In this article we are going to look at checking and cleaning your Labrador’s ears.
We will also share the different ear cleaning methods you could use.
Before we begin, don’t forget that any ear problems in your dog need to be diagnosed and treated by a qualified vet.
Why does my Labrador need his ears cleaning?
Not all Labradors need their ears cleaning, but many do. This is for a number of reasons.
Your Labrador’s ancestors were wolves, with upright and pointed ears. These ears weren’t just evolved to do a great job of detecting sound, they were also practical in terms of hygiene.
Large open ear canals provided a great way to hear, as well as staying fairly clean and healthy.
Labrador ear structure
Labradors have been selectively bred with a different structure to their ears than their pointy eared ancestors, and the ear canal is covered with a soft furry flap
While these lovely soft ear flaps give our floppy eared dogs a distinctive look that we find so appealing, floppy ears are less practical than pointed ears from a health perspective.
Labrador ear problems
The fact that your Lab’s ears are flopped over, creates a nice warm environment for germs to thrive in.
It also traps dirt, ear wax and all sorts of daily grime down there. And is one of the reasons that Labrador ear problems are sadly fairly common
Labradors with hairy ear canals
Another cause of ear trouble in some Labs is an excess of hair inside their ear canals.
You might be tempted to cut or tweeze out your Labrador’s inner ear hair if you notice it, but if this is not done carefully, the cropped hairs could fall into the ear canal and cause even more problems.
The best thing to do is to show your vet and ask for their advice on whether any action needs to be taken in this respect.
Labradors with small ear canals
Finally, some Labrador Retrievers have relatively small ear canals in relation to the size of their head. Again, this makes it more likely that wax will become lodged and create a place for germs to grow.
Keeping your Labradors ears clean will make them feel more comfortable, and make them less likely to become infected.
Dogs’ ears are sensitive, and having grubby ears can be upsetting for your dog. Keeping them clean and healthy will help him to stay happy.
How do I tell when my Labrador’s ears need cleaning?
If you are lucky, your Labradors ears may almost never need cleaning, but in some dogs they need cleaning on a regular basis.
So how are you supposed to know whether an ear cleaning session is in order?
Fortunately you can tell when an ear cleaning is required by doing a simple check on a regular basis.
How to check your Labrador’s ears
It is important to check your Labradors ears at least once a week. This will enable you to keep on top of his ear health and make sure you catch or prevent any problems early on.
Make sure your Labrador is standing, sitting or laying down somewhere comfortable.
Begin by calmly stroking his head. You can also give him a piece of kibble to distract him.
Lift the flap of his ear and look into the ear canal.
A healthy dog’s ear should be pale pink and not have a scent to it. It should also be fairly free from ear wax, although it may have a few flecks dotted around.
When to clean your Labrador’s ears
The right time to clean your dogs ears is when they look a bit grubby!
You can find this out by checking his ears, and we will shortly look at the best way to do this.
However, if your Labrador is in discomfort due to the build up in his ears, he may rub his head. Either with his paws or along the floor or walls.
When you rub his ears he might moan softly, or push hard against your hand and grumble as you rub.
If you see any of these symptoms when you examine your dog’s ears, take him to the vet as your first course of action. He could have an infection which needs treating.
If he simply looks like he needs a bit of a wash around that area, his ears will smell normal and look pale pink and healthy, just with a bit of grime visible.
When this happens you can help him out by cleaning his ears for him.
Labrador ear cleaning equipment
Cleaning your Labrador’s ears can be carried out in one of two ways. Either with water, in what is often referred to as the natural method of cleaning, or using specially designed ear cleaning chemicals.
The minimum equipment you will need to clean the external part of your dog’s ears includes
• Cotton wool pads
• Warm water
However, you may also find it useful to have to hand:
• Dog treats (in small pieces, either kibble or tiny bits of cheese work well for most dogs)
• A helpful friend!
To clean the inner ear you will also need
• Canine ear cleaner
Do not use ear cleaner made for humans or other pets, as it may not be as effective or safety tested for use on dogs.
How to clean your Labrador’s ears with warm water
Get your ear cleaning equipment laid out within easy reach.
If your Labrador is still a puppy pop him into your lap. If he is fully grown try and encourage him to lay down next to you with his head in your lap.
Stay very calm in your actions, gently stroking him and giving him an occasion treat when he is still.
If you have a friend with you get her to do the stroking and treat giving to free up your hands and make the job a little easier!
Soak some cotton wool in warm water. Make sure the water is warm and not scolding hot. Ring out the cotton wool, so it is damp but not dripping.
