Ear Infections in Dogs
You have likely clicked on this article because you have noticed your dog has an ear infection and want to treat it yourself. Today, we are going to explain how to treat dog ear infection without vet attention.
However, be warned! The short answer is, you can’t. Not for a serious infection. But read on for some helpful tips that might help prevent an ear infection from developing and stop them from returning.
Should You Treat a Dog Ear Infection At Home?
A true ear infection requires veterinary attention as it can be caused by different things and can cause discomfort, pain, and possible damage to essential ear structures if left untreated.
An inflamed, irritated ear can be managed at home for a short while to see if it can improve. However, if it doesn’t get better, that also warrants a veterinarian trip.
As a veterinarian, I can understand why owners might not want to visit the vet for a dog ear infection. However, veterinarians can be expensive, and if your dog has chronic ear problems, you may need to go back often for more medication, which can be frustrating as it seems like the treatments aren’t working.
However, these visits can be less frequent with appropriate care: looking after your dog’s ears and working to prevent more infections. Also, taking out a pet insurance plan or having money set aside can make the vet visits less financially stressful.
Liquids NEVER to Put in Dog Ears
Many websites will list products that can be used to clean ears or treat ear infections; however, the ear is very sensitive and, not many liquids can be put in dog ears safely. Below is a list of fluids never to put in your dog’s ears:
Vinegar is acidic, which might kill yeast or bacteria, but vinegar is mostly water, which is trapped in the ear and leaves the ear moist, inviting more infection.
Also, if the eardrum has ruptured, which is common with ear infections, the vinegar can reach the middle or inner ear, which houses important nerves. Vinegar that comes into contact with these nerves can cause damage leading to neurological issues, which can be very serious.
Hydrogen peroxide is a weak acid that is mostly water. It bubbles a lot at first, which can make it seem like it’s doing a good job, but once that finishes, the ear is just filled with water, which can lead to infection if there isn’t one already.
Also, like vinegar, hydrogen peroxide can get into the middle or inner ear and damage essential structures. There is no way to know if the eardrum is ruptured by looking at your animal. Instead, a veterinarian needs to look down the ear with an otoscope to confirm the patency of the eardrum.
Rubbing alcohol will be very painful when applied down your dog’s ear and will make them scared to trust you to put any other products near their ears. Therefore, it is not recommended and can make things much worse.
Websites that focus on holistic medicine may suggest tinctures, where a small amount of herb is mixed with water and used to clean the ear. The herbs are unlikely to help or harm, and the water will probably be ok. But there is no benefit to this, and the water that is left in the ear will make the ear canal moist and promote the development of bacteria.
Oils such as coconut and olive are often promoted as being good ear cleaners. While it’s true that oil is unlikely to sting the air, there is no evidence that it helps to clean the ear and can make it difficult for the ear to be cleaned later. Also, if your dog needs to go on antibiotics for the ear, the oil will make it difficult for the ear drops to penetrate and treat the infection.
Shampoo should be avoided because it is too potent for the ear canal and is not designed to clean the ear. Instead, it is safest to use a dog ear cleaner designed for this function.
Natural Home Remedies and Over-the-Counter Dog Ear Medicine
As you may have guessed, most veterinarians do not recommend natural home remedies to clean a dog’s ear canal. This is because they usually do not work, and some can be harmful to the ear canal and internal structures.
However, some over-the-counter dog ear medicines may help. Using a safe ear cleaner can help dry the ear and make the environment inhospitable for bacteria or fungi to proliferate.
How to Clean Dog Ears at Home
Cleaning dog ears is a great way to keep them healthy. This is especially true for dogs with floppy ears as moisture is trapped in them, promoting ear infections to develop. This is the same for dogs that swim a lot.
Cleaning your dog’s ears once a week can promote a healthy, dry environment that is inhospitable for bacteria, helping to prevent ear infections. Also, cleaning your dog’s ears after it swims will help remove excess water and any debris or bacteria that have floated in.
Steps for Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears
Step 1: Gather your tools
Make sure to have everything ready ahead of time to make the process as quick and easy as possible. You will need cotton balls or gauze swabs and an ear-cleaning solution. Take a look at the ones listed above for suitable options.
Your veterinarian may be able to recommend an ear cleaner that is suitable for your dog. However, cotton buds are dangerous and should not be used to clean your dog’s ears.
Step 2: Get your dog in position
Depending on how tolerant your dog is, you may need a helping hand to clean your dog’s ears. The process should not be painful, but you can gently restrain them to help aid the cleaning process if you need to. It could be a good idea to try doing it outside, as it can get messy!
Step 3: Groom the ears
If your dog has very hairy ears, it may be helpful to remove excess hair from inside the ears and around the ear flap and air canal. If you are unsure how to do this, ask a professional for help, either someone at your veterinary clinic or a groomer.
Once the excess hair is removed, this will allow for better airflow into the ear canal. If there is any dirt or wax on the ear flap or around the ear canal, clean this with ear cleaner on a swab.
Step 4: Apply ear wash solution
Point the nozzle of the ear cleaner vertically towards your dog’s ear canal and fill it up with the solution. Use enough solution so that the liquid starts to flow out.
Step 5: Massage the ear
Gently massage the ear to help spread the solution into the ear canal and break down any wax inside the ear canal. Allow your dog a break to shake their head as this can help remove excess wax as it is forced out of the ear.
