How to Prevent Dog Ear Infections

Dog ear cleaning

Everywhere you turn these days, some company seems to have a lotion, potion, powder, or “sure thing” to prevent dog ear infections.

As the pet parent to a floppy eared pooch for most of my adult life, I can attest to the power of keeping a dog’s ears clean as the best advice I can dispense in terms of preventing ear infections. It sounds like common sense, but there is no greater enemy to the dog’s ear canal than dirt, yeast, bacteria, and/or water.

What to Watch For

Dogs will often scratch or paw at their ear(s), rub their face or ear against the floor, and may even snap or attempt to bite in pain. Some dogs even become withdrawn or are less interested in playing. A friend of mine has a dog who ended up having a double ear ablation due to chronic ear infections. Said friend has a Cocker Spaniel with floppy ears, of course. Although the surgeries are costly and involved, she reports having a whole “new dog” with a renewed sense of life as a result.

Ear infection dog
Lucy had chronic ear infections that led to ear ablation.

Ear infections can manifest in a variety of ways.

Here are some of the common symptoms of a canine ear infection:

  • Scratching of the ear or area around the ear
  • Brown, yellow, or bloody discharge
  • Odor in the ear
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Crusts or scabs on inside of the outer ear
  • Hair loss around the ear
  • Rubbing of the ear and surrounding area on the floor or furniture
  • Head shaking or head tilt
  • Loss of balance
  • Unusual eye movements
  • Walking in circles
  • Hearing loss

Prevent dog ear infections

Basic Ear Anatomy

A dog’s ear is very different from that of a human. Here’s a “dog ears for beginners” primer:

A dog’s ear consist of an outer, middle, and inner ear canal. Simple, right?

Outer Ear: The outer ear consists of the pinna (or ear flap) which can be stand upright (called a prick ear) or floppy, like in a Cocker Spaniel.

People have a very short ear canal, but dogs have a long and narrow ear canal. As the canal gets deeper, it bends at almost a 90 degree angle.

Middle Ear: As we get deeper into the ear, and this is where many ear infections occur in dogs, we meet the middle ear. It is separated from the outer ear canal by the tympanic membrane, better known as the eardrum.

Dog parents need to be extremely careful when cleaning a dog’s ear because the eardrum is extremely fragile. Any sort of trauma to it or untreated issues can cause major issues. The middle ear has 3 small bones in it along with the Eustachian tube that leads from the bulla to the back of the dog’s mouth.

Inner Ear: The inner ear is deep and connects the nerves and balance/hearing centers with the dog’s brain.

This is what the inside of a dog’s ear looks like:

Dog ear cleaning
See how the canal bends at an angle?

The inner side of the ear should look healthy and pink, like my dog’s, see?

healthy dog ear

Many of the above symptoms can also be a sign of other issues, so always seek veterinary care before taking it upon yourself to self diagnose a dog. Once your dog has been cleared by the veterinarian and is dubbed free of any ear issues, here is a Fidose of Reality list to keep dogs’ ears clean and free from infection.

Get to the Source of The Itch

Ear problems often are associated with food-based sensitivities and/or allergies. It is amazing how many dogs stop having ear issues when a food or environmental allergen is removed from their world.

Dog itching


This is the case with many skin issues in dogs. An ear issue is often indicative of some other sort of problem occurring with the body. Look at your dog’s diet, including treats. Consider a veterinary visit and/or consult with a dietitian for your dog.

A test that we tried and used here in our home is NutriScan, a test that based on saliva alone, tests for the most commonly ingested foods of dogs. You purchase this kit, you can do it at home or in your veterinarian’s office, and in a few weeks, the results are sent to you. From that point, you can put your dog on the right diet.


Figuring out what a dog is allergic or sensitive to is not an easy nor fast process. It may take months and trial and error to discover the culprits, but you must be persistent.

When food is involved, often times both ears are affected.

Take a Good Whiff

Yep, smell your dog’s ears: Both of them. Make a point of it to massage their ears regularly (as long as they enjoy it). When you want to examine your dog’s ears, he or she won’t put up a fuss if they are used to the handling. When you know what a clean ear smells like, you can then be on guard for a stinky ear.

Bottom line: Healthy ears do not have an odor.

