Dealing with Swimmer’s Ear in Dogs - Simply For Dogs
Swimmer’s Earin Dogs

Dealing with Swimmer’s Ear in Dogs


Medically Reviewed by Veterinarian Angela Dwyer, DVM on April 12, 2018

Does anyone remember rubber bathing caps? I used to swim competitively, and everyone on the team, male or female, was required to wear a rubber bathing cap because the theory was that a) hair during the swim would cause excess drag, and b) excess hair in the pool would clog up the filters. Also, the idea was that wearing a rubber bathing cap would prevent the condition known as “swimmer’s ear.”

I had swimmer’s ear more times than I could even begin to tell you, mainly because in my younger years, I practically lived in the pool. I’d get water in my ears, and then I’d get an infection. I really didn’t know how to minimize the chance of getting swimmer’s ear. All I really knew was that my ears got infected when I swam.

The thing with dogs is that they’re not all that different in that, when they go swimming, they can end up with a buildup of water in their ears. It can be worse in dogs, too. Humans have a fairly open ear canal, so the water kind of flows out of the ears naturally. The ears of a dog, though, are more “L-shaped,” meaning that the water doesn’t get out all that easily. This wet environment is just perfect when it comes to fostering bacteria and yeast, and ear infections (otitis externa) can develop very easily.

Ear Type

When I was swimming, back in the day, I was always advised to keep my hair short, even if I was wearing a bathing cap. This was because ear canals that were left open had a tendency to hold moisture, and yeast and bacteria would thrive in wet environments. My ears, in short, weren’t “airing out,” and this is also the case with dogs that have floppy ears: the moisture gets in there, and has no way of getting out.

What About the Water?

Of course, I was swimming in a chlorinated pool. Would I have been better off swimming in the ocean, or in a river?

Maybe. I wouldn’t have been exposed to chlorine. However, water is water, wherever you find it, and any type of water can lodge in the ear and cause an infection.


The first signs of swimmer’s ear in dogs, or another type of infection, is itching in the ears. You might also notice a sludgy sort of substance leaking out of the ear canal. If this indicates an infection, you’ll probably also notice that it hurts your dog when you touch his ears. He might shake his head in an attempt to dislodge the water. This is natural but still has to be treated.

Treating Swimmer’s ear in Dogs

As I just mentioned, your dog will probably shake his head if he has water in his ears, so let him do it. Then use a soft towel to dry his ears. If you find that you’re doing this over and over, you should probably see your veterinarian to find out if you needa special ear cleanser.

If it seems minor, you can just use a commercial ear cleanser and wipe it out with cotton or gauze. Don’t use Q-tips, though; they’re every bit as dangerous for dogs as they are for humans. You could actually rupture the eardrum if you go too deep.

What About Ear Plugs?

I definitely benefited from ear plugs during my swimming “career.” Some dogs will tolerate them, but others will not. It can be very hard to find the right size of earplug for your dog, and then to place it properly. There’s also the danger of losing earplugs inside your dog’s ears, so generally speaking, I wouldn’t recommend using earplugs when dealing with swimmer’s ear in dogs.

Home Remedies

There are a lot of ways that you can deal with swimmer’s ear in dogs. Some home remedies can be very good. First, though, you need to think about the type of infection.

There are usually three different types of infections: those that affect the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. Usually, if the infection is in the middle or inner ear, this is not something that you should try to treat at home; you need a veterinarian. This is because these infections are usually due to fungal growth or pests.

Home Remedies

Good Home Remedies

I’m not suggesting that you should use these home remedies as an alternative to veterinary treatment. If they don’t work, you should definitely see your vet. But if you want to give home remedies a try, these are the best.

1. Macerated Garlic

Garlic, if ingested, is not always good for dogs. However, if you are dealing with swimmer’s ear in dogs, or another type of ear infection, you can try steeping a couple of garlic cloves in olive oil. Let the solution sit for a couple of weeks (bearing in mind that if the infection is serious, waiting for a couple of weeks might not be the finest idea). Strain the mixture, and pour a couple of drops in your dog’s ears. Use daily until the symptoms disappear.

2. Compresses

Take a towel and soak it in hot water. Press it against your dog’sear several times daily. It should ease the pain, redness, and irritation.

3. Apple Cider Vinegar

Take a cup of warm water and add two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. Use it to clean your dog’s ears.

4. Cod Liver Oil or Vitamin E Oil

Use either of these oils as an ear drop.

5. Margosa Oil

This type of preparation is used by mixing an ounce of margosa oil with half an ounce of olive oil, a teaspoon of tea tree oil, and half a teaspoon of eucalyptus oil. Massage it into your dog’s ear to soothe inflammation.

6. Witch Hazel/Vinegar

Combine an equal quantity of witch hazel with apple cider vinegar, and deliver it to your dog’s ear using a dropper to ease discomfort.

7. Aloe Vera Gel

Warm some Aloe Vera gel in your hand, and then deliver about a teaspoon into your dog’s ear. It helps with irritation.

8. Almond Oil

Half a teaspoon of almond oil in each ear can loosen dirt and wax, and thereby lower the risk of infection.

9. White Vinegar

White vinegar, drizzled into the ear at room temperature, can ease pain.

10. Yogurt

Get yourself some probiotic yogurt and rub it in your dog’s ears to kill yeast infections. It wouldn’t hurt to feed your dog some of the yogurt, either.

11. Mullein

This is an extract of leaves and twigs from the mullein plant. It eases inflammation if you deliver a few drops into your dog’s earstwice a day.

12. Pau d’Arco

Use equal parts of pau d’arco and mineral oil three times a day to massage your dog’s ears. It kills fungi and bacteria.

Are Home Remedies Good or Bad?

Here’s the thing: before you consider any home remedy, you should consult your veterinarian to find out if it’s appropriate. And before considering any remedy at all, rinse out the affected ear and dry it. Be sure that your dog’s ears are clean, and groom regularly to minimize the risk of infection. Also, trim back the hair that grows in the ear canal; this can prevent air from flowing through, and can cause undesirable elements to build up.

If you’re in any doubt as to the severity of the condition, resist the urge to try to handle it on your own. It might just be a minor infection, but it could be something worse. Your vet won’t steer you wrong, though, so if you’re in doubt, get a professional opinion.

The Final Word

Swimmer’s earin dogs can be nasty. I’d never be one to suggest that you slap a bathing cap on your dog, but there are other things that you can do to reduce the likelihood of it developing. There are also remedies you can try if the condition does occur. And, as always, your veterinarian is your best source of advice on swimmer’s ear in dogs, as well as other ailments and conditions.

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