to cause any irritation while you clean up.

4. Watch for Infections

If your pup has an ear infection, you will see a brownish-yellow discharge coming from the ear canal. Ear infections can be very dangerous if not treated properly. The symptoms of an ear infection will vary depending on which part of your pet's ear is infected, as well as the seriousness of their condition. If you notice any signs of infection, call your vet as soon as possible so they can prescribe an antibiotic that will clear up the infection quickly and effectively.

5. Apply the Cleaning Solution

Once you have cleaned up the outer part of their ear, it's time to gently administer the ear-cleaning solution to your dog's ear canal. This is the deeper part of the ear that leads down toward the dog's ear drum. Don't stick anything down into your pup's ear canal. Instead, use the solution to do the work for you.

Gently hold your dog's ear flap up with one hand (typically your off-hand), and hold the bottle or applicator of ear-cleaning solution in your other hand. Slightly raising the ear flap helps to straighten out the ear canal. Tipping your pup's head up slightly on the side you are cleaning can help with access, but dog ear canals angle down into their head somewhat, so you don't have to twist their necks too far or lay them on their side.

For this step, it's generally best to hold your puppy firmly in place between your legs so they don't try to squirm away. You're going to carefully squeeze some of the solution down into their ear, and this can be strange and uncomfortable for your pup. Go slow and don't try to force it.

Follow the directions on your solution's packaging. You don't need to apply too much. Just make sure you squeeze enough to fill their ear canal, and don't squirt it around inside their ear flaps. Make sure the applicator directs the solution down into the canal, but don't put the tip of the bottle or the applicator down into your dog's ear canal, and try not to touch your dog's ear with the applicator (it needs to remain as clean as possible).

6. Rub Their Ear After Application

Your pup is very likely not going to enjoy this process, at least at first. Don't let them shake their heads just yet. Hold them gently, and lightly massage around the base of the ear while the solution is still in their ear canal for 30 seconds. The idea is to work the solution around a little inside the ear canal and give it time to do its job.

7. Follow Up and Let Them Shake it Out

After about 30 seconds, wipe up any debris you see inside their ear flaps. It's OK for your puppy to shake their head now. After they're done, check their ears again, and wipe up any extra solution with your soft cloth. You can carefully wipe a little way down into the ear canal, but don't overdo it. Never go deeper than your finger can comfortably fit, and don't get too aggressive. Also, never push anything down into your puppy's ear canal, as this can damage the sensitive tissues in their ears.

8. Make It Fun

Your puppy probably won't be comfortable after you clean the first ear, especially if they aren't used to it. That's OK. They're allowed to be a little bit uneasy. Give them a moment, and try to redirect any agitation with something positive. Once they calm down a bit, give them a treat and praise them liberally. Once they settle down a bit, give them some love and get ready to do the other ear.

Take Note: If at any point your puppy acts like they are feeling pain, don't proceed. Ask your veterinarian how to handle the situation. Also, keep in mind that medicated ear cleaning products are different from solutions you'll use for regular cleanings. Don't apply these without a veterinarian's instructions and guidance.

How Often Should You Clean Puppy Ears?

Regularly cleaning your puppy's ears is an important part of grooming and keeping your pet healthy. The frequency with which you clean your dog's ears will depend on several factors, including the type of coat they have, how often they get dirty, their breed, and their health history. Clean them more frequently in the following scenarios:

  • If you notice any redness or irritation in their ears, check with your veterinarian to see if you should be cleaning your dog's ears more often than you are currently.
  • If your dog is producing excessive wax build-up, as indicated by crusty discharge around ear edges, it's also a good idea to clean them more often until the problem clears up.
  • If your dog has been outside playing a lot, or if you notice dirt build-up in their ears.

For dogs who play outside or off-leash, running through brush and overgrowth, there's a chance that stickers, foxtails, and thistles can get stuck in their ear. Watch out for these if your pup regularly runs through brush or plays outside, and ask your veterinarian if you see something you can't remove easily by yourself. Foxtails - also known as grass awns - are particularly dangerous, as these can work their way down into your pup's ears and cause serious damage.

More Tips for Puppy Ear Cleaning Success

A Dog Beautician Cleaning Dog's Ear

Although it seems like a simple process, there are several tips to keep in mind:

  • Do not use Q-Tips: These can damage your puppy's tender skin and cause irritation. If you push the Q-Tip too deep into your puppy's ear, you can cause damage.
  • Make note of how often you clean: The frequency of ear cleaning varies depending on what type of dog you have and where they live.
  • Keep it regular: If you live in a particularly dusty area, or if your dog has long hair that gets stuck in their ears, regular cleaning is necessary to prevent infections and irritation.
  • Only use appropriate cleaning products: Never use homemade solutions or medicated solutions meant for humans in a pet's ears, unless otherwise instructed by your veterinarian.
  • Check the ingredients: Be careful about using soap that contains antiseptic agents, such as triclosan. Triclosan has been shown to cause antibiotic resistance in bacteria when used as an additive in hand soaps.
  • Never use hydrogen peroxide: Puppy ears are sensitive, and this chemical can actually cause damage to skin tissues. Don't use it in your pup's ears (or any adult dog's ears, for that matter).

If You Have Questions

Remember that your puppy's ears are very sensitive and require special care. Always make sure your hands are clean before and after applying any medication or solution. If you have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to consult with your veterinarian for more information on what products work best for your dog's unique needs. Once you build a routine around checking their ears, your puppy will learn to remain calm during the process, and you'll set them up for a lifetime of better ear health.

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Step-by-step Guide to Cleaning Your Puppy's Ears