Am I a Bad Pet Owner If I Don’t Clean My Dog’s Ears Regularly?

Cleaning dog's ears
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If your vet diagnoses an ear infection or spots parasites inside your dog’s ears, cleaning is usually part of the treatment regimen.

In most cases, if your dog’s ears aren’t bothering him, there’ s no reason to bother your dog with ear cleaning. In fact, healthy dog ears have a unique self-cleaning feature: The skin cells lining the inside of the ears grow away from the eardrums, carrying extra wax and debris to the outside.

If the ears are calm, you can usually skip the cleaning and not feel guilty about it, unless your veterinarian has given you other instructions. Unnecessary cleaning can actually irritate the skin, alter the pH or create a moist breeding ground for bacteria and yeast.

Signs of Trouble

It is a good idea to check your dog's ears once a week to make sure they are OK. If your dog is scratching at one or both ears, rubbing them on the carpet or shaking his head, you should definitely have a peek inside. Signs that things may be amiss include inflamed or thickened skin lining the inside of the ear and discharge or debris that may be brown, yellow or even black, often accompanied by a foul odor. Some ears can be so painful that your dog may cringe and withdraw from any attempt to handle his ears. And dogs in a great deal of pain may even respond by biting. 

At this point, your dog really needs to be examined by your veterinarian. With some ear conditions, the eardrum can rupture, and you don’t want to put anything into the ear canal — not even cleaner — until your veterinarian can evaluate the situation.

After examining the ears, your veterinarian will usually take a sample of any debris and examine it under a microscope to help determine if there are parasites, bacteria and/or yeast involved. If she suspects an infection, she may also submit a sample for culturing to identify the exact organisms and the most effective treatment.

When Cleaning Is Important

If your veterinarian diagnoses an ear infection or spots parasites inside your dog’s ears, cleaning is usually part of the treatment regimen. Cleaning will help remove the debris so the medication can reach the skin and go to work killing the infectious organisms and relieving the inflammation. 

Because there are many different kinds of ear cleaners, including some that can interfere with the effectiveness of the ear treatment, it’s best to follow your veterinarian’s recommendation.

A Few Tips on Technique

It’s helpful if you can watch your veterinarian clean one of your dog’s ears, then you try your hand at cleaning the other. That way, you can ask questions and feel more confident about the process before you leave the office. 

When cleaning ears at home, consider taking your dog outside or into the bathroom or laundry room, where it might be easier to clean up a mess.

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