Lift your dog’s ear flap with one hand, and with the other softly wipe the cotton wool across the ear. Removing any visible dirt.
Begin close to the ear canal and continue outwards towards the outer rim.
Each time you wipe use a new piece of cotton wool, so that you are not transferring any removed grubs back onto the ear with subsequent wipes.
Only wipe around the external parts of the ear, coming near to but not entering the opening. Keep the ear canal clear of water and cotton wool.
If your Labrador seems happy and settled you can repeat this straight away with the other ear.
If he is becoming restless or stressed, then wait for a few hours before repeating.
How to clean your Labrador’s ears with canine ear cleaner
If you have visited your vet due to concerns regarding your Labrador’s ears, he might give you some internal ear cleaning solution to use in his ear canal.
This usually comes in a tube with a long nozzle that can be pointed, so that the liquid goes into the ear canal.
You can also buy proprietary ear cleaning solutions online, we like Zymox but do check with your vet before using this or any other commercial ear cleaner, on your dog.
Following the instructions given by your vet or on the packaging carefully. This will normally be along the lines of putting the tube at the entrance to the ear canal, squirting it directly into the ear and then massaging the closed ear flap and the area beneath it.
If you are having an effect you will hear a squelching noise and may be a little bit damp if you have used the right amount of solution.
You can help your Labrador to find the process less frustrating by giving him a high value treat immediately after you have massaged the solution into his ear. Some nice chicken or a sausage seems to go down well.
Your dog’s reaction to ear cleaning
After the solution is put in, and you have massaged your dog’s ears you may find that when you release him, he runs in circles around the room, shaking his head or rubbing it on the floor!
This is perfectly normal, but is best to carry out the process away from your valuables or any fragile furniture. You may be able to distract your dog afterwards with a game of a brisk walk.
How to have an easy Labrador ear cleaning session
Some dogs do not like having their ears cleaned. This can be an issue for some dogs with general cleaning, even more so for dogs with recurring inner ear problems who need solution inserted can becoming quite fed up with the process.
The best thing to do is to get your dog used to being both formally handled and washed from a young age.
How to get a puppy used to having his ears cleaned
If you are bringing home a new puppy, then every few days when he is sitting on your lap calmly gently stroke around his ears. Lifting the flaps and doing a visual check.
When he responds by staying calm and still give him a small piece of kibble as a reward.
This will help him to get used to letting you inspect the ear, and see it as a rewarding experience when he shows the desired behaviour.
When you are happy with these checks, you can do the same but with the occasional gentle wipe of the ear using a damp cotton wool pad.
Just remember to reward him for being still, disinterested and calm, and to ignore him when he gets excited.
How to get an older dog used to having his ears cleaned
If your dog is older and has developed a dislike to having his ears checked or washed you can combat this in slow steps too.
The best place to start is by training a reliable sit command. Check out our detailed “train your dog to sit” guide for more information.
Make sure your dog will happily sit whilst you are on the same level as him and have your hands on him somewhere he is comfortable with.
Gradually over the course of several training sessions move your hand closer to his head and ears. Only go as far as your dog is comfortable, and every time he remains relaxed give him a piece of kibble to reward him.
Next repeat the process with a cotton wool pad or the ear cleaner in your hand.
You will have to judge how far you can move in each session by your dog’s reaction. Remember, it should be rewarding and help his confidence to gradually increase.
When you get near his head and ears with the cleaner, make sure you have lots of high value rewards ready and stay calm and confident in your handling of him.
If you have a friend that your Lab knows well and trusts, then you may find it easier to carry out the final stage with them treat-streaming (giving a continuous row of small treats) whilst you do the cleaning. Thus distracting him as you look after his ears.
Getting help with cleaning your Labradors ears
Labradors are generally healthy dogs, but their ears can be a problem area so it’s important to stay on top of your dogs ear health with regular checks and cleaning when necessary.
If you have any doubts about how to care for your Labradors ears, or if your Labrador is showing any symptoms of infection or ear discomfort, then please contact your local vet for advice.
Don’t be tempted to leave it to see if it will get better on it’s own, as untreated ear infection can be both painful and serious, even leading to deafness.
Remember to ask for help from a friend or family member, and have a regular routine for caring for your dog’s ears so that you don’t forget.
More information on puppies
The Happy Puppy Handbook covers every aspect of life with a small puppy.
The book will help you prepare your home for the new arrival, and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialisation and early obedience.
The Happy Puppy Handbook is available worldwide.