How to Know If a Dog's Ears Are Dirty

Puppies usually adjust better to ear inspections than older dogs.
i dog image by Dragomir Uzunov from

All dogs have bouts of messy ears, especially those with overly large ears that stand up like radio towers. And while your pup might love digging in dirt, he probably hates digging in his ear for dirt. If left alone, dirt and wax can lead to irritation and ear infections.

Step 1

Watch your dog throughout the day. If he's shaking his head, rubbing one side of his head into furniture or the carpet or constantly scratching at it, his ear is probably either dirty or has something stuck inside of it. If you have a dog with standing ears, watch for the ear to drop slightly or hang off to the side.

Step 2

Dampen a tissue. Make sure it's just a regular tissue, not one with lotion, and that it's not dripping wet.

Step 3

Sit in a well-lit area of your home and ask your pup to lie down. Don't indicate anything's wrong, just act normal. Some pups can sense they're going to be examined, and they'll bolt for the nearest bed to hide under if your voice or behavior suddenly changes. This will make future ear inspections, and especially ear cleanings, very difficult.

Step 4

Attach a head-mounted light. While this handy tool isn't necessary, it makes looking for dirt a lot easier. Lift your dog's ear flap if his ears are down and have a look around. Dirt hangs out all inside the ear, from the top into the ear canal, although you can't see too far into the canal. Another indication of dirt or a buildup of wax is a shiny-like look inside the ear, as if your pup just bathed his ear in oil.

Step 5

Wipe the damp tissue inside his ear if you can't see the dirt. Only wipe areas of the ear you can see. Never dive into the ear canal, because you can seriously hurt your little guy. If you see a brownish or yellowish color on the tissue, that's your sign your pup's ears might need a cleaning. But if you just cleaned his ears a week or two ago, it's less likely they're dirty again and more likely you're seeing ear discharge, which indicates another problem that your vet will have to check out.

Step 6

Give your dog a treat after you're done checking his ears. Even if you plan to clean his ears after, a treat will make him happy and maybe even more open to the ear cleaning.

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