Smelly ears tend to have a yeasty, not so pleasant stench about them. A vet visit is in order.

Dog clean ears
Getting ready to clean Dexter’s ears with Natural Paws spray

Keep Hair Trimmed On the Ear and Around the Canal

Keeping your dog’s ears clean is very important to maintain good health. Many dog parents do not realize that hair can grow inside a dog’s ear canal. If there is hair in the ear canal, it should be removed when there are no signs of ear issues such as odor, infection, or other problems. I highly recommend seeking a professional groomer’s assistance to trim the ear canal and remove any hair safely and pain-free from the ear canal.

Consider a dog’s floppy ear: It touches the ground, it picks up moisture and debris, and then it makes its way down to the ear canal. This is a perfect “breeding” ground for infection, yeast, or bacteria to form and cause infection.

Those floppy ears are low to the ground

Regular Cleaning of the Ear

Never ever stick anything into a dog’s ear to try to clean it out. You risk damaging the delicate structures of the ear and/or causing the dog to be afraid and uncooperative for future monitoring. Ask your veterinarian to show you in person how to clean the dog’s ears.

I make ear cleaning a fun, happy time. I never yell, scold, chase my dog down, and I keep the ear cleanser near my desk. When I am ready to do the ear cleaning, Dexter does not get afraid. I just pick up the solution, some treats, and reward him like he just won Best in Show.

Only clean a dog’s ears if the vet has seen them first. You don’t want to treat a problem if you have no clue what is brewing in the ear.

Do not syringe pet ears; this is a veterinary procedure only.

Check with your veterinarian regarding which product to use and how often to use it. Excessive ear cleaning can damage a dog’s delicate ear.

Warm the solution up by rubbing it gently in your hands so that you are not squirting a cold liquid into the ear: You wouldn’t like this and neither does your dog.

Basically with dog’s head downward and the ear flap in hand, squirt a gentle amount of dog specific cleanser recommended by your veterinarian into the ear, filling the canal. I hold the ear canal closed and gently massage it at the base so the cleanser squishes around inside the ear.

Once this is done, I repeat on the other ear. The dog will then shake his ears and this is to be expected.

Later, wipe any remaining cleanser from the outer canal with a gauze or tissue. Do not go deep into the ear. Do not use cotton swabs.

A happy, healthy boy!

Super Ninja Tip

When bathing: Place cotton into the ear or use a snood to prevent any water from getting in the ear. A damp environment can lead to ear problems.

What I Use

Though I cannot guarantee the same results for your dog, in all of the years of having Cocker Spaniels, we have experienced 2 ear infections: One with my last Cocker and one with my current baby boy. Dexter’s ear infection was caused by antibiotics for a respiratory infection. I’ve since realized I should have given him probiotics with it, but I digress.

On a regular basis, I use Dechra MalAcetic Otic Cleanser. This cleanser works to clean and dry the ear to prevent infections and other issues.

As a Cocker mom, I talk to many Cocker parents. I’ve read wonderful things about Zymox Otic Pet Ear Treatment without Hydrocortisone.

We recently discovered EARoma thEARapy from Natural Paws. This is a sprayable, botanical ear wash.

Ear Care Recap:

  • Sniff test weekly
  • Keep ears free of debris and hair
  • Regular vet visit
  • Regular in-home cleaning according to veterinary recommendations
Pet bloggers
Melissa Clinton, left, with yours truly.

Barking from the Bayou

Our blogging buddy and fellow dog mom, Melissa Clinton, knows all too well about dog ear infections. Her Basset Hound, Bentley, had a few. Read up on how she helped her dog with ear infections by clicking: Barking from the Bayou Stops Ear Infections in Their Tracks.

QUESTION: Has your dog ever had ear issues? What did you do?

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  1. Great post!

    Zymox makes excellent products. I like their cleanser as well as the ear treatments. I often prescribe Zymox with hydrocortisone if there is inflammation present that must be addressed as well as infection.

  2. Shih Tu’s are notorious for having problematic ears. Long hair, floppy ear…it’s a yeast box just waiting to bloom! Great post – you use the exact same things we use, and cannot say enough good things about these products. Thanks for sharing this info – it’s important for dogs’ comfort and health to have good ears!

  3. Luckily Miss Edie has not experienced any ear infections, but I’m always careful when bathing her not to get water in her ears. Very good tip by placing cotton in the ears before bathing.

