A DIY approach to ear cleaning can be cost-effective as well as kind. Here’s how to master the process.

By Patty Khuly, DVM
August 24, 2020
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Credit: Patryk Kosmider / Shutterstock

Checking your dog's ears is an important part of a regular grooming routine. Ear checks and at-home ear cleanings can help you identify issues before they become serious. If you're a newbie to the process, there are a few thing you can do to make it easier on both you and your dog. Here are my best tips for mastering DIY ear cleanings.

1. Offer treats or toys.

Yes, bribe your pet! This is the secret to cleaning ears. If you always offer treats to a hungry pet or playthings to a toy-motivated one, they’ll be way more compliant.

2. Keep him calm.

Let him stand on a nonslip surface for this process. Warm the bottle of cleaning solution in your hand for a few minutes before squirting it into your pet’s ears. Work gently and rapidly but give him breaks if he seems stressed. (See: How to Clean Your Dog's Ears for a step-by-step guide.)

3. Start young.

If you have a puppy or kitten, start cleaning now. Even just a pretend ear cleaning a couple times a week is a useful exercise. Take hold of the pinna (the flap) and tickle the inside (external canal) with a cotton ball or ear wipe. This will help teach your pet that ear cleaning equals love.

4. Buy the right product.

Ask your vet to recommend a product specific to your pet’s ears. In healthy ears, a very diluted vinegar solution can be used. In ears prone to irritation, a chlorhexidine-base product is preferred. Other animals (cats especially) may do best with enzymatic cleaners that don’t require wiping out.

5. Make it a habit.

Frequency of ear cleaning matters. Although recommendations vary widely depending on a pet’s issues, once weekly for healthy ears should do the trick.

6. Learn from a pro.

If your dog or cat runs the other direction when you bring out the bottle, go to a professional trainer or behavior specialist to reacquaint your pet with the process in a more positive manner.

A version of this article first appeared in Happy Paws Fall/Winter 2019.