How To Clean & Treat A Dog’s Itchy Ears: A 2-Step Process

It's time to clean Destin's ears again!... Does your dog have ear gunk?

Ours does.

Here’s a vet-recommended 2-step process for cleaning and treating your dog’s itchy (and dirty) ears.

Take it from me, you should do this before it turns into a serious ear infection!


How I Clean My Dog’s Ears

Dogs and ear problems go hand in hand — especially in the summertime.

Our 3-year-old Black Lab, Destin, always gets that brownish-black gunky stuff in his ears.

The vet said this is a form of yeast infection, and the best way to treat it is to follow this 2-step procedure:


1. Clean the ears thoroughly with a dog-approved ear wash. (We use Corium 20 — got it at the vet.) Bonus: It makes your dog’s ears smell GREAT!

How to do it:

  • Squirt a good bit directly into the dog’s ear canal — you can’t use too much. (When squirting, be careful not to touch the insides of the ear with the tip of the bottle, because your dog will likely jump when the cold liquid hits his ear, and you could hurt his inner ear with the bottle if you’re not careful.)
  • Use the dog’s own ear to close the ear opening and massage all of the liquid around inside his ear — up high and down low. Use a fair amount of pressure to literally massage the inner ear and work the liquid down into the canal itself. But don’t rub too hard — you’ll know when you’re being too hard… dogs typically enjoy a light massaging of the ears.
  • Then, let go of his ear, and let your dog shake all of the excess ear wash out of his inner ear. You won’t have to do anything to prompt him to do this. Your dog will be eager to give a good head shake the very moment you stop massaging his ear… so watch out!
  • After a quick “treat” for good behavior, get your dog back into a position that will enable you to look into his ear while his head is resting either on the floor, or on your lap.
  • Finally, tear a cotton ball in two or more smaller pieces. Hold your dog’s ear “open” with one hand, while wiping a small piece of cotton through the entire inside of his ear. For our Black Lab, it takes about 4 or 5 “wipings” with small cotton balls to get all of the now-loosened gunk out of one ear.


2. Treat the ears immediately with a prescription antibiotic and/or antifungal and/or anti-inflammatory medicine.

We use Otomax — got it at the vet. Otomax is the absolute best choices for dogs’ ears because it’s one of the few doggie ear meds that has all three — antibiotic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory medication — in one.

How to do it:

  • Simply squirt one big drop in each ear.
  • Use the dog’s own ear to close the opening to the ear and massage the liquid all around the inner ear.


Destin with his doggie ear meds -- Corium-20, Otomax, and Benadryl allergy.


That’s it!

This 2-step process typically keeps Destin’s ears clean, gunk-free, and itch-free for about 2 months — sometimes longer! The process itself takes about 5 minutes to do both ears.

If at-home remedies for ear cleaning are preferred, the best mixture to reach for is white vinegar in water as a 50/50 mixture. The vinegar acts to break down the wax in the ear, and creates a pH in the ear which prohibits the growth of bacteria and yeast. — Vet4Petz


Why Dogs Get Icky & Itchy Ears

Our veterinarian said that Destin will likely have this “problem” all of his life is because he’s got long flappy ears they tend to trap moisture inside — it’s the perfect environment for growing yeast.

About the only thing we can do is to prevent this from happening more frequently is to keep his ears as dry as possible.

So after he goes swimming, or gets a bath, we use a cotton ball to dry up any water & moisture that remain in his ears.

Since we keep an eye on it, it hasn’t really been much of a problem for us. But in those early days, when he was a pup, he was coming down with ear infections every month. Now, it’s just part of his grooming routine to get his ears cleaned & treated on occasion.

Oh, and how do we know when it’s time to go through the process of cleaning and then treating Destin’s ears again?… He will usually start pawing at his ears, scratching them, or tilting his head to one side, like his ear is bothering him. That’s when we break out the dog ear cleaner, and the dog ear medicine and we “do ears.” He knows exactly what to expect.


