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4 Home Remedies for Dog Ear Infections (Natural Treatments)

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

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Has your dog been rubbing its head on your couches, scratching repeatedly at its ears, or have a funky odor when up close? These are some of the first signs of an ear infection, one of the most common ailments a dog can develop. Especially for breeds with long, floppy ears, ear ailments and infections can become a real nuisance that may come back for a multitude of reasons. In addition to being a recurring issue, some dogs do not respond to traditional medication.

When modern medicine isn’t working it is very important to know that food allergies can manifest as recurrent ear inflammation, these cases might present with secondary microbial infection but do not have a microbial primary cause and the only real solution is to identify the allergen and stop feeding it to your dog.

If you know your dog is suffering an ear infection, you might wish to turn to natural alternatives. From over-the-counter ear washes to natural ingredients found at home, there are a few ways to tackle your dog’s ear infection if nothing else has worked. There are many natural ingredients that have antifungal, antibacterial, and other healing properties. While they are natural, some can still be irritating. However, if the infection is caught in time, home remedies can be a great solution without spending hundreds on prescription medicine.

NOTE: Home remedies can be safe but should only be used in mild cases of infections. If your dog has multiple symptoms and the infection worsens, seek veterinary care immediately. Untreated infections rarely “go away” and need to be treated to prevent permanent damage to the ears.

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What is a Dog Ear Infection?

An ear infection in a dog is similar to a human ear infection, in which one or more parts of the ear canal is infected and inflamed. Typically caused by bacteria or yeast, an ear infection is also diagnosed by its location: Otitis Externa, Otitis Media, and Otitis Interna.

Otitis Externa, which causes inflammation in the external part of the ear canal, is the most common of the three ear infection diagnoses. It’s also considered the easiest of the three locations to treat but can become a recurring issue. Otitis Externa is not necessarily an emergency hospital trip but should be seen by a vet within a day or two of symptoms arising.

Otitis Media and Otitis Interna, which infect the middle and inner ear canal, are much more serious and can cause permanent damage if left untreated. Both Media and Interna infections can lead to permanent deafness and other side effects if left untreated, so we recommend seeing a veterinarian as soon as possible.

You should be aware of the fact that in order for ears infection remedies and treatments to work, the ears should first be properly cleaned, once all wax and debris are removed the treatments can reach the infection site and start working.

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The 4 Home Remedies for Dog Ear Infections

1. Witch Hazel

Witch hazel Hamamelis virginiana is an excellent solution for ear infections. This plant has anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties, it helps to heal and soothe skin irritations and it makes an excellent ear cleaner for dogs. Simply soak a cotton ball with distilled witch hazel water and carefully squeeze out a few drops into the ear canal, gently massage, and remove any debris with the cotton ball, repeat as needed until the cotton ball is clear and you have removed all debris from your dog’s ears.

2. Water & Apple Cider Vinegar

Organic, unrefined, all-natural Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is a popular household item that can help fight and prevent ear infections. Add only a small capful of ACV to 2 cups water and stir. For an ear infection, gently pour a small amount of the mixture into the canal and massage the ears. Then take a cotton ball and gently absorb as much as you can. For preventative care, simply clean the outer ears with the same mixture and apply it with a cotton ball.

hand pouring solution in dog's ear
Image credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock

3. Coconut Oil

Coconut Oil seems like it’s on everyone’s list, from diets to healing salves. Coconut oil is known for its antifungal and antibacterial properties, so it’s a great item to have on hand if your dog tends to get ear infections. Similar to Apple Cider Vinegar, it can also be used to prevent them, too. For infections, carefully apple 1–2 drops of melted (WARM, not hot!) coconut oil directly into the ear. For preventing infections, simply apply coconut oil to the outer ear with a cotton ball.

4. Green Tea

Green Tea is widely considered to be one of the most beneficial ingredients for natural healing, available virtually anywhere. Green Tea can help soothe pain and discomfort, which is great for dog owners who can’t get to the vet right away. Bring water to the brink of boiling and add a bag of organic green tea to the water. Steep for 5 minutes and set aside to cool. Place 3–5 drops into the infected ear and massage into the canal.

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Signs of an Ear Infection

While there are health conditions that rarely show symptoms, dogs usually have telltale signs of an ear infection. Most of these symptoms show up quite early, which is especially important for Otitis Media and Interna diagnoses. Here are the most common symptoms of an ear infection:

  • Head tilting
  • Whimpering/vocalization
  • Scratching at the ear
  • Redness around the outer ear
  • Constant head shaking
  • “Cheesy” or pungent odor
  • Excessive wax buildup
  • Dark or crusty discharge
  • Equilibrium issues
  • Rubbing head/ears on carpet or furniture
  • Anxiety or Aggression when ears are touched

It can be hard to tell if your dog has the common Otitis Externa infection or if it’s more serious. Dogs with Otitis Media/Externa tend to show more signs of pain, dizziness, and balance issues rather than scratching and rubbing. However, some dogs are excellent at masking pain and may have underlying conditions that are causing the infections.

Dog Ear Checkup
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Other Types of Ear Problems

There are other ear ailments that can seem like an ear infection, with similar symptoms to make the diagnosis a little harder:

Ear Mites – Ear mites are tiny parasites that invade the ear canal and eat the wax or buildup in your dog’s ear. Ear mites cause extreme itching and irritation, but they’re easy to diagnose due to their movement. Puppies and dogs with recurring ear infections are most prone to them, but any dog can become an unfortunate host to these creepy arachnids.

Loose Hair in Inner Canal – If you’ve ever had something stuck deep in your own ear, just imagine how frustrating it would be for your dog. If there’s loose hair or fiber deeply lodged in your dog’s ear canal, they will show ear infection symptoms without the odor or discharge. Although it may seem harmless, a single hair can damage the eardrum and needs to be removed by a vet immediately.

Hair Growth in Inner Canal – Sometimes hair will grow deep in the inner ear canal, causing your dog to itch and rub its ears against the floor relentlessly. Unless your dog is showing signs of discomfort, leaving the hair alone is fine. If your dog is irritated, your vet can help remove the offending hairs.

Swimmer’s Ear – Not only is swimmer’s ear a problem with humans, but it can also cause serious discomfort in your dog as well. Swimmer’s ear is when water is trapped in the ear canal, which can lead to Otitis Externa. To prevent swimmer’s ear, keep your dog’s ears clean and dry them as soon as they’re out of the water.

When to Go to the Vet’s Office

If your dog is showing any symptoms of an infection or abnormal behavior, consult with your veterinarian for treatment options. The earlier it is diagnosed, the less expensive it will be. Ear infections can worsen over time, causing more complex conditions to treat and may even lead to permanent hearing loss.

While some dogs are usually cured with one treatment, other dogs may have chronic ear infections. This is usually due to underlying conditions that may not be obvious, such as food or pollen allergies, or undiagnosed medical conditions causing your dog’s immunity to be compromised.  Your vet will have the tools and testing available to diagnose the problem, so it’s crucial that your dog sees your vet as soon as possible if the infections keep coming back.

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Final Thoughts

Ear infections can be painful for your dog, especially if the infection is severe or deep in the ear canal. While traditional medication is usually the first treatment, most home remedies can help prevent them from happening in the first place. However, it’s still important to consult with your veterinarian if you think your dog has an ear infection. Keeping your dog’s ears clean and free of debris is very important both for prevention and treatment. For minor infections and irritation or preventative care, a home remedy is all you need to give your dog relief.

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