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Dog Ear Infections: Signs and Causes, Remedies, and How to Clean Dog Ears

James Livingood has been a dog sitter for several years. He has written numerous articles and a book about the topic because he loves dogs.

Treating Dog Ear Infections

Treating Dog Ear Infections

Home Remedies for Cleaning Dog Ears

Have you ever wondered if excessive ear scratching is a sign that your dog has an ear infection? What other signs can you look for that point to your hound's ears hurting? What can you do to help your pooch feel better? How could you have prevented an infection through regular cleaning?

In this article, I go through all of these questions and more. In addition, I have a wonderful video at the end to help clarify any additional questions that you may have.

Signs of an Ear Infection in a Dog

A recent study dictated that 20% of all dogs contract some ear-related condition in their lifetime. This is credited primarily to the shape of their ear canal and internal anatomy. Though these conditions might not be fatal, the overall process can still be quite painful for your pet.

In this segment, we’ll address the major symptoms that indicate an ear infection in canines. Note that some of these may exist alone or simultaneously, which is why it’s best that you acquaint yourself with all of these symptoms.

Learn how to identify the signs of an ear infection in dogs.

Learn how to identify the signs of an ear infection in dogs.

Excessive Scratching of the Ears

The first telltale sign of discomfort in dogs is excessive scratching of the ears. Just like how humans are susceptible to irritation and feel the need to scratch, dogs are also subject to that stimulus. If you find your dog scratching their ears more often than normal, something clearly isn’t right. While it could be related to allergies, it could also be a result of an ear infection or the early signs of one.

Dark Discharge

Subtle, dark discharge also indicates a potential ear infection because pus is often released periodically when bacteria accumulates near the ear canal. Note that this dark discharge can also smell bad and might serve as a carrier for the infection.

Redness/Swelling of the Ear Canal

Redness and swelling will be visible and quite apparent. If the ear canal seems redder than normal, this may indicate an infection. It’s better to be safe than sorry—so always act accordingly. You'll want to intervene before the symptoms progress and get much worse.

Crusting/Scabs in the Ear

Excessive scratching can lead to minor lacerations in the ear. During the healing process, scabs are formed, and when a dog uses its nails to scratch, they continue to irritate the tissue. If you find scabs or crusted skin in the ear, know that this likely resulted from excessive scratching, which ultimately hints toward an infection.

Shaking of the Head

Dogs shake their heads a lot to alleviate the discomfort of an ear infection or to try to get rid of the itch. Though this might bring momentary relief, it is a perpetual cycle that can leave your dog feeling tired and lethargic.

Ear infections can make a dog miserable.

Ear infections can make a dog miserable.

What Causes Ear Infections?

Most ear infections are caused by bacteria and yeast. Here are a few things that you should watch out for in dogs that might be a source of infection down the road:

Excessive Cleaning

Excessive cleaning and grooming may lead to direct exposure of the skin to bacteria. Cleaning your dog's ears regularly is important, but cleaning too frequently can upset the skin's natural balance and leave it susceptible to bacteria.

Autoimmune Disorders

Autoimmune disorders can leave dogs susceptible to all sorts of ailments, including a proliferation of yeast or bacteria in the ear and skin conditions that trigger inflammation in the body. Dogs with autoimmune disorders get sick more than usual and are more susceptible to immune-related conditions.


Moisture literally allows for bacteria and yeast to proliferate in the ear canal. If your dog is a water dog and often likes to jump, swim, or get wet, they will need to be watched closely for any signs of infection. Keeping the ears dry during bathing is important as well.


The actual anatomy of a dog's ear can make it susceptible to infection. Dogs with long, floppy ears often suffer from an excessive entrapment of moisture in the ear canal. Dogs with prick or pin-point ears are at risk of debris entering the canal because there is no protective flap. The issues vary depending on the dog's inheritable traits.

Oregano oil is a popular antibacterial.

Oregano oil is a popular antibacterial.

Dog Ear Infection Remedies

If you share your house with a canine, then I’m sure you’re willing to do your best to prevent any sort of bad thing happening to them. Generally speaking, dogs are highly susceptible to ear infections. The good news, however, is that they can be resolved.

Safety Precautions

It is highly advised that you refer to a veterinarian for severe cases or chronic infections, as these will worsen over time. Neglecting to treat your dog's ear infection can result in them going deaf. In addition, scar tissue can build up which can lead to recurrent infections or even hematomas.

