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How to Make a Homemade Dog Ear Cleaner

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Grooming By Nathan Hinds 10 min read March 9, 2021

homemade dog ear cleaner

From basset hounds to basenjis, canine ears are adorable, but they require regular care to keep them healthy. Fortunately, making your own homemade dog ear cleaner is a breeze, and requires just water and white vinegar

We’ll provide step-by-step instructions for a typical DIY dog ear-cleaning solution below, but be sure to consult a veterinarian before using it on your pooch. 

Homemade Dog Ear Cleaner: Key Takeaways

  • Regular ear cleanings are important for keeping your pet’s ears clean and free of bacteria, fungi, and excess wax.
  • You should always consult with your vet before initiating an ear-cleaning regimen, as some treatments can make existing infections or injuries worse.
  • Once you get the green light from your vet, you can whip up a batch of homemade dog ear cleaner with common household products.

Ear Cleanings: An Important Component of Canine Care

Regular cleaning is vital for avoiding ear infectionssome breeds more so than others. Basset hounds, for instance, have long ears that seal off the inside of the canals, and are especially prone to infections. 

A few more breeds that are especially susceptible to ear infections include:

  • Labrador retrievers
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Pit bulls
  • Poodles
  • Shar-peis

Additionally, dogs who suffer from allergies also appear to be at an increased risk of ear infections.

Canine ear infections may seem like little more than a nuisance to us owners, but left untreated, they can cause severe pain, nausea, and permanent damage.

Below, we’ll give you a recipe for easy DIY dog ear cleaner, and offer you some basic tips for keeping canine ears squeaky clean!

Basic Homemade Dog Ear Cleaner Recipe

A basic DIY dog ear cleaner is simple to make, and chances are you’ve got the ingredients in your kitchen or laundry room right now. 

Keep in mind that the ingredients that work for us humans may not be ideal for your dog. You’ll also want to avoid using products like hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, as they can cause irritation to healthy skin

A homemade dog ear cleaner solution can be made from:

  • One part distilled white vinegar
  • Two parts room temperature water

Many authorities simply suggest using tap water, but we’d recommend sticking with the FDA standard for neti pot use and opting for distilled or bottled water — even the safest tap water can have small amounts of infection-causing bacteria. Besides, bottled water is cheap, or you can simply boil the water for 3 to 5 minutes (just be sure to let it cool first).

Mix the ingredients and pour the solution in a squeeze bottle. You’ll want to store it in a cool, dark place in between uses. 

As we’ve said, be sure to clear this recipe with your vet before you use it for your pooch. Your vet may feel safer recommending a store-bought variety, which can usually be found at your local pet store. 

This homemade recipe is a convenient option because you’ve likely got the ingredients in your kitchen. If not, they can be purchased for an extremely reasonable price.

Additionally, the DIY option gives you a better idea of the ingredients that are going into your pup’s ear – it may be a bit gentler for those with sensitive skin. 

Caution: DIY Ear Cleaners Are for Healthy Ears Only

Before you go cooking up this DIY ear cleaning recipe, you’ll want a clean bill of ear health from your vet. Only after getting the veterinary green light should you start a DIY ear-cleaning regimen.

If your dog has an ear infection, you’ll need to complete whatever treatment your vet recommends before using a DIY ear cleaner.  

Antibiotics are required to fight a canine ear infection, and there is no DIY alternative. Using homemade ear cleaner (or store-bought dog ear cleaners, for that matter) in an already infected ear will only make matters worse. 

Before you use a DIY ear cleaning option, you’ll also want to confirm with your vet that it’s a safe solution for your pup – without question, your veterinarian is the best source to answer your ear cleaning questions. A commercially made product with medication may be your vet’s suggestion, but it doesn’t hurt to offer up your DIY recipe for approval. 

Dog ear antomy
Image from Louisiana State University.

Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs

A variety of things can cause your dog to suffer from an ear infection. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Bacteria (less commonly, fungi or viruses)
  • Excess water or liquid in the ear
  • Excessive ear cleaning
  • Injury
  • Large amounts of earwax
  • Allergies
  • Skin problems
  • Foreign objects 

Ear mites are another common cause of ear infections, especially in puppies or dogs that spend a lot of time outside.

As the name implies, these tiny bugs can wreak havoc on your pup’s ear. Fortunately, certain flea and tick preventatives can help to keep ear mites at bay.  

If your dog is suffering from an ear infection, you may need to use an E-collar to prevent him from pawing at his irritated ears. You can buy an E-collar or make your own DIY dog cone at home.

Signs of an Ear Infection in Dogs

Symptoms of an ear infection range from barely noticeable for both you and your dog, to extremely painful and disruptive to your dog’s daily grind. The symptoms tend to change based on the severity of the infection, and how deep the infection is in the ear. 

There are three basic types of ear infection which each affect a different portion of your dog’s ears. 

1. Outer Ear Infection (Most Common)

The least severe, and usually the most common, affects the outer ear. These infections are commonly identified by noting swelling around the ear and an excessive amount of earwax. You’ll probably notice your dog digging at his ear more than usual too.  

