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Cleaning a dog’s ears – how often should you do it?

Should you clean a dog's ears and if so, how frequently? Tony Buckwell advises a reader.

Cleaning a dog's ears with a brush

Cleaning a dog’s ears

Q: I have recently acquired a young cocker spaniel. I understand spaniels can be prone to ear trouble and I notice that there is some wax down his ears. What is the best way of cleaning a dog’s ears and should I start cleaning them regularly? (Read what spaniel owners need to know about their breed’s ears.)

A: Any dog with pendulous ears covered in hair tends to be more prone to problems, especially if the ear canal is relatively narrow and poorly ventilated, because a warm, moist, waxy environment encourages infection. A slight amount of wax in your dog’s ears, however, actually helps lubricate and protect the skin of the ear canal, so you don’t want to disrupt this situation by cleaning the ears more than is necessary. Cleaning needs only be performed when the ears are ‘dirty’. (Read my spaniel has horrible waxy ears – what can I do about it?)

The length of time it takes for a dog’s ears to get dirty, however, depends on various factors such as the breed and type of coat, so it tends to vary from one dog to another. Checking the ears and giving the outer ear a superficial wipe clean about once a month should suffice for most dogs, but those that have a predisposition to ear infection, especially those with long, pendulous ears and dogs with ears that are covered in hair, may need more frequent attention.

When to see the vet

If this is a dog with a lot of hair over the ears, trim excess hair from over and around the ears; you can always ask a dog groomer to show you how to do this and the type of scissors to use. Check the ears each time you bath your dog or after it has been swimming. If you notice dirt or dark wax accumulating, the ears will require cleaning. However, if this is ever accompanied by an unpleasant odour, redness or swelling, or if there is any discharge of pus or blood, or if the dog is scratching its ears or they seem sensitive or painful when touched, then consult your vet straight away.

When cleaning a dog’s ears, use a proprietary solution purchased from either your vet or a reputable pet store. Soak a cotton wool ball in a little cleaning solution and wipe under and just inside the ear. Don’t clean further down the ear canal than you can see. Repeat until the cotton wool remains clean after wiping the ear. Repeat for the other ear. Reward the dog for sitting still; with patience and practice most dogs will tolerate this regular attention.