Cocker Spaniel ready to have ears cleaned

How to Clean Cocker Spaniel Ears: Expert Advice

Cockers have gorgeous, long, floppy ears, so knowing how to clean Cocker Spaniel ears is incredibly important. As a Cocker Spaniel mom of over 30 years, I understand clean ears lessen the likelihood of ear infections. 

There is a right way and a wrong way to clean a Cocker Spaniel’s ears. We’ve got you covered with expert advice from Dr. Julie E. Miller, DVM, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, and our successes in cleaning Cocker Spaniel ears for over 30+ years. 

Like people, the anatomy of each dog’s ears is slightly different. Some Cockers have small or narrow ear canals, others swim a lot and are prone to infections, but some Cockers rarely have ear issues thanks to a good diet, genetics, and pet parent upkeep.

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How To Clean Cocker Spaniel Ears: An Overview

Make sure you start with clean hands and the right ear-cleaning product. There are literally thousands of ear-cleaning solutions on the market. Some are superior, others not so much. Some are designed for drying the ear, while others work best at preventing yeast or mild bacterial solutions. More about the best types of ear cleaners for Cocker Spaniels shortly.

Generally speaking, here’s what to look for in an ear cleaner for your dog by function: 

  • Preventing yeast or bacterial infections: Salicylic acid and lactic acid with their antimicrobial properties
  • Itching: Hydrocortisone
  • Antifungal treatment: Ketoconazole

Cleaning Cocker Spaniel Ears Step-by-Step Guide

If you haven’t had your Cocker Spaniel’s ears examined by a veterinarian with an otoscope in months, it’s best to make an appointment. You’ll want to start with ears that are free of infection and don’t have a foul smell. 

During a recent webinar, I attended with DVM360, veterinary dermatologist Dr. Julie Miller, DVM, explained how she encountered some dogs with raging ear infections at Cornell. 

Clients have said to me, “Oh, I’m cleaning his [my dog’s] ear,” Dr. Miller shares. “And I ask the client to show me how they do it.”

Oftentimes, the pet parent admits to squirting a bit of the cleaner on cotton swabs and wiping the outer ear canal with it. She explains this is incorrect, as pet parents must fill the canal with the ear cleanser, allow the dog to shake their head, and even do it again. 

“Do it twice if you need to is what I tell clients,” she admits.

Here’s how I clean my Cocker Spaniel’s ears, which is also Dr. Miller’s best recommendation:

how to clean a Cocker Spaniel ears step by step

Step One: Make sure the ear cleaner is at room temperature. You don’t want to terrorize your dog with a cold solution into their ears. 

Pick an area outside or in your residence where there aren’t valuable things or white rugs around, as your dog will be shaking their head. 

Pro Tip: It’s a good idea to use a towel over the ear and back of the head while your Cocker shakes their head can be helpful, too. 

Step Two: Hold one ear flap back and upwards as you fill the ear canal with the solution. 

Dr. Miller reminds pet parents not to shove the tip of the bottle down into the ear canal, compress it, and then open the bottle back up. What happens is all the bacteria gets pulled up back into the cleaner. 

“I’ve had some clients bring me cleaners that when I took the top off, I was shocked at the grossness inside the bottle of cleaner,” she says. 

Step Three: Hold the ear flap up so the cleanser does not leak out of the ear canal. Gently massage the base of your Cocker’s ear near the head to work the cleanser into the deeper parts of their ear canal.

Debris may start to surface. Massage the base of the ear for about 15 to 30 seconds and allow your Cocker Spaniel to shake their head. Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions as to how long to allow the ear cleaner inside the ear, as some may need to stay a bit longer. 

Step Four: Use a clean cotton ball or other soft material to remove debris and dirt floating to the canal’s top. Don’t put any swabs or other materials into your dog’s ear canal, as you can harm them. 

Step Five: Inspect the ear canal and repeat the process upon seeing debris or dirt. Do not overclean your Cocker’s ears, as excessive frequent ear cleaning can cause issues and lead to more problems. 

Follow the same process for the other ear. 

Want to print a copy of the instructions? Here’s the step-by-step download.

Cautions When Cleaning Your Cocker Spaniel’s Ears

See veterinary intervention if your dog’s ear canals are red/inflamed or appear swollen. If your dog is in pain, is sensitive to having their ears handled, or seems uncomfortable, make a veterinary visit. 

Dr. Miller urges pet parents to avoid trauma to the dog’s ear. For some clients, she finds using a syringe is more helpful with ear cleaners.