2. Middle Ear + Inner Ear Infection

The other two types of canine ear infections involve the middle ear or, most seriously, the inner ear. An infection of the inner ear, if left untreated, can cause a host of scary, and sometimes permanent, damage to nerves and hearing. 

Your pup can’t tell you about ear pain or discomfort, but it’s likely that certain behaviors or actions can clue you in to his general ear health. 

Here’s a list of some of the major symptoms of ear infections – contact your vet immediately if you notice any of these red flags:

  • Tilting the head or the body to one side
  • Poor balance
  • Head shaking / ear flapping
  • Scratching or pawing at the ear(s)
  • Nausea
  • Discharge or odor around the ear(s)
  • Sensitivity or pain around the ear(s)
  • Masses around the ear

It’s important to remember that sometimes an ear infection produces no major symptoms. You may have to closely inspect the ear to see excessive wax as a clue to an infection.

Regardless of the severity, if you suspect an ear infection, it’s time for a vet visit before it becomes extremely painful for your pup. 

Your vet will closely examine your dog’s afflicted ear, inside and out. This may involve a sampling of the fluid or earwax to identify the infection or ear mites. In the most severe cases, an MRI or X-Ray may be required

Once the cause and the severity is determined, your vet can then recommend the right treatment for your pup’s condition. 

how to clean a dog's ears

How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears

Once you’ve been cleared to clean by your vet, it’s time to get to work on cleaning out those ears! 

As with the cleaning solution recipe, consult your vet about the actual cleaning process. Check out the how-to video posted below, and make sure you’re prepared with our step-by-step guide before you start:

  1. Expect ear cleaning to be a messy process, so have an old towel or rag on hand to clean up afterwards.  
  2. Aim the solution-filled squeeze bottle directly into the ear canal. Resist the urge to stick the bottle’s nozzle into your pup’s ear – let the solution do the work, and make sure the fluid is the only thing entering your dog’s ear. 
  3. Once you’ve applied the solution, massage the area around the ear and ear canal. You’re helping the solution to break up the gunk and making sure that the fluid reaches the inner ear. 
  4. Just like when your pup is covered in suds in the bath, his instinct will be to shake his head after you’ve applied the solution. This is an important step to remove excess solution and stop the dripping, as well as loosen or remove earwax. 
  5. Using a clean cloth or piece of cotton, wipe the exterior of the ear canal clean from solution or earwax. 
  6. After each cleaning, and in between cleaning each ear, make sure you wipe off the nozzle of the solution bottle to clear any debris that may be carrying bacteria. If you have more than one dog, it’s a good idea to invest in a separate bottle for each pooch to avoid spreading germs. 

Also check out our full article on how to clean your dog’s ears for an even more in-depth tutorial.

As you’re massaging the ear and the surrounding area, make a note of your dog’s reaction. If he reacts with a yelp or other indication of pain, stop immediately and call your veterinarian

While this should feel good to your pup, if your dog seems to enjoy this a bit too much and leans into your hand, you may be taking care of a hard-to-reach itch – a possible sign of an ear infection. 

It’s important to keep in mind that your dog has no idea what you’re doing — liquid trickling in the ear canal definitely feels funny and may sound a little scary.

Make sure you don’t startle your pup with fast or harsh movements. Be gentle throughout the process, and avoid scolding him if he doesn’t sit entirely still or totally cooperate.  

Ear cleaning is not a fun activity, but you’ll want to make it a positive one so future cleanings aren’t a nightmare for all involved. Use treats to keep your dog distracted and content throughout the process. Talk to him in a soothing voice throughout to reinforce his well being.

Negative or scary experiences leave a lasting impression on pups, so keep ear cleaning positive!

Additionally, never use Q-tips or other small tools that could cause damage. A good rule of thumb (literally) is to never stick anything further into your dog’s ears than your finger will fit.

Penetrating your dog’s eardrum can cause permanent damage and extreme pain, so always stay on the safe side – in this case, the outside. 

https://www.instagram.com/p/BvCDkrMgPzs/

How Often Should You Clean Your Dog’s Ears?

Like all decisions involving your pets’ ears, how frequently you clean them requires a conversation with your veterinarian.

Factors like breed, skin conditions, allergies, and activity play a role in the decision. Remember that cleaning his ears too frequently can cause ear infections, and improper cleaning, in which fluid gets trapped, can cause an infection as well. 

Banfield Pet Hospital suggests that most dogs need a cleaning about once per month, give or take depending on other health or lifestyle factors. You may find that once a month is even excessive, and even less frequent cleanings will work for your pup.

***

Ear cleaning is no fun for anyone, but with the right solution and a well-executed plan, it’s an important part of canine hygiene to help your pup stay infection free.

Do you have a dog-tested and vet-approved ear cleaning process? Let us know in the comments!

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Written by

Nathan Hinds

Nathan Hinds is a professional pilot, writer, and an avid animal lover. He is passionate about animal rescue and is involved in both fundraising and fostering. Nathan is a lifelong resident of St. Louis, MO and is the proud parent of a senior beagle mix named Gilmore, as well as a whole bunch of cats.

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