For some dogs, ear infections can be an ongoing issue. The summer months especially can see repeated infections within a few weeks of each other. Dogs with long ears or those who love swimming can be at a higher risk of ear infections.
After a few visits to the veterinarian for ear infections, you may start to wonder if this is something you can treat at home and avoid the travel, time, and expense of vet care. It’s natural to want to be able to help your dog from home, especially if you prefer the more natural remedies for your dog’s ear infections.
What Causes Dog Ear Infections?
Ear infections originate from a build-up of bacteria, yeast, or a combination of both. These tiny microbes occur naturally in the ear and in small amounts cause no harm. However, when allowed to multiply and grow, they cause painful infections within a few days.
What Are the Signs of Ear Infections in Dogs?
- Pink or red skin on the hairless part of the ear
- Brown, gray, white, or green discharge
- Bleeding, crusts, or scabs on the ear
- Persistent scratching at the ear
- A strong smell from in the ear
- Crying or vocalizing when the ear is touched
- Holding the head to one side, or one ear dropped down.
What Can I Do at Home to Help My Dog?
Treating dog ear infections at home involves more than just putting drops into the ear. We also need to prevent further injury and damage to the sensitive ear structures.
Choose a Suitable Cone
The dreaded cone of shame will protect your dog’s ears from injury through scratching or rubbing. Ear infections are itchy so it’s a natural urge for dogs to scratch the ear. Scratching soothes the itch for a while, but over time it will make things worse. If your pet doesn’t like the feel of a plastic cone, try a softer fabric or inflatable collars instead.
Trim Their Nails
Trim your dog’s nails short. Self-trauma from scratching at an itchy ear can make the problem much worse. By keeping your dog’s nails short, you will reduce the amount of damage the nail will do to the skin of the ear.
Use a Dog Ear Cleaner
If your dog’s ear is not too painful, you can use a dog ear cleaner to help remove wax build-up. Place a small amount into the ear and gently massage the base of the ear canal. Use a damp cotton ball to remove any discharge that is around the entrance to the ear canal. You can repeat this daily for up to five days. If you clean the ears too often it can strip them of their natural protective coating and increase the risk of infection in the ear.
Consider Any Other Issues
When considering home treatment for ear infections it’s important to treat your dog’s other issues at the same time as they may be related. If your dog has skin allergies you will need to keep on top of these. Weekly bathing with a pet-safe soothing shampoo like oatmeal can help wash yeasts, pollens, and bacteria from the skin.
Skin supplements or prescription diets can increase the integrity of the skin structure and lower the chances of skin and ear infections if they are related to allergies. Talk to a veterinarian for advice on the underlying cause of the ear infections before starting diets or supplement trials. This can help save money in the long run!
What Natural Remedies Are Helpful to Treat Ear Infections Without a Vet Visit?
Natural remedies for ear infections are olive oil, hydrogen peroxide, apple cider vinegar, and essential oils. But we do not recommend ever using these products in your dog’s ear! While they are natural this doesn’t mean they are safe. If there is damage to the eardrum, these fluids will pass through into the middle ear and have the potential to cause pain and further infection.
While hydrogen peroxide has antibacterial properties and has been used for decades as an ear cleaning solution, there are now much safer alternatives available. Hydrogen peroxide fizzes when entering the ear, which can be painful and unexpected for dogs. The hydrogen peroxide is converted to water after the fizzing reaction, leaving water in the ear canal. Water is the perfect environment for bacterial growth.
Olive oil is used to break down the wax in the ear. When left in the ear it creates a moist environment and a food source for bacteria to grow, so is not recommended. It also has no antibacterial properties so will not treat infection, and can cause tummy upset if ingested.
Essential oils can be toxic to dogs even in small quantities and have no antibacterial or antifungal action. Never add these to homemade ear solutions or shampoos.
What About Leftover Medication From a Previous Vet Visit?
It can be tempting to use leftover ear medications to treat a new ear infection without a visit to the veterinarian. Never use leftover ointments or drugs as some medications can be toxic if the eardrum has been damaged.
How to Treat Painful Ear Infections at Home?
Severe infections cannot be treated at home. These need prescription medication to treat the infection and pain your dog is feeling. Remember there are other causes of ear infections such as mites, or foreign material stuck in the ear, which will not resolve with natural remedies at home. A vet visit is always needed in these cases.
How Can I Prevent Ear Infections in My Dog?
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure! A daily check of your dog’s ears will help pick up the signs early. Using an ear cleaner once a week will reduce wax build-up. Always use a pet-specific ear cleaner and never put cotton tips into the ear as this can risk damaging the eardrum.
If your dog enjoys swimming, dry his ear canal region when you get home with cotton balls.
If you are worried about an infection in your dog’s ears find a veterinarian who can help.