Should You Use Apple Cider Vinegar for Dogs’ Skin & Ears?
I don’t blame a dog owner for wanting to find inexpensive remedies to treat their dog’s health issues. It would be so much cheaper and easier to treat your dog’s inflamed, itchy skin at home with a salad dressing ingredient rather than loading him into the car for a stressful trip to the vet clinic.
Dog owners using apple cider vinegar for dogs’ skin may temporarily reduce the number of overgrown bacteria and yeast. Some people tout it as a miracle cure for all sorts of skin problems, but little scientific evidence supports this. And apple cider vinegar is an acid that can cause pain, dryness and skin burns even though it’s a food product.
What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a food condiment made in a two-step process. First, crushed apples are mixed with yeast and bacteria to cause fermentation to form alcohol. Next, acetic acid-forming bacteria convert the alcohol into acetic acid.
Cider vinegars are typically 5-6% acetic acid (6). The pH of ACV is generally 2 to 3.5 (17), which is pretty acidic and comparable to human stomach acid. For comparison, normal dog skin has a pH of about 5.5 to 7.5.
The nutritional content of ACV is very overblown by internet gurus. It actually contains only low levels of minerals and no measurable vitamins at all.
Traditional medicine enthusiasts believe ACV is an effective treatment for many ailments as well as being a general health tonic. Quite a few researchers have tried to substantiate the medical benefits of ACV. Results have been mixed at best.
It seems that apple cider vinegar does actually have some of the claimed effects, but it’s not nearly as miraculous as internet health proponents would have you believe.
Reported Uses for Apple Cider Vinegar in Dogs
I’ve heard of apple cider vinegar being used on almost every body part of a dog. My clients have poured it into their dog’s ears, soaked wounds in it, rinsed it over their dog’s entire body, and of course, added it to their dog’s food and water. Maybe I’m biased because I see the dogs after the ACV treatments have failed, but I’m not too impressed with this miracle home remedy.
ACV has been touted in recent years as a treatment for human and dog health conditions. Some of the problems people hope it can cure include:
- Bad breath
- Diabetes (15)
- Digestive issues/GERD
- Flea repellant
- Itchy ears
- Kidney and bladder problems
- Obesity/Weight management
- Otitis (ear infection/inflammation)
- Parasites (fleas, Demodex mites)
- Skin infection
- Tear stains
- Urinary tract infection
The use of apple cider vinegar for dogs is based on anecdotal reports and traditional beliefs. The claims do not hold up when rigorously tested in controlled scientific studies. I wish they did, but why waste your time and money using something that doesn’t work very well?
Does ACV Work for Dog Skin & Ear Problems?
You might be disappointed by my message about apple cider vinegar so far. I’m pretty skeptical, but I was surprised to find so many clinical studies on ACV. Some of them found it was effective in certain situations.
Although there are conflicting results, some studies have found a positive outcome in these applications:
- Killing methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in a laboratory (4)
- Decreasing Malassezia furfur, a fungus that can cause dandruff in humans (2)
- Inhibiting growth of Aspergillus and Candida fungus from human ear infections (in a laboratory setting only) (1)
- Improving blood lipid profile of high-fat-fed male rats (9)
These are all interesting findings and encourage the hope many people have for ACV to be useful as a therapeutic remedy. BUT! We must realize that none of these studies were on dogs. We just don’t have information on whether apple cider vinegar for dogs is helpful to treat disease.
Probably the most common use of apple cider vinegar for dogs is for a dog’s ear inflammation and infection. It’s possible it could have some ability to decrease bacterial or yeast infection, based on its action against those organisms in a lab setting.
Does ACV Have Antibacterial or Antifungal Effects?
ACV does have some antibacterial and antifungal effects against certain microbial organisms. It may even be effective when average antibiotics are not.
But applying ACV as a cure-all for dogs who are itchy, losing hair or having other skin symptoms is a very inaccurate treatment. It’s a more effective use of your time and money to find out why your dog has those symptoms and then choose a proven treatment with the help of your veterinarian.
