How to Treat a Dog's Ear Infection When You Can't See a Vet
The Dreaded Ear Infection
I was pretty lucky with my previous dogs because they never had any issues with their ears. This all changed when I got my Golden Retriever, Marvin, and my Labrador Retriever, Cooper. They both have those cute, floppy ears. Little did I know that having floppy ears predisposes them to ear infections. The floppy ear doesn't allow air to circulate, so moisture increases and, therefore, bacterial and yeast infections are common.
When I saw Marvin and Cooper excessively scratching their heads and discovered that there was odor and black wax in their ear canal, I realized I couldn't get them to the vet. I decided to go online to research home remedies.
Necessary Precautions for Pet Owners
There are times when a vet visit is wise and prudent. Sometimes ear pain is not due to fungal, viral, or bacterial infections. A trip to the vet would be wise if you have any doubts. Otherwise, the products below are great to have at your disposal and they really are cost-saving. Many people have spent hundreds of dollars trying to treat chronic ear infections in their animals. The solutions I mention below worked for me and my dogs and saved me tons of money.
The below information is not a substitute for professional veterinary advice. In some countries and states in the U.S., it is illegal to treat your dog at home or forgo proper diagnosis, treatment, and prescription from a veterinarian. Failing to do so could cause acute or chronic and irreversible health issues in your dog.
1. Zymox: Great At-Home Treatment for Ear Infections in Dogs
Zymox is made for acute and chronic inflammation of the external ear caused by bacterial, viral, and yeast infections. It contains antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiviral agents. This is an antibiotic-free treatment. Zymox comes either with or without 1% hydrocortisone. You can choose whether you need the cortisone to address the dog's discomfort.
- Always read the instructions on the product label before proceeding.
- No need to clean the ear before treatment; in fact, it is discouraged.
- Use it once a day for seven days (or up to 14 days if the infection is chronic).
How Long Does It Take to Work?
Using only this solution, Cooper's ear was almost back to its normal pink color within three days! He was no longer scratching or shaking his head and the black gunk was almost gone. I was really impressed with this product.
- I cannot buy this product locally and must order it over the internet. I believe some vets carry this product now, but it would be much cheaper to get this product elsewhere.
- The product leaves a bit of an oily residue, so the hair on the doggie's ear will look dirty. This would also be the case if you were using an antibiotic solution.
- It's effective.
- It is not a prescription, so you don't need to pay prescription prices.
- The best part for me (besides not having to drag my dog to the vet) is the money I am saving. This sure beats the cost of antibiotics.
Does It Really Work?
Yes! When my lab, Cooper, got another one of his ear infections, I used Zymox. He had been in extreme discomfort, and his ear was scarlet red and had a bad odor. I regret not taking pictures of it before and after the treatment because the difference was remarkable.
2. ACV Homemade Ear Cleanser for Dogs
There are many commercial dog ear cleaners that you can buy at the pet store, but you can also just use apple cider vinegar (ACV).
Safety Note: Always make sure there are no open wounds in your dog's ear and that the eardrum is intact before proceeding with using diluted vinegar as this could cause pain and damage to the ear.
- Dilute one part ACV to one part distilled water.
- Place it in a clean squeeze bottle.
- Gently pour it into the dog's ear.
- Massage the ear after the fluid is in and gently wipe off any excess solution.
Your dog will shake its head and the solution will come flying out. Be prepared!
The Symptoms of Dog Ear Infections
scratching of the affected area
redness and swelling
excessive head shaking or tilting
yellow, brown, or bloody discharge
loss of balance
black ear wax
rubbing the ear on floor or furniture
pain when opening the mouth or reluctance to chew
What Causes Ear Infections in Dogs?
There are numerous reasons why a dog might get an ear infection, and these reasons fall under three broad categories: lifestyle, allergies, and genetics.
- Lifestyle: Dogs that are frequently exposed to water are more prone to developing ear infections. If the ear is not dried after swimming and bathing, the trapped moisture can foster bacteria and lead to yeast growth.
- Allergies: Sometimes there are underlying causes that are not so noticeable. Your dog could be allergic to environmental factors such as pollens, grass, or dust mites, or he/she may be allergic to food. Most food-allergic dogs are allergic to the primary protein source in their food (fish, beef, chicken, or soy).
- Genetics: Dogs with floppy ears are more prone to ear infections because their ear flap restricts air flow and creates a dark and moist environment that is a breeding ground for yeast and bacteria. Likewise, breeds with hairy ears are more likely to be affected because the hair in their ear canal traps moisture and debris. Additionally, dogs that are born with or later develop thyroid or endocrine disorders, autoimmune diseases (pemphigus), or meningitis could be affected.
How to Prevent Dog Ear Infections
After doing research about treating ear infections in dogs, I realized that I should have been preventing them from occurring in the first place with weekly cleanings. The following tips will go a long way in keeping infections at bay:
- Dry your dog's ears thoroughly after a swim or a bath.
- If your dog has excessive hair around or inside the ear canal, it can be removed by a professional groomer or at the vet's office.
- Regularly clean your dog's ear with a dog-safe cleaning solution. Soak a cotton ball with the solution and wipe around the inside of the ear. You can also rest the soaked cotton ball in the ear canal and massage the ear with the ear flap covering it. Remove the cotton ball and let your dog shake his or her head. Remember to dry the ear afterward.
3. "Zim Family Cockers" Ear Cleaner Recipe
My research also brought me to the Zim Family Cockers website. Here they have a tried-and-true ear-cleaning solution that was originally given to them by the former secretary of the Cocker Spaniel Club of San Diego county. It is important to note that this "recipe" has not been advised by a veterinarian; only a veterinarian can diagnose, prognose, prescribe, and treat.
The Zims have used this on their Cocker Spaniels' ears and have had great success. Of course, always proceed with caution:
- Boric acid can be toxic to dogs if inhaled, ingested, and not used appropriately.
- Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl) AND white vinegar can be extremely painful if applied to an open wound, damaged tissue, or into an inflamed ear canal or one with a ruptured eardrum.
- Betadine cannot be used on wounds and should not be used in full-strength; it is cytoxic.
Lastly, as repeated before, this can only be used if the eardrum is intact; otherwise, a dog can be at serious risk of injury and/or at risk of going deaf.
Nothing should be inserted into a dog's ear if the eardrum is ruptured or if there are any open wounds, sores, scratches, or punctures.
- Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl).
- Boric acid powder. I found this in a pharmacy. A prescription is not needed, but they sometimes keep it behind the counter, so try asking the pharmacist.
- White vinegar.
- Betadine antiseptic solution.
- A bottle with an applicator at the end (these can be found in beauty supply stores).
How I Made the "Zim Family Cockers" Recipe
Note: Consider wearing personal protective equipment to avoid contact with boric acid powder and to avoid staining.
- I poured 6 oz. (180 mL) of rubbing alcohol directly into a bottle.
- I added 1 ½ tsp. (7.5 mL) of boric acid powder. I shook the bottle well. (Note: If boric acid gets on skin or clothing, wash immediately.)
- I added 2 oz. (60 mL) of white vinegar and shook the bottle.
- Lastly, I added 1 tsp. (5 mL) of Betadine solution and shook the bottle again.
- I warmed the solution slightly as some dogs don't like cold liquids in their ear.
I used this solution and it nipped the ear infection in the bud in just a few days. I really was impressed with this. Thanks to Zim Family Cockers, I found a terrific remedy. As good as the homemade solution was, however, I did find it a bit messy (the betadine solution stains).
How I Got Rid of My Dog's Ear Infection
I wiped the ear with a cotton bud to remove loose wax, dirt, and/or gunk.
I poured in enough solution to fill the infected ear. It helped me to have someone hold the dog during this.
After putting the solution in, I massaged the ear until I could hear a swishing sound. Note: Betadine stains, so I made sure to do it in an appropriate location.
I used a cotton ball to clean out the ear and soak up the excess solution. My dog shook his head and fluid came out.
I used the solution daily until the symptoms cleared. I did it once a week and then once every two weeks.
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.
Questions & Answers
Should I clean my dog's ears when using Zymox to treat an ear infection?
You should not clean the ears prior if using Zymox. Let me know if you have any other questionsHelpful 7