  4. I was plagued by ear infections for years, the more cleaners we tried, the worst it got. We tried, cheap cleaners, expensive ones, prescription ones…we used them and I would get a new infection pronto. Then we found the “blue ear wash” homemade recipe and I’ve been infection free for several years now. I also have extra narrow ear canals and tons of fur in my ears, so my hairs have to be plucked out every few months too. Ears are so important, but it isn’t always to find the right thing for your dog to keep them clean and infection free. Every dog and every dog’s ears are different!

  5. Good info. Mom is pretty good about taking care of our big ears and touching and poking us
    Lily & Edward

  6. That photo of Bentley talking to Dexter made my day! I am so happy to be sharing this important topic with our readers. Anyone that has had to suffer along with their dog during an ear infection will find this information invaluable. I was searching online yesterday for a reliable allergy test that I could perform at home so your recommendation is perfect. This is such valuable information.

  7. Great post!!! Sophie has been prone to ear infections all of her life… and I was surprised that Penny had her first last week due to yeast. :::knock on wood::: Tut has only had them once.

  8. My mom used to clean our dogs’ ears. I remember her being very careful, at the time I didn’t know why, now I get it. 🙂

  9. Thanks for the recommendation of the Nutri Scan test. I have a dog with sensitivities to something that is causing eye irritations and I would love to know what is triggering her.

  10. Thanks for this thorough post on keeping ears clean & free of infection. Keeping their ears clean is probably the best thing you can do to ward off infection, especially after your dog has gone swimming in a yucky pond or lake, or in the ocean due to all the moisture that will accumulate in their ears. I love your tip about placing cotton in the dogs ears when bathing, that’s a great idea! I’m going to do that from now on.

  11. I don’t have a dog. But I’ll pass this on to my dad because he has a dog. Thank you for all of this info! His dog was just treated for ear mites so maybe all of this info will help him to prevent them next time.

  12. My own Cocker has not had ear problems but our fosters often have them. It’s usually due to poor diet and lack of ear care. Grain free food, some probiotics and grooming the ear usually takes care of it within 7-10 days. We’ve also come to realize the “doggy” smell a lot of people complain about is the smell of an ear infection,

  13. Thankfully the dogs I have right now aren’t prone to ear infections. Sophie did have a bad one last summer, but it was her first one at age 6. My spaniel mix had more problems with ear infections. If I ever get another floppy eared dog, I’ll be sure to make sure to keep her ears clean and dry.

  14. Cookie had a minor ear problem couple years back. We got drops and then we’re cleaning regularly,for awhile. She hasn’t had a problem since. None of our other dogs ever had ear issues. # greateful

  15. My old westie had ear infections, you never forget the smell! His last ear infection is how we discovered he had a brain tumor. :/ It’s true, it’s so important to know what your healthy dog looks, smells and feels like so you know when something just isn’t right.

  16. Excellent and informative post, Carol! Yes, we’ve had two of our Huskies have ear infections brought on by heat and swimming. Both were treated by vet and I was shown how to clean them with a wash at home. Now I know the signs and can head off the nasty ear infections right away. I love the idea of the ear wash in a spray, I will have to go check out EARoma thEARapy! PS – great pic of you and Melissa!

  17. Thanks for sharing such great tips! One of our pugs used to get them frequently so we had to learn to be preventative with him. It was a surprise to learn that they could get ear infections. The smell is something you never forget. I’m glad your baby is doing better.

  18. With a Basset and beagles and a slew of rescue foster hounds, I have seen a few ear infections. For us each one seemed to be for different reasons (two or three rounds with ear mites) so we follow our vet’s instructions. I do sniff the pups ears once a week and have a ear cleaning spray the vet gave us for routine cleaning.

  19. Thanks for pointing out that a dog might bite themselves when the pain is too much. I do not want my dog to reach that point, so I will definitely have his ears cleaned every now and then. Actually, I will not have him until next month since it’s the release date from the adoption shelter, but these tips will really be useful in the future.

  20. Thanks for such a wonderful piece. My dog has a problematic ear and I have gone to the vet couple of time. You have shared couple of products that may help me. I am very glad to see that you have written a step by step guide for dog ear cleaning.

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