Never pour or put any liquid inside your dog's ear if you cannot confirm that the eardrum is intact. Doing so may cause them severe pain and can result in deafness. The remedies mentioned below should only be used around the external part of the ear or on the underside of the pinna. Vet-approved formulas are to be only used inside the canal.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a great antibacterial and anti-fungal. This remedy is to be used for about five to seven days.

  1. Place two spoons of coconut oil in a pan and heat it on low until it is in liquid form. Let it cool down.
  2. Dip cotton balls into the liquid coconut oil and massage it into the pinna of the ear. This is great for soothing irritated skin.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is great for cleaning the external portion of the ear. It should not be used inside the ear canal because it can drive debris deeper into the canal. This remedy is great for mild applications but is not recommended for severe cases. Remember that undiluted hydrogen peroxide is cytotoxic, so always dilute it.

  1. Mix H202 and water in equal quantities before use.
  2. Once mixed, use a cotton swab and dip it gently into the combination.
  3. Proceed to apply it to the external parts of the ear and under the pinna for the gentle cleaning of debris.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which is beneficial for removing debris; it is also responsible for killing bacteria and yeast.

  1. Mix apple cider vinegar equally with distilled water.
  2. Proceed to soak cotton balls in the mixture and apply it to clean the infected region.

Caution: Watch out for any signs of redness, scabs, or open wounds as this can sting. If you see tissue irritation, using apple cider vinegar might be a bit too painful for your dog.

Oregano Oil

Oregano oil is a great antibiotic that is shown to be effective against ear infections. However, make sure that you never use oregano oil undiluted. This can lead to major skin irritation.

  1. The best way to go about using oregano oil is by mixing a drop of oregano oil with half an ounce of vet-approved aloe-based topical.
  2. Dip a cotton ball into the combination and apply it gently to the affected region. Repeat this process for a week for the best results.

Only a Veterinarian Can Prescribe Treatments for an Ear Infection

It’s highly advised that you take your dog to a vet to address chronic or severe ear infections and issues. Either way, we hope that the aforementioned remedies can help you through your tough times and give your canine relief. Always make sure that you follow the instructions and never forget to dilute the product you are working with.

A dog licking on another dog's ear.

A dog licking on another dog's ear.

How to Clean Your Dog's Ears

Ears are delicate organs, so it is extremely important to take care of them and clean them, especially when it comes to dogs because dogs can't vocalize their pain directly and some dogs tend to be extremely stoic.

Dogs also frequently suffer from ear problems because many people don't pay much attention to them. Here we will talk about how to properly clean your dogs' ears.

4 Tips for Cleaning Your Dog's Ears

1. Clean weekly to monthly, depending on the ear type

Check with your veterinarian to determine your dog's condition. Make sure that he or she doesn't have a painful infection or any eardrum damage before you begin with the process. The best way to prevent this situation is to take safety measures before you start—see your vet to make sure there is nothing more serious going on. It is recommended that you purchase a vet-approved ear-cleaning solution for weekly and monthly cleanings.

2. Try a homemade solution

If you are not prescribed a cleaning solution, then you may consider a homemade cleaner for the outside of the ear. A properly diluted vinegar and water combination is the safest option for animals. Avoid alcohol or hydrogen peroxide because it can cause more harm than good. A regular cleaning will prevent bacteria from growing in your dog's ears, but you need to use only a little at a time; otherwise, it can be irritating for your dog.

3. Use positive reinforcement throughout the process

Make sure that the process is not painful for your dog and that the process is a good experience for them. Try giving him or her their favorite treat so that they can associate the process with something delicious and special. Never experiment on your pet and always make sure that the procedure is painless.

4. Distract your dog while cleaning

Sometimes reinforcement is not enough and your dog will be resistant to the process, so try distracting your dog at times like this. Get creative and try different ways to distract your furry friend. Offer them cheese or anything that they love to eat so you can clean the ears while he or she is busy eating and distracted.

When in Doubt, Talk to Your Vet

If you keep regular tabs on your dog's health, then you don't have to worry about infections or inflammation. In case you and your dog are faced with such a situation, then there are always two ways to treat it: natural remedies or medication. If you are choosing to go with remedies, then you should know the symptoms and signs of infection and have it diagnosed by your vet before proceeding.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2019 James Livingood