Step 6: Clean up
Once the ear canal has been flushed, use a swab or cotton ball to wipe the ear and remove any excess wax or ear cleaner that has been pushed out.
Other Don’ts of Dog Ear Cleaning
While ear cleaning is recommended for all dogs and is fairly easy to do, there are some don’ts to be mindful of.
The Don’ts of Ear Cleaning
- Don’t put objects inside the ear canal. It can be dangerous and cause damage and push wax and dirt further inside, making it harder to clean.
- Don’t use anything other than ear cleaner inside the ear. Your dog’s ears are sensitive, and important structures reside in the ear canal. Using caustic liquids or oily substances can damage the ear or promote infection.
- Don’t ignore an inflamed, irritated ear. Don’t ignore it if you notice your dog’s ear is hot, painful, or very waxy. These are signs of an ear infection and should be treated. Unfortunately, ear cleaning is often not enough to resolve diseased ears.
- Don’t do it if it hurts. Ear cleaning can sometimes be painful. If your dog yelps or screams when trying to clean its ears, stop. It is possible you are doing it wrong, or there could be something wrong with the ear. In this instance, it is a good idea to get your pooch examined by a veterinarian to make sure nothing is wrong.
Signs of Ear Infections in Dogs
An infected ear may be very obvious or could be very subtle depending on the dog. Read on to find out signs of ear infections in dogs:
- Head shaking.
- Scratching at the infected ear.
- Dark discharge coming from the ear.
- A strong smell coming from the ear.
- Redness and swelling of the ear.
- The ear feels hot to touch.
- Pain on touching the ear.
- Crusting or scabs in the ears.
- Scabs around the head and neck from scratching.
Types of Dog Ear Infections
There are three defined types of ear infections: otitis externa, otitis media, and internal.
The ear canal is separated into three regions: the external ear canal, the middle ear canal, and the internal ear canal.
The external ear canal is separated from the middle and inner ear by the eardrum, also known as the tympanic membrane. In normal circumstances, the eardrum separates the internal structures of the ear, helping to protect them; it also aids in hearing. However, the eardrum can rupture when an ear is infected, leading to the infection spreading into the internal ear.
When we discuss ear infections, the terms otitis externa, otitis media, and internal differentiate infections in the external, middle, and inner ear canals, respectively.
It can be pretty serious when an infection is in the middle or inner ear canal as vital nerves travel through this space. An infection here can damage these nerves leading to deafness, facial paralysis, and vestibular issues, which can be permanent. A veterinarian can confirm if the eardrum has ruptured by looking down the ear using an instrument called an otoscope.
How are Dog Ear Infections Treated?
Your veterinarian will treat ear infections depending on the organism invading the ear. For example, bacteria, yeast, ear mites, and fungi can proliferate in the ear, leading to an infection. Each of these requires specific treatment, and this is why it is essential to have your dog’s ear infection treated by a veterinarian who will tailor the treatment to your dog.
Most commonly, ear drops will be prescribed, but occasionally other treatments such as sedated cleaning, further diagnostics, or oral medicines may be required to manage your dog’s ear infection.
Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs
Ear infections can be caused by many things. Genetically some dogs may be predisposed to ear infections due to confirmation of the ear canal. Dogs with floppy ears are more prone to developing ear infections because the ear canal is closed off, which allows moisture to build up.
Allergies are a common cause of ear infection, allergies to food, or environmental allergens that can lead to inflammation in the ear canal, which makes the ear canal sensitive to bacterial and yeast proliferation.
Dog ear mites live in the environment and can take root in your dog’s ear when they brush past them through long grass, for example.
Swimming can lead to ear infections as moisture is a breeding ground for bacteria to proliferate.
Ways to Prevent Canine Ear Infections
Regular cleaning with a dog ear cleaning solution can help keep the ear clean and dry, which can help prevent infection from taking hold; this is especially important after swimming. Also, in some cases, medicines to help manage allergies can help prevent ear infections. Your veterinarian will discuss these with you if they think they might help your pet.
Your veterinarian may recommend a diet change if they suspect your dog is allergic to certain proteins in your dog’s diet.
The Long-Term Approach to Dog Ear Infection
Repeated ear infections can be frustrating to manage. Dogs with chronic ear problems may require many courses of medicine to try to control the infections. Having a referral to a skin specialist may help resolve or manage ear infections, but even with their increased knowledge, it may not always resolve.
When ears are at the “end-stage,” i.e., there is irreversible damage, your veterinarian may recommend surgery to try to help the ear. These salvage procedures can give your dog a lot of comfort and help eliminate or significantly reduce the impact of ear infections.
These surgeries can provide significant relief to dogs that have suffered from ear problems for too long. Owners will often report their dog acts “puppy-like” as they enjoy a more pain-free existence.
As you have learned, ear infections are complex and require veterinary attention to treat. Preventing ear infections is the best thing owners can do. This can be done by regularly cleaning your dog’s ears with an ear cleaner solution, administering allergy medicine, or changing your dog’s diet as your veterinarian recommends.
When your dog’s ears are not getting better, referral to a specialist or surgery may be required to resolve their problems.
Helen is a small animal veterinarian from New Zealand. Animals have always been a big passion of hers and working with them is a dream come true. In her spare time Helen loves traveling to exotic locations and volunteering her time and skills to help animals around the world. Education is a
passion of hers and she is excited to be able to contribute to I Love Veterinary to inform passionate animal-lovers around the world.