More About Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears

Home Remedies For Yeast Infections In Dogs’ Ears

Canine Ear Advice From A Vet

Natural Remedies For Ear Infections In Dogs

Common Causes & Predispositions For Ear Infections In Dogs

Video: How To Clean A Dog’s Ears


Lynnette Walczak

I like to help people find unique ways to do things in order to save time & money -- so I frequently write about "outside the box" ideas that most wouldn't think of. As a lifelong dog owner, I often share my best tips for living with and training dogs. I worked in Higher Ed several years until switching gears to pursue things I was more passionate about. I've worked at a vet, in a photo lab, and at a zoo -- to name a few. I enjoy the outdoors via bicycle, motorcycle, Jeep, or RV. You can always find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun websites).

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  • Kathryn

    Change her food!! We give our Chocolate Lab Natural Balance Lamb and Rice!!

  • Sharon

    im a new comer to this site i love all my dogs but cannot afford regular visits as i wish i could so any advice i can get would be so helpful so please send all the help you can

  • Toys

    Just wanted to say good work before i i forget.

  • Shanin

    Yup, its seems like your dog has a food allergy. Very common in dogs becuase they eat the same thing all the time….its usually to chicken or beef (hopefully not wheat). Switch food to something less common like lamb as previously suggested or talk to people at a local pet store (not the box shops) to find something inexpensive.

  • Keirstyn

    I wish our dogs would do this. We have special ear squirts for them but they’re terrified of them and it takes 3 people to get the job done. At least it helps their ears stop itching though :) Thanks!

  • Amicks_4

    My 3yr old black lab has this ear problem also. I clean her ears daily with a cleanser vet gave me and use the otomax also. NOTHING seems to be working she constantly shakes her head, flops the ears. it is driving us all crazy. I do not know what else to do. My Vet is no help either. I have taken her in 3 times in the last month for a ear cleanse & do the 2 step process at home but it doesn’t help. Does anyone know what else I can try…..PLEASE HELP!!!!!!

    • Ripmit

      I was wondering if you got any answers to your dogs ear problem.  I have a great dane, 9 months and I swear 7 of those  months he has had ear issues.  They are constantly dirty.  One vet told me to use 1 part white vinigar to 4 parts water and I used it religiously for several months but his ears are still gross.  They smell.  He is constantly shaking his head as well.  I feel your pain.

  • chellebean

    I have a Golden Doodle and she has had ear problems for more than a year now, she’s 2. The vinegar and water mixture does not work for her, it leaves her ears ‘wet’ and ‘crackling’ when I massage them. I use distilled white vinegar and rubbing alcohol,50/50 mixture, the rubbing alcohol is drying, and the vinegar kills the bacteria in the ear leaving it undesirable for anything to live in the ear. Right now she is on an antibiotic ear drop, once they are done I will start the vinegar/rubbing alcohol mixture, and will spritz it in her ear as well as around the outside of her ear as well. I also clean her ears with Hydrogen peroxide when she has an infection, as it helps disinfect the area, as well as dry up the ‘wet’ ear. If your dog’s ears are really hairy, trim the hair away from the outside ear and use ear powder to pull any excess hair from inside the ear canal out, this seems to help get air into the ear as well. Hope this helps!

  • Kay

    amy, I too have a shih Tzu. I am at my wits end with ear issues! we’ve spent 8 years dealing with ear issues. last nite we spent hours with a dog with shaking head. we clean his ears with zymox. sometimes it helps sometimes not so much. he has allergies too. I tired of this. might try the vinegar/water solution. he has sores in his ear because he has scratched it so much….I don’t know.

  • Kay

    living with a dog with allergies, ear issues etc can be a nightmare! after 8 years of treating my Shih Tzu, it’s worse now than ever. I see some of you use vinegar/water. might give that a try but vinegar on open sores from scratching may not feel so good.

  • Kathy Simmons

    I prefer not to use COTTON BALLS. It leaves small particles of cotton behind in the ear canal, especially with the kind of rubbing needed to clean my dogs ears. I use instead gauze which solves that worry. We have been told to apply Othomax about one hour after cleaning the dogs ears (not immediately as suggested here). Evidently this ensures a drier ear canal and better medication efficacy. I might not have read carefully here, but don’t see HOW MANY DAYS to continue treating with othomax. I presume once a day (not twice) is the daily dosage? Like all antibiotics, dogs (like people) can develop resistance with frequent use of the same medication. Our vet has changed to a different antibiotic for that reason.