Just because a dog has smelly, itchy skin and is losing fur does not prove he has a yeast infection. I can’t tell you the number of times my diagnostic tests have disproved a dog owner’s (or even my own) theories about what was causing a skin problem.
Does ACV Kill or Repel Fleas, Mites or Other Dog Parasites?
If you put enough on a dog infested with these fleas, mites or other parasites, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the parasites died from coming in contact with acid.
There have been some reports of ACV used in conjunction with other substances to treat Demodicosis successfully.(18)
But ACV alone is not known to be an effective treatment for parasite infestations (like Demodex mites or fleas) nor to have any repellent properties.
Does ACV Remove Cancerous Growths?
There is no scientific evidence to support the use of ACV as a treatment for any kind of dog cancer. I’ve seen anecdotal reports where people applied undiluted apple cider vinegar to a growth on a dog’s skin and it seemed to fall off or disappear.
Applying acid to skin growths can cause significant pain, injury and may lead to secondary infections. Some might even call subjecting your dog to this kind of “treatment” cruel!
Does ACV Treat Ear Infections?
The most common cause of ear infections in dogs is not bacteria or yeast. Those are always present in a dog’s ear. Dogs with skin allergies develop overgrowths of bacteria and/or yeast in their ears because the skin is abnormal due to allergies.
The low pH of ACV may help decrease problematic ear bacteria and fungi. But you don’t have to use apple cider vinegar. White vinegar works just as well to acidify the skin of a dog’s ear canal.
Vinegar should be diluted 50:50 with water before it is used as an ear rinse. Vinegar ear rinses should be part of a larger strategy to control the dog’s allergies.
ACV will not cure ear infections but may help calm it down for a time. Dogs with allergies usually have recurrent ear inflammation even if it seems to be in remission for weeks.
The worst thing about vinegar is that it can cause a dog significant pain when their ears are inflamed. There are many other things you could use that would be less painful to your dog. I like EpiOtic or even plain saline solution.
Another article for you: What to Do for Red, Hot Dog Ears
How Do People Use ACV on Their Dog’s Skin?
If you peruse articles on the internet, you’ll find recommendations to use apple cider vinegar to treat all sorts of skin infections. These include bacterial and fungal infections, flea and mite infestation, so-called hot spots, hair loss, bumps, itchiness, dryness, dandruff and bad odors.
There are very few scientific data on the use of apple cider vinegar to treat skin conditions in dogs. There are a few in humans and the findings are mostly against using vinegar for skin issues.
People often dilute apple cider vinegar 50:50 with water and use it as a “rinse” over an inflamed area or the dog’s entire body. This may reduce a dog’s skin pH for several hours, but a 2003 study found ACV did not reduce dogs’ skin pH as long as other acidifying sprays (14). So there are more effective products you could use instead of ACV.
I’ve seen reports of dog owners applying ACV to a gauze pad and bandaging it to the affected skin lesion for hours to days. Please don’t do this! It can cause pain and injury to your dog and is unlikely to treat whatever you’re trying to treat anyway.
The real problem is that dog owners use ACV rinses as a treatment for any skin problem without knowing the underlying cause. It is a more effective use of time and resources to get an accurate diagnosis. Then you can discuss with your vet whether an acidifying skin rinse would be helpful.
More ideas for your dog’s itchy skin: Alternatives to Apoquel®
Apple Cider Vinegar Side Effects
Apple cider vinegar is quite acidic and can cause pain, dry skin and chemical burns. If you pour apple cider vinegar into a dog’s ear or on skin that is already sore from inflammation and he’s likely to jump through the roof.
