Ear Infections in Dogs & Cats, an Easy Guide to Avoid Them

Dog and cat ear infections are easily avoidable with routine cleaning. Yet infections of the ear canal in dogs and cats are one of the most common reasons for trips to the Veterinarian.  This is why it is so important to clean ears on a regular basis.  Routine ear cleaning will remove excess wax, dirt and debris.

Image of dog with ear infection getting checked by veterinarian

 How to Spot a Possible Ear Infections: 

Image of list of ear infection symptoms in dog or cats

How Often Should I Clean My Pet Ears to Avoid Ear Infections?

If your pet likes to roll in dirt for fun, (what dog doesn’t!) or swims regularly, they may require more frequent cleanings. Trapped moisture in a warm and dark environment like the ear canal can lead to bacteria and yeast infections, but a good ear cleaning solution will act as a drying agent. Ultimately, how frequently you clean your pet’s ears really depends on your individual dog or cat.

Image of puppy and kitten with big ears looking at each other

Before cleaning your pet’s ears, it is important to know a little simple anatomy. 

 There are 3 main parts to the ear:

  • Outer ear– consists of the flap (called the pinna) and the ear canal. Unlike humans, our pets have a very long ear canal that starts vertically, but then turns into a shorter horizontal canal as it nears the eardrum.
  • Middle ear– separated from the outer ear by the tympanic membrane, or eardrum. The eardrum is very fragile and can be damaged by improper cleaning, excess wax, and infections.
  • Inner ear– contains nerves required for balance and hearing.

Anatomical drawing of dog ear canal

Pro Advice for Safely Cleaning Your Pet’s Ears:

If you have a new puppy or kitten, it’s a prime time to get them used to routine ear cleanings. Anything you do with a pet when they are young will be better tolerated in adulthood. If you have an older pet that hasn’t had many ear cleanings, you may need to work up gradually. Try working up to a full ear cleaning over a few sessions.  Give your pet lots of positive reinforcement throughout the process.

Image of man calming his dog before grooming ears

Steps for performing a good ear cleaning to help avoid those painful ear infections: 

  1. Gather your supplies starting with a veterinary approved liquid ear cleaner and cotton balls, or ear cleaning wipes.
  2. Try to begin when your pet is calm. It may help to attempt the cleaning after a good play session. Or, try before bedtime so your pet will be more relaxed.
  3. Consider the help of a second person. Having someone else hold your pet, will help the process go more quickly and smoothly. For your feline friends, consider wrapping them in a towel. It is a gentle way to calm them and provide security.

Image of kitten wrapped in towel ready to get ears cleaned

4. Don’t forget this may get messy. Your pet will shake excess dirt and debris so be sure to avert your face so you don’t get a shower.  It may be a good idea to not wear expensive clothing or clean your pet’s ears while near expensive furniture.

5. Now you are ready! Gently hold the ear flap up in one hand and the ear cleaning solution in the other.

6. To locate the opening of the ear canal, you may need to part the hair in some dogs.  Place the tip of the bottle into the ear canal, and squeeze in a small amount.  Never force or wedge the bottle into the ear canal, as the pressure could rupture the eardrum. Continue to gently hold the ear flap so your pet does not shake the ears yet.

Vet using earwell otic cleansing solution to clean small dog's ears

7. While gently holding the ear flap, massage the pet’s ear canal. Put the bottle of ear cleaner down and use your dominant hand to massage the base of the pet’s ear gently and slowly. This will distribute the ear cleanser throughout the ear canal and loosen and remove wax, debris, and discharge.

Image of shar-pei breed prone to ear infections

8. You may allow your pet to shake once you have massaged the ear. And remember step 4!

9.Use a slightly moistened cotton ball to gently remove any cleaning solution and discharge from the inner ear flap. Some debris will move up to the opening of the ear canal during the cleaning process. Use the cotton balls or ear cleansing wipes to gently clean this area. NEVER use cotton swabs, as deep placement can rupture the eardrum and/or pack wax and debris further into the ear canal.

There are times when your pet may need more than a routine amount of ear cleaning. 

Your veterinarian will help you determine if this is the case for your pet and, if so, how often you should do it. Conditions that May Require Extra Ear Cleaning:

Ear mite infestation. Your veterinarian will prescribe the best medication to treat mites, and ear cleanings will be necessary during treatment to remove all the extra ear debris that a mite infestation causes

Ear infections. Infections (usually bacteria or yeast) of the ear canal can cause a lot of debris and discharge to build up.  Treatment usually involves daily cleaning in addition to medications prescribed by your veterinarian.

Allergies. Pets with certain types of allergies tend to suffer from irritation to the skin lining their ear canals and are prone to infections. Ear cleaning is important to aid in prevention of these types of ear infections and provide comfort for itchy ears. Omega-3 fatty acids can also help with allergies.

Image of vet looking into Beagle ear for infection

Be sure to consistently monitor your pet’s ears to keep them clean, smelling good, and prevent problems such as discomfort, itching, and infections. If there is no odor and you do not see wax and debris too often, once a week is sufficient.  If your dog produces a lot of ear wax, has allergies, or is prone to ear infections, then more frequent to even daily cleaning may be advised.

Written by Dr. Nicole Trakas, DVM

It has been my life calling to help all creatures great and small. I still remember the day I decided on veterinary medicine as a career. I was 13 and in the 8th grade. I feel extremely blessed to be able to work in a profession that can have such a profound impact on pets and their families. I strive to focus on every concern my pet parents have for their babies and treat them with compassion and empathy. Over the last 15 years in practice, my clients and their pets have become family to me. I am honored to have been able to care for most of my patients from puppy/kittenhood all the way to their senior years.