Remedies for Dog Ear Infections

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on November 17, 2022
3 min read

Many pets are prone to ear infections — especially those with long, floppy ears. Because of this, many dog owners are familiar with the symptoms of dog ear infections. Common symptoms of dog ear infections include:

  • Excessive itching and scratching at the ear
  • Head shaking, particularly when it looks awkward or unnatural
  • Swelling and redness around the ear canal
  • Unusual discharge and odor
  • Scabs or crusted over the skin in the ears

The ear canal of dogs is much more vertical than the human ear canal. This L-shape makes it more susceptible to holding fluid and disruption from bacteria, yeast, or ear mites — all of which are causes of infection. There are three types of dog ear infections:

  • Otitis externa, the most common one that typically affects the outer portion of the ear
  • Otitis media, affecting the middle part of the ear canal and usually a secondary development in up to 50% of chronic otitis externa cases
  • Otitis interna, referring to inner ear infections that can result in neurological damage

Dog ear infections can be a serious condition, which may result in hearing loss or facial paralysis. These serious complications make it imperative to prevent infection and seek treatment as soon as symptoms arise in your pet.

Caring for and managing dog ear infections involve cleaning, medication, and aftercare.

Up to 16.5% of dogs will experience at least otitis externa, and complications may involve further development into more serious dog ear infections. Fortunately, there are straightforward steps you can take to alleviate symptoms and minimize the severity of such infections in your dog.

Immediate Care

Once your vet has determined the severity and type of ear infection your dog is experiencing, they will clean your dog’s ear thoroughly to remove debris, discharge, and ear wax. They may use a medicated ear cleaner or apply a topical medication.

In more severe cases, the vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications or oral antibiotics for your pet.

Long-Term Care

Your vet will likely prescribe a topical medication to your dog. It is important for you to carefully follow your veterinarian’s exact directives and instructions. You may make the application process easier by:

  • Keeping your dog relaxed with affection and treats.
  • Relying on a partner's help to hold and comfort your pet while you apply medication to the ear.
  • Ensuring that you place the applicator safely outside of the dog’s ear when dispensing medication.
  • Gently massaging the medication into the affected area.

Always finish the full course of the medication, even if your pet seems to be feeling better. Lapses or errors in treatment can prolong your pup’s illness.

Maintenance and Prevention

Whether it’s to prevent an infection from starting or to manage the healing of a dog ear infection that’s already in progress, ear cleaning is an important part of your dog’s hygiene. Cleaning your dog’s ears can:

  • Make it easier for you to examine your dog’s ear canal
  • Remove microbes and other small foreign objects that may cause dog ear infections
  • Clean and expose the ear canal for possible topical medication applications

Ear infections are often caused by excess moisture. Take care to thoroughly dry your dog’s ears after a swim or a bath. If your dog experiences chronic infections, talk to your vet about underlying causes such as allergies. 

Managing your dog’s hygiene is an effective way to prevent future ear infections. Clean your dog’s ears by:

  • Gently wiping the ear with an absorbent gauze. Never use a washcloth or paper towel.
  • Avoiding cotton swabs, which can push debris deeper into your dog’s ear. 
  • Cleaning the external portions of your dog’s ears.

For many dogs, ear infections are a recurring problem. Be proactive about keeping your dog’s ears clean and dry to prevent future ear-related health issues.

As soon as you notice symptoms of an ear infection in your faithful friend, you should contact your veterinarian. Prompt and proactive treatment will ensure your dog’s comfort and happiness.