I learned how to clean dog ears because vet bills are expensive and it is simple to do yourself. Find out how to remove dog ear hair and clean the ears.
How to Clean Dog Ears
I was a dog groomer in a previous life. Some were big and some were small, but they all had one thing in common, they needed their ears cleaned. Not knowing how to clean dog ears at first, I would use soap and water. Sure, it worked, but then led to problems. I did some research and found some things that worked much better.
Different Types of Ears
Not all dog ears are created equally. Some are straight-up, some flop over and some are somewhere in between. Most dogs don’t have hair in their ears, but some, like poodles, do. This will need to be removed before you can clean them.
Removing Hair From Dog Ears
To remove the hair in a dog’s ears, first, apply some sort of powder. You can use a commercially made powder, which is designed to give you some grip when grasping the hairs. Rosin will work too if it’s made from something that is safe for dogs. Some clays, like bentonite, will work and starches like arrowroot can help. These all help to grip the hair and absorb moisture.
Use a small bottle with a tip on it, like a hair coloring bottle, and pour the powder into that. Squirt a small amount of powder into your dog’s ear and rub it around. Let it sit for a few minutes to absorb any moisture. With a forceps, a tool made especially for this purpose, grab a few hairs and quickly pull them out of the ear. This doesn’t hurt the dog but may startle them at first. Don’t try to take too many hairs at once. It is difficult to pull a bunch at one time. When you get all the hairs out, or if your dog doesn’t have hair in the ears, it’s time for the next step.
Plucking can be a bit controversial. Some dog groomers clean higher rates of ear infections in dogs who have their ear hair plucked regularly. Other groomers report the exact opposite. My experience has shown it to be beneficial.
Pre-Clean The Dog Ears
If the ears have a lot of matter inside, you may need to pre-clean them. Take a soft cloth and rub on the underside of the ear, removing as much as you can. Don’t use cotton swabs to get into the ear canal. You can damage the inner ear or push the matter further into the ear. When you get as much as you can from the outer part of the ear, you can then use your homemade ear cleaner described below.
Making a Cleaner for Dog Ears
Making the ear cleaner to clean dog ears is easy. There are several options to choose from, depending on what you want to achieve. Cleaning the ears is best done outside or in the bath as your dog will more than likely, shake their head to try to get the liquid out.
Option 1: Hydrogen Peroxide
I like to use hydrogen peroxide to get deep down gunk in the ears. This is especially helpful for dogs with ears that hang down, like cocker spaniels. Or for dogs that may have an infection or ear mites. The matter in the ears will usually be dark and smell bad.
Use 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide with a few drops of a pet-safe essential oil in it. There will be a list later in the article. A hair color applicator bottle is good for this or you can get condiment bottles, like for ketchup. These have a pointed spout that will allow you to direct the stream of liquid into the ear. Squirt a small amount into the ear, massage around for a few seconds and stand back. The dog will likely shake her head after this. You may need to do it a few times to get all the stuff out. Wipe the inside of the ear when done and wash as usual.
Option 2: Vinegar
To clean dog ears with vinegar use the same method as above, but substitute apple cider vinegar for the peroxide. The vinegar smell will dissipate in a half hour or so. Vinegar can help with ear infections and ear mites.
Option 3: Alcohol
Use as above but substitute a 50/50 mix of 40% alcohol and distilled water. It can help to dry ears out that are continually moist, like cocker spaniels. But it’s not so dry so as to cause irritation.
With any of these, you can cut them with distilled water if you feel it is too strong. And the amount of essential oil that you use is up to you, but generally, 6-8 drops in a 4oz bottle like the squirt bottles described above. You can add more or less depending on what feels best for you.
Essential Oils For Cleaning Dog Ears
Here is a list of pet-safe essential oils that you can try in your dog ear wash. Remember that essential oils need to be diluted before using and more is not always better. Most essential oils are antibiotic, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and pesticidal. Not all essential work the same way, so you may need to try a small amount before you make a full batch. You can use individual oils or combinations of oils to clean dog ears.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis)
- Clary Sage
- Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
- Frankincense (Boswellia carteri)
- Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana)
Just a note that tea tree (melaleuca) has long been used for dogs (it has been found to be toxic for cats), but has recently been found to cause problems. Consult your vet if you think you may want to try it to clean dog ears.
I use frankincense for many things and have found that my 10-month-old puppy doesn’t mind it. She doesn’t like the peppermint or lavender though!
Keeping The Ears Dry On the Inside
One of the challenges in keeping dogs is trying to keep the ears dry inside, especially in dogs with ears that fall over. A dry powder, such as arrowroot, may help. I mix arrowroot with a bit of DE, diatomaceous earth, to get a dry powder. This seems to work well as the DE can help to kill ear mites.
Knowing how to clean dog ears is a handy skill to have, and it will save you some money! Have you had problems with your dog’s ears? Tell us what you’ve done to help keep them clean!
- Cathy Madson. Should You Pluck Your Dog’s Ear Hair? Preventivevet.com May 2019.