One of the most important things you can do to keep your pet’s ears clean and healthy is to clean them periodically, especially if they have been prone to infection. This page will show you the proper technique using a medium sized dog as an example.

The technique for a cat is similar, the only major difference is in restraint. No matter which species you are restraining, pick a room that is quiet and free of small children. Please let one of our nurses give you an actual demonstration of this technique to develop your confidence.

Before we institute any cleaning of problem ears it is important to make a diagnosis. Not every case of ear infection is caused by ear mites, as many people are prone to think. Ear infections are commonly caused by bacterial infections, hypothyroidism (low thyroid), and allergies.

We have found a consistent cause of chronic ear problems and infections is due to a food allergy, which is why we recommend Hill’s z/d, the gold standard for this type of food.

If you pet has a bad ear infection (otitis externa) it will need to be flushed by us while your pet is under anesthesia. These ears are painful, and we want to gently and thoroughly clean the debris and infection out of the ear. In addition, we want to be able to look down the ear canal and look for foreign bodies like foxtails, polyps, tumors, and also look at the ear drum (tympanic membrane). None of this can be accomplished if your pet is not under anesthesia.

Ear infections can be chronic in nature, and you need to control underlying cause like allergies, flush the ears at home periodically, and use medication in the ear.

Canine Restraint

Depending on its size, put your dog on a table so that it is approximately chest high. Gently hug your pet under its neck with one of your arms, and put the other hand on the back of its head if necessary. Be patient, yet persistent. If your dog is small you can use the cat restraint technique.

Proper restraint of a dog's head

Hugging your pet with your left hand under its chin gives you control and flexibility as to how much restraint is needed

Feline Restraint

Wrapping your cat with a towel is a good way to restrain it for ear cleaning. In essence you will be wrapping it like a burrito. For cats in general the less restraint the better- let the towel do the work.

Nurse hugging kitten in arms
This is not exactly what we mean by cat restraint. We just put this photo here because it was too cute to pass up!
Laying cat on a towel
Put a large towel on a table and put your cat towards the front end of this towel
Wrapping towel of cat's body

Bring each side of the towel over the cat and leave only the head and tail to stick out

Bringing back of towel over cat's body

Bring the back, unfolded section of the towel over the front just up to the back of your cat’s head

Towel completely wrapped around body
Finish the “burrito” by wrapping the towel under each side of your cat. The only thing sticking out of the towel at this point is the head.
Holding cat with towel wrapped around it
Hug your cat gently to you with one hand and you will have your other hand free. Besides cleaning ears this restraint technique enables you to administer oral or topical medication.


Never put anything in your pet’s ear canal without proper restraint. As a general rule you should clean the ears 1-2 times per week by letting the cleaning solution bring the infection and discharge to the outside of the canal to be wiped away. Use lots of flush and let it bring the debris out.

Do not let the tip of the ear flush (or any ear medication) touch the ear because you will contaminate the flush or medication and you can now spread the infection.

You should not put Q-tips into your pets ears unless we tell you to, you have been shown the proper technique, and your pet is adequately restrained. Q-tips can damage the sensitive tissue that lines the ear canal. Also, an ear drum can easily be ruptured by placing objects in the ear canal, especially if the ear has an infection.

Ear with discharge in the canal

This is a typical picture of what might be encountered in an ear that needs cleaning

Wiping ear discharge with gauze

The first thing to do is use a gauze to wipe away discharge that is on the surface


Gently pulling up ear to open up canal

Gently pull up on the ear and partially fill the ear with the cleaning solution. By straightening out the ear you allow the cleaning solution to flow down the ear canal to where the infection and debris are located.

Gently massaging the ear canal

After the canal had been partially filled massage the base of the ear canal very gently. Most pets find this part soothing.

Gauze soaking up extra solution

Let your pet shake its head if it wants to. Then use a gauze to soak up the fluid that comes out of the ear

Placing ear drops in ear canal
Instill several drops of the actual medication we prescribe after the cleaning solution is out of the ear and the ear is relatively free of discharge. Most pets do fine with daily cleaning and medicating, your doctor will let you know if it should be done more or less frequently than daily.
Client holding a tiger
Now is the time to reward the cleaner and cleanee for a job well done! If you think that was tough, how would you like to restrain this pet and clean its ears? The hugging under the chin technique doesn’t always work on a 300 pound tiger!