Technique matters! Simply wiping down the inside of the pinna (ear flap) is not a thorough ear cleaning. We need to get all (or at least most) of the junk out of the canal without damaging the ear drum and delicate tissues that line the ear.
How to Clean Dog & Cat Ears Step by Step
- Set up your supplies outside or in a part of the house where messes can be cleaned up easily. You will probably get dirty, so dress appropriately.
- For large dogs, place one of your legs on either side of his chest so that you are straddling him, both of you facing in the same direction. This method of restraint allows you to use your legs to control his body while leaving both hands free. Place smaller dogs and cats on a table or counter. If necessary, ask someone to hold the pet while you perform the cleaning.
- Use an ear cleaner that has been recommended by your veterinarian for your pet’s current problem. Many products are geared towards specific conditions (e.g., excessive wax build-up or the treatment of particular types of infections) and using the wrong one will, at best, reduce the effectiveness of the treatment. Some medicated ear cleaners can also cause deafness if a pet’s ear drum is ruptured so picking the wrong product can have disastrous results.
- Hold up your dog or cat's pinna (ear flap) with one hand and squirt the ear cleaner directly into the canal. Use enough to completely fill the canal to the point where you can see it pooling on the surface.
- Press the ear flap over the opening to the canal and rub it back and forth and in circles. You should hear the cleaner churning around inside (it makes a satisfying squishy sound).
- Let go of your pet’s head. He should shake it vigorously. As messy as this can be, the forces that are generated are essential for moving the debris from deep inside the canal to the outside where you can wipe it away.
- Use a paper towel, napkin, tissue, or gauze wrapped around your finger to remove the debris that you can see. You can use a cotton-tipped swab to clean out the nooks and crannies at the surface of the ear, but don’t stick it down the canal. You can rupture a pet’s eardrum if you go too far.
- Continue steps four through seven until no more debris comes to the surface.
- Move on to the other ear.
- Apply topical medications, if necessary, per your veterinarian’s instructions.
When the material within the ear canal is especially thick and/or impacted, it is often best for a veterinarian to perform the first ear cleaning, perhaps while the pet is under sedation. The doctor can use specialized equipment to loosen the debris, flush it out of the canal, examine the ear for damage, and design an appropriate home treatment plan based on what he or she finds.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Image: Barna Tanko / Shutterstock