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How do you properly clean puppy’s ears?

brown puppy's ear

Cleaning your puppy's ears is as important as keeping her vaccine up to date.

© Pixabay

When was the last time you cleaned your puppy’s ears? Do you know how to clean them safely? Read on to discover why cleaning a puppy’s ears is as important as keeping her vaccinated.

By Nick Whittle

Updated on the 16/03/2021, 14:17

Grooming a puppy can be fun especially for young children, but responsible dog ownership isn’t just concerned with making her look good and smell nice. In order to keep your puppy in top form you will need to attend to the messy bits too, and that includes cleaning her ears.

The shape of the ear

Because of its shape, a dog’s ear is particularly prone to holding moisture providing a perfect environment for overgrowth of bacteria and yeast. The ear canal drops vertically down from the outside and then makes a 90-degree turn towards the inner ear. It is at this kink in the ear canal where most of the problems start: it is a dark, warm and moist environment. Perfect for bacteria and yeast.

The only way for the inner ear to be inspected (and if necessary cleaned) is by a vet, but we can still do our bit. At home we can make sure the pinna (the flap of the year), the bit around the ear canal, and the vertical ear canal are kept clean, because by doing this we are reducing the risk that a pathogen from the environment doesn’t manage to multiply in the ear.

Some ears are cleaner than others

Breeds with heavy, floppy ears are prone to infections because the ear pinna makes a covering for a warm and dark environment. They have moister, smellier ears than dogs without floppy ears. Breeds with floppy ears include the Basset hound, Dachshund and Beagle to name a few.

Breeds with long, hairy ears are also more susceptible to infections since the hairs inside the ear trap more debris and wax. Breeds with hairy ears include the Poodle, Shih Tzu, Schnauzer, Maltese and Bichon Frise.

Breeds with long ears that like to swim in water are also at risk, since most bacterial and yeast infections will enjoy warmth, dark and moisture. Breeds that enjoy swimming include the Labrador, Golden Retriever and Portuguese Water dog.

Before we run through the steps for how to clean a puppy’s ears it is worthwhile to list a few considerations for cleaning puppy’s ears that should be avoided:

Do not:

  • Pour any type of homemade solution into your puppy’s ears. Some websites recommend solutions of vinegar or peroxide poured or dropped into the ear in order to clean it. Do not follow this remedy because it could damage your puppy’s ear canal for good.
  • Stick anything into your puppy’s ears. Most people know not to stick a cotton bud in their own ear, and the same rule needs to be applied to puppies. Unless you are a vet you will not know how far into the ear canal you can go and going too far can push debris further into the ear canal damaging sensitive middle and inner ear structures.

Some veterinarian practices may recommend solutions such as an aural cleanser which you may use for certain conditions (such as a build-up of wax). These solutions are designed for internal use and the specific directions for application should be clear from the bottle. They should not be over-used.

How to clean a puppy’s ears

When you are ready to clean her ears make sure your puppy is settled. Sit beside her or place her on your lap. You should do whatever you can to make this ear cleaning session a positive experience and one your puppy will not balk in the future. Clean around your puppy’s ears once a week with warm water (no soap). Now follow these three simple steps:

  1. Take a cotton wool pad and dip it in warm water. The pad should be damp but not dripping.
  2. Lift the ear and gently wipe around the inside of the pinna and the opening of the ear.
  3. Do not drip water or poke the pad into the ear.

To clean your puppy’s ears with ear cleanser to remove wax, follow the instructions on the label. However, most ear cleansers can be used like this:

  1. Gently insert the nozzle into the vertical ear canal while holding up the pinna of the ear.
  2. Squeeze the required amount of ear cleanser into the ear canal.
  3. Place the ear pinna over the ear canal and gently massage for a minute.
  4. Let go and allow your dog to flap his ears to loosen debris within the ear canal.
  5. Wipe away debris which has come out of the ears.

An ear cleanser doesn’t need to be used weekly like cleaning around the ears. In fact, if the ears are healthy, they don’t need to be internally cleansed at all. However, a cleanser should always be used after swimming in dirty water, and monthly for dogs who are prone to ear infections.

What can go wrong with a puppy’s ears?

Although your puppy will be less prone to an ear infection if you clean her ears regularly there is no guarantee that she will be infection-free forever. An infection is suspected if there is incessant scratching and head shaking or some discharge from your dog's ear. This will be brown, yellow or red in colour and may smell like sweet cheese. The ear may also look swollen and red, but even if it does not, an inner ear infection cannot be ruled out.

If, accompanying these symptoms, your dog is having trouble walking or falls over unnaturally this can be a sign that the infection has progressed to the middle or inner ear.

A dog ear infection is not uncommon. Dogs’ ears are also susceptible to all sorts of foreign bodies, such as grass seeds, and parasites, and as such it is one of the most common ailments a vet has to deal with.

Cleaning your dog’s ears regularly is a sensible way to ward of infection and blockages. But in addition to cleaning you should consider the following as potential causes of an ear infection: food allergies, environmental allergies, mites, bacteria and yeast infections. To clean your dog’s ears is your first line of defence against such complications.

Reviewed by Dr Jo de Klerk, BVetMed (Hons) MScTAH MRCVS