“Follow your veterinarian’s orders as to how much cleaner to squirt in the ear,” Dr. Miller reports. “With a syringe, you can squirt the appropriate amount of mL’s into the ear, massage it, allow the dog to shake its head, and repeat.”

If your dog has an ear infection and an ear cleaner is used in conjunction, follow your veterinarian’s orders. 

Dr. Miller makes sure to know what type of problem she is dealing with. For example, is it moisture? A wax buildup? Biofilm?

“I don’t often reach for acidic cleaners because they may inactive aminoglycosides and fluoroquinolones, she shares. “If I am using an EDTA-containing product, I should use them 15 to 30 minutes before ear medications.”

Pro Tip: Dr. Miller says one of the main reasons for pet outer ear infections is allergies. The ear canal is ideal for infections and microbial overgrowth due to increased extra moisture, temperature, and lack of cleaning.

Best Ear Cleaners For Cocker Spaniels 

With so many dog ear cleaners on the market, Dr. Miller shares some of her favorite products she reaches for time and again. 

“I love the Zymox Plus OTIC line and am obsessed with it,” she says. “The PLUS line has anti-biofilm enzymes, it is not inactivated by organic debris like pus, and it only needs to be used once a day as a cleaner and treatment all in one.”

When my second Cocker Spaniel had a severe ear infection, his internal medicine veterinarian recommended Zymox Plus OTIC with 0.5% hydrocortisone. It is not a cleanser, but rather a cleaner and treatment all in one.

Dr. Miller is amazed by the many very difficult ear cases she’s treated that have cleared up using Zymox Plus OTIC. I always have this product on hand because it is available without a prescription. 

For Cocker Spaniels whose ears clear up with Zymox Plus OTIC, Dr. Miller likes the Zymox Otic with 1% hydrocortisone for maintenance. 

ear cleaners for Cocker Spaniels

She advises not all ear cleaners and treatments are the same. Your Cocker Spaniel’s ear cleaner should keep the canal clean of debris, wax, yeast, and more. A build up of any of these can lead to a yeast infection, bacterial infection, or even hearing loss. 

Good News: ZYMOX Plus received outstanding results in a 2022 study published in the Polish Journal of Veterinary Science.

I clean the ears of Alvin, my Cocker Spaniel, on a regular basis once a week. I alternate between Zymox LP3 enzymatic ear cleanser and Dechra TrizULTRA Plus Keto Flush on the recommendation of his veterinarian. 

The American-made Zymox LP3 enzymatic ear cleanser contains no harsh chemicals or irritants. I love that it is gentle, non-stinging, and uses an enzymatic system. I’ve been using and recommending Zymox products on my Cocker Spaniels for many years. 

The TrizULTRA Keto Flush is for dogs prone to infections caused by yeast and bacteria. It is fragrance-free, soothing, non-stinging, and my safe for long-term use. My veterinarian uses it in her dogs, who are active swimmers. I notice the ear is dry quickly after flushing it with this cleanser, which I love. 

Note: Cockers with pus-filled ears or difficult exudative otitis externa cases should be see their veterinarian before using any cleansers or treatments at home. 

Here are a few other ear-cleansing products Dr. Miller shared in her webinar and here is my list of the best ear cleaners for Cocker Spaniels, in addition to the products mentioned above. 

Cleaners for dog ears
Courtesy DVM360 webinar

What If My Dog Hates Ear Cleaning Time?

​Start slowly and make the entire process a positive experience for your Cocker Spaniel. 

​If you adopted or rescued a Cocker, they may not have had good experiences with ear cleaning. A great way to get started is simply to touch and massage the ears without any products nearby. 

Tell your dog what a good pooch they are and use positive reinforcement. 

​As noted, make sure when you do start the ear cleaning process that the cleaner is at room temperature. Don’t keep the product behind a door that squeaks or in a noisy cabinet. Dogs can sense when something is brewing. 

Get your Cocker used to being handled. If you have a Cocker Spaniel puppy, start them young with a regular cleaning routine. 

The first time you clean your pup’s ears will set the tone for what comes after. Act like they just won Best in Show and reward with praise, treats, etc. 

Patience is crucial. Never yell at or scold your dog. 

If your Cocker’s aversion to ear cleaning persists, talk to your veterinarian if something else is going on like an infection or mass in the ear. 

Your Cocker depends on you for regular ear cleaning. The most important thing you can do for your furry friend is to trim excess hair, keep the canals clean, and use an ear wash that keeps everything clean and free of infection. 

What’s a favorite product or tip you have for keeping your dog’s ears clean? We’re all ears in the comments below.

Cheers to clean ears!

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