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Whether it’s itchy ears, constant head shaking, a funky smell or discharge that doesn’t seem to go away, ear infections are one of the primary reasons people take their dogs to the vet.
If a full-blown infection takes hold in the ear canal, only a veterinary prescribed antibiotic can get rid of it. However, if the ear infection has just started, some pet parents turn to at-home treatments to resolve a mild infection. Here’s everything you need to know about treating a dog ear infection from home.
Many dogs are vulnerable to ear infections, especially breeds with long, hanging ears like Basset Hounds or Cocker Spaniels. With an estimated 20% of dogs developing some form of ear disease, dogs tend to be especially prone to infections. This is partially due to the shape of their ear canal — the long, L-shape of the canal traps debris more easily, leading to infections.
When dirt and dead skin cells build up inside the ear, it can create a breeding ground for bacteria and yeast. If left untreated, an ear infection can be distressing for any dog. In severe cases, it can lead to significant hearing loss.
Excess moisture in a dog’s ear — from swimming, bathing, or humidity — can also create an environment where bacteria and yeast can grow. Other factors, like genetics or sensitivity to allergens, can predispose a dog to ear infections.
Some dogs may show few ear infection symptoms, besides a buildup of discharge in the ear canal and mild discomfort. But other dogs may display more disruptive symptoms.
A dog with an ear infection might show signs like:
Sensitivity to touch
Odor coming from the ears
Waxy discharge from the ear
Red or warm ears
Crusty, red, or irritated skin inside the ear flap
Any of these symptoms can be the first sign that something may be wrong. Pet parents can chat with a member of the online vet team 24/7 through the Fuzzy Vet Chat for recommendations on home care, treatment, or hands-on dog care with an experienced groomer for preventive or mild issues or vet for chronic or medically severe cases.
The good news is that any pet parent can take steps to prevent canine ear infections.
The first is to keep the ears as clean as possible. Regular dog ear cleaning with a medicated solution every one to two weeks can clear any dirt and bacteria buildup.
For dogs often swimming or bathing, it’s important to clean their ears after exposure to water. Pet owners can also place a cotton ball at the ear’s opening when bathing to prevent moisture from getting inside and remove it once bathtime is complete.
Regular grooming around the ear can prevent recurring infections if a dog is especially prone to ear infections. Trimming long hairs around the ear canal and on the underside of the ear can help keep the area clean and dry.
Up to 16.5% of dogs may experience an ear infection in their lifetime. If not treated promptly, it could lead to other complications, from recurring infections to hearing loss.
Fortunately, there are a few treatment options to alleviate symptoms and clear up infections of any severity. Here are some dog ear infection treatments you can apply from home:
A veterinarian may prescribe medications for severe dog ear infections. They may prescribe antibiotics, usually in the form of a topical ointment or drops that go directly into the ear. A course of antibiotics could take a few weeks or a few months, depending on the severity of the infection.
Sometimes a secondary oral antibiotic, antifungal, or steroid medication may be prescribed to clear the infection from the inside out.
A medicated ear solution can flush out the inside of the ear, breaking down and dissolving any buildup. For infections ranging from mild to severe, medicated cleansers can be used alongside antibiotics to relieve symptoms.
Some active ingredients you might find in medicated cleansers include:
Salicylic acid and lactic acid, which combat yeast infections or mild bacterial infections
Hydrocortisone, which relieves itchiness and swelling
Ketoconazole, which has antifungal properties
Apple cider vinegar has natural bacterial and fungal-fighting properties, making it a home remedy for ear infections. Mix one part apple cider vinegar with one part water. Then, pour the liquid into the ear canal and massage gently.
While it might not be able to clear a severe infection on its own, it can help reduce itch and discomfort.
Certain types of oil, like coconut oil and olive oil, can soothe irritation, flush out debris, and suffocate ear mites. Both also have hydrating properties to keep the skin healthy. Make sure to warm the oil to skin temperature and apply just a few drops at a time to the dog’s ear.
Calendula extract is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, but it has an antimicrobial effect too. Early studies suggest that it may also accelerate healing, making it a good choice for dogs with raw, irritated skin around the ears.
To use the tincture, dilute several drops in a spoonful of water and then place it in the ear canal using a dropper.
Aloe vera gel can help soothe irritation and discomfort during recovery. This remedy is best applied to the outside of the ear to calm inflammation and redness around the outer canal. Put the gel on a cotton ball and gently massage it around the ear canal.
Ear infections are a common and often recurring issue for many dogs. Depending on the kind of infection, they can cause serious discomfort and pain if left untreated for too long.
Any pet parent can keep their dog’s ears clean, dry, and comfortable with the proper remedies. In some cases, home remedies and over-the-counter ear infection medicine for dogs are enough to resolve the issue. However, if a dog shows signs of a severe infection that won’t go away, always seek dog health advice from a veterinarian.