How to check and clean a dog’s ears

There are a variety of clues that will help identify if a dog's ear is unhealthy. The first thing to do is look at the ear. If it is clean and the skin in the canal area is pink and shiny, then this is a good sign the ear is healthy.

A healthy ear usually doesn't give off any pungent smells. Also, there should be minimal debris or dirt in the ear canal.

Some dogs have smooth, hairless ear canals and will only need a gentle swab with ear cleanser to keep them clean. There are other types of dogs that grow hair inside the ear canal. These dogs may need extra hair to be carefully removed. Removing the extra hair will allow air to circulate and reduce the risk of the dog developing ear problems.

Identifying a problem

To identify a problem with your dog's ears, look out for the following:

  • Unusual odor
  • Excessive discharge
  • A red inflammation of the ear canal
  • Overly sensitive around the ear

For dogs that have long hair covering the ear leathers, check for any mats around the covered areas. If one of the ears is matted but the other ear isn't, be sure to thoroughly check the tangled ear further as there could be a problem.

Avoiding ear problems

Too much moisture getting in the ears can cause problems, therefore it's especially important to avoid getting water in the dog's ear while washing them around their head.

To protect the ear canal either hold it shut or use cotton balls as a barrier in the ear canal. 

Cotton balls will reduce the chance of water entering the ear but also have the added bonus of muffling sounds which can be beneficial when dealing with dogs that are easily spooked during the drying process etc.

Just ensure the cotton balls are secure, so they don't move if the dog shakes itself. Also, don't forget to remove them afterwards!


Prickled-eared dogs rarely suffer from problems with their ear canal. This is because their ears have good air circulation which reduces the risk of infection.

All a groomer needs to do with this type of ear is to swab with an antiseptic cleanser while checking the ear canal just to be sure everything is looks healthy.

Dropped or folded ears

A dog that has dropped or folded ears that cover the ear canal opening is more susceptible to problems developing as it's easier for moisture to become trapped and bacteria to grow due to the warm and moist environment.

With this type of ear the first order of business is to, using clippers or thinning shears, remove any hair from the ear canal opening.

Second, if you can see the inside of the ear leather is heavily coated, some of the fur can be removed using a close cutting blade.

Cut from the edge of the ear canal and move outwards to the leather. Make sure to remove as much of the dog's coat as required. This will depend on the heaviness of their ear and how serious the problem is.

Performing these actions will improve air circulation and make cleaning much easier.

Long-flowing coat types

Dogs that have long flowing coats or that need full-body haircuts will often have hair growing deep in the ear canal. Due to poor air circulation and discharge getting trapped deep in the ear canal these types of dog may suffer ear problems.

Try to only pluck hair from the ear canal when necessary to keep the ear healthy. Provided the ear looks healthy and there is minimal hair, all you need to do is trim the longest hair from the ear canal. Once trimmed clean the ear using a liquid cleanser. 

However, an ear that is full of hair and debris will need to be gently plucked and cleaned. To do this use a small amount of ear powder that has been created for this purpose. The ear powder helps in the following three ways:

  • Reduces odor
  • Helps to dry the ear canal
  • Improves grip on the hair

First, sprinkle a pinch of the ear powder into the opening of the ear. Then, massage the ear so that the powder finds its way into the ear canal.

Once the ear powder is in the ear canal, you can start removing small amounts of fur using your fingers or hemostats. Remember to keep an eye on the dog and use whichever method is keeping them the most calm.

Once the ear has been plucked, it should be thoroughly checked. Look to see if there is any natural discharge in the ear canal or if the ear look irritated. If so, swab the ear with a liquid ear cleanser and arrange a visit to a veterinarian for further treatment.

Oily-eared dogs

There are some dogs that have excessively oily ears; either naturally occurring or caused by medical treatment. 

Check the inside of the ear. If it is heavily coated start by clipping the inside of the ear leather. 

After removing the excessive coat apply plenty of baby powder, ear powder or cornstarch to the dog's fur making sure to work it in. It is important to leave the powder to sit for at least 15 minutes before bathing the dog.

The powder will soak up the excess oil making it easier to remove with shampoo. To remove oily film from the dog's coat, use a dirt and grease cutting shampoo.


Dogs that have severely matted ears are more susceptible to suffering a hematoma type swelling after the ear is shaved. A hematoma is a localized swelling that is filled with blood resulting from a break in a blood vessel.

It is more common for a dog to suffer from a hematoma if their ear has become encased in a hardened mat. Mats like this can tighten around the skin to the point that circulation to the dog's leather has become restricted.

After removing the mat, the circulation will soon return but can result in swelling inside the ear leather. Dogs that are used to having heavy ear matting may shake their heads or scratch their ears. All this contributes to the development of hematomas.

The dog may not appear sick, but a hematoma is a medical condition and will need treatment from a veterinarian.