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How to Clean Your Dog's or Cat's Ears

Your vet may recommend at-home cleaning of your cat's or dog's ears as part of a treatment plan or grooming routine. Follow your vet's recommendation for ear cleansers and flushes, then refer to our preparation tips and follow the step-by-step instructions. With just a little guidance and attention, you can confidently help give your pet quality care at home.

Did you know? Ear infections or discharge from your dog's or cat's ears may be due to allergies or parasites (particularly in cats). Always check with your veterinarian before starting home care.

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Keep it handy! Download step-by-step instructions and illustrations.

Why clean your dog’s or cat’s ears?

Your veterinarian may suggest at-home dog or cat ear cleaning to:

  • Help keep the skin lining your pet’s ear canal clean and healthy
  • Get rid of dirt, wax and debris in your pet’s ears
  • Help prevent the buildup of bacteria or yeast
  • Clean your pet’s ear canal to allow prescribed medications to easily reach already-infected areas

Did you know? Dogs and cats have L-shaped ear canals, which makes it easier for debris to collect, particularly in the “bend” where the vertical and horizontal canals meet.

What can I use to clean my dog’s or cat’s ears?

Be sure to first speak with your veterinarian. They will be able to point you toward the best cleaning solution for your pet’s needs. Use only ear cleansers recommended by your vet.

Gather your supplies

A little preparation before you start can go a long way toward providing a more pleasant experience for you and your pet. Make sure all supplies you need are readily accessible, and choose an area that makes you both comfortable. Cleaning your pet’s ears can be a little messy. It’s a good idea to set up outdoors or in a spot indoors where cleanup will be easy (such as your bathroom).

What you’ll need:

  • An ear cleanser for dogs or cats that is veterinarian-recommended
  • Cotton balls or soft gauze; avoid cotton swabs or cotton-tipped applicators as they can push debris deeper into your pet’s ear canal and damage the eardrum
  • Treats and praise to reward good behavior

Did you know? Cats and smaller dogs may be wrapped in a towel “burrito style” to help hold them in place. Wrap a towel around the shoulders of larger dogs to help keep their coats clean.

Five easy steps to cleaning your pet’s ears

To properly clean your cat’s or dog’s ears, follow these five easy steps:

  1. With one hand, gently pull your pet’s ear flap up and angle it slightly back toward the top of the head. This will help straighten the ear canal.
  2. With your other hand, fill the ear canal to the brim with the ear cleansing or flushing solution. Be sure to avoid touching the tip of the nozzle to the ear canal to help prevent contaminating the ear cleaning solution.
  3. Release the ear flap and gently massage the base of the ear between your thumb and fingers for one to two minutes. This will helps dislodge wax and debris stuck deep inside the ear canal.
  4. Step back and allow your pet to shake its head. (This is where it can get messy, so have a towel ready.)
  5. Remove excess ear cleaning solution and debris from the outer ear with dry cotton balls or soft gauze. It’s not necessary to get the ear completely dry.

Did you know? Cleaning the ears too frequently can be irritating, so follow your veterinarian’s advice regarding how often your pet’s ears should be cleaned.

Keep it handy! Download step-by-step instructions and illustrations.

Check in with your vet

If your dog or cat objects to having its ears handled, or it looks like your pet’s ears are causing them pain, contact your veterinarian for an examination before proceeding with an at-home ear cleaning. Additionally, you should contact your veterinarian if your pet:

  • Has a strong odor coming from their ears
  • Shakes or scratches at the ears with greater intensity or frequency
  • Develops a swelling on any part of the ear

With a little patience and a lot of love and affection, ear cleaning can become an easy part of your pet’s normal wellness routine.

Related articles:
How to Bathe a Dog
First Time Cat Owner Guide
First Time Dog Owner Guide

Bayer Products

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    A one-dose ear infection treatment administered by your veterinarian.

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    CAUTION: Federal (U.S.A.) law restricts this drug to use by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian.

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    CAUTION: Federal (U.S.A) law restricts Advantage Multi® for Cats (imidacloprid + moxidectin) to use by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian.