how to treat dog ear infections

Dog shocked

They’re “ear” for you, be “ear” for them

Ear infections are a very common reason for unhappy dogs and vet visits. Here’s what you need to know to clean your pupper’s ears and apply ear medications if your dog has an ear infection or mite infestation.

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A close-up of a dog owner's hand rubbing her black dog's right ear

Dog ears really don’t need regular cleaning unless they’re prone to infections and need medication

Never put anything into your dog’s ear unless you have explicit veterinary instructions — home “remedies” or over the counter medications may not help your pet and may even make their discomfort worse. If your pet has stinky or dirty ears, see the vet.

Get ready, get set, get dressed in clothes that can get messy 

 
Vector graphic of a dog's ear and water bubbles

Step #1:  Clean the ears 
You always need to clean dog ears before applying ear meds to make sure the medication hits the target. Pets can get really fidgety when you want them to stay still, so consider asking a friend to help safely hold and soothe your BFF.   

You’ll need

  • Vet-provided ear cleaning solution 
  • Cotton balls
  • A clean towel
  • Vet-prescribed topical ear medication for after cleaning, as needed

Never use Q-tips or cotton swabs, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or witch hazel in a dog's ear.

  • Gently lift one ear flap up and slightly back. Because a dog’s ear canal is L-shaped, this will make it easier for the ear-cleaning solution to flow into the canal.
  • Ooze the required amount of ear cleaning solution into the ear canal. Then use your thumb and index finger to gently massage the base of your dog’s ear for about 30 seconds to loosen up wax and debris.
  • To avoid contamination, don’t let the tip of the bottle touch your pet.
  • Step back and allow your dog to shake their head and get that weird feeling out.   Be warned, you and the environment may be splashed by flying ear cleaner. 
  • Wipe your doggo’s ears dry. Use a cotton ball or two to wipe the entrance of the ear canal. You don’t need to go very far in, just get what you can.
  • Repeat this process with the other ear.
  • Once your pup’s ears are clean, wait 30 minute before applying their ear meds. 
Vector graphic of a dog and an ear infection ointment

Step #2: Apply the topical ear infection treatment 

This is almost exactly like cleaning the ears. Gently lift the ear flap up and back and apply the prescribed amount of medication into the ear. Massage the base of the ear for 30 seconds, allow your dog to shake their head, and use a cotton ball or two to pat dry the ear canal. Consider rewarding your very good dog with a small treat.

When to call the vet 

When your pet point-blank refuses 

Safety first! If your pet absolutely refuses to have their ears medicated and the situation feels unsafe, reach out to your veterinary team for tips and advice. Infected ears can be tender, so do your best and don’t take it personally.

Do your dog’s ear infections just keep coming back?

Ear infections can be occasional or frustratingly chronic. If you notice your dog is getting ear infection after ear infection, call your vet to discuss solutions.

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