There are multiple reports of chemical burns to human skin when they’ve used this supposedly gentle food substance to try to treat moles and dermatitis. (3, 5)
Some internet articles advise you to dilute organic apple cider vinegar before applying it to your dog topically. But at least two studies on humans found no effect of diluted ACV on skin bacteria or dermal barrier function, so don’t waste your time. (12,13)
Esophagus Injury and Vomiting
It should come as no surprise that an acidic substance like apple cider vinegar can cause injury to the digestive tract, too. There have been reports of tooth damage, esophageal erosions and vomiting in humans who consume significant quantities of ACV. (10, 11)
Decreased Food or Water Intake
Internet articles often recommend adding ACV to your dog’s food or water to treat tear staining, gastrointestinal trouble and skin problems.
I strongly caution you not to add apple cider vinegar to your dog’s water supply. Adding anything to his water that might make him drink less could lead to chronic dehydration.
Adding ACV to dog food is probably the least risky method of administration, but please stick to the liquid version of ACV! Don’t give your dog ACV tablets as these carry a higher risk for esophageal injury.
Adding ACV to your dog’s food in small quantities shouldn’t cause problems unless he decides he doesn’t like the taste of it. Don’t use more than 1 teaspoon or so per meal. Watch for digestive upset including decreased appetite, vomiting and diarrhea.
Good Alternatives to ACV for Dog’s Skin Problems
There are many veterinary products with a good record of safety that are proven effective when treating dogs with skin and ear problems. And some of them are even available without a prescription.
I strongly recommend you get an accurate diagnosis from your vet before you buy and use any of these products on your dog. But I’ll list a few of my favorites here so you can discuss them with your vet…
- Douxo Chlorhexidine PS spray (antibacterial/antifungal)
- MiconaHex + Triz Shampoo (antibacterial/antifungal shampoo)
- Pramoxine Anti-Itch Dog and Cat Creme Rinse (anti-itch conditioner)
- EPIOTIC Advanced Ear Cleanser (antibacterial/antifungal non-stinging ear cleaner)
Click to view products mentioned: Resources
None of these products are prohibitively expensive. They work on secondary infections but they cannot cure allergies, hormonal problems or parasite infestations.
These products can be very effective but only when used correctly. That’s why you need to get the right diagnosis and guidance from your veterinarian.
We have very scant, if any, scientific evidence to support the use of apple cider vinegar to treat skin disease in dogs. Although it’s a food substance, it can cause harm when used topically. I do not recommend ACV to treat skin or ear problems in dogs.
We have other proven treatments that won’t cause your dog the burning pain of apple cider vinegar. Ask your veterinarian for help. And don’t be afraid to ask whether a gentler treatment is available.
- Abbas, F. N., Jabir, H. B., & Khalaf, R. M. (2011). In vitro assessment of antifungal potential of apple cider vinegar and acetic acid versus fluconazole in clinical isolates of otomycosis. University of Thi-Qar Journal Of Medicine, 5(1), 126-133.
- Arun, P. P. S., Vineetha, Y., Waheed, M., & Ravikanth, K. (2019). Quantification of the minimum amount of lemon juice and apple cider vinegar required for the growth inhibition of dandruff causing fungi Malassezia furfur. Int. J. Sci. Res. in Biological Sciences Vol, 6, 2.
- Bunick, C. G., Lott, J. P., Warren, C. B., Galan, A., Bolognia, J., & King, B. A. (2012). Chemical burn from topical apple cider vinegar. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 67(4), e143-e144.
- Dimariwu, E. H., Tyasningsih, W., Rahmahani, J., Ernawati, R., Effendi, M. H., & Handijatno, D. (2020). Antimicrobial activity of apple vinegar against multidrug resistance Staphylococcus aureus isolated from dog infection wounds in Surabaya. Jurnal Veteriner, 21(2), 292-299.
- Feldstein, S., Afshar, M., & Krakowski, A. C. (2015). Chemical Burn from Vinegar Following an Internet-based Protocol for Self-removal of Nevi. Journal of Clinical & Aesthetic Dermatology, 8(6).
- Frequently asked questions. Versatile Vinegar. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://versatilevinegar.org/faqs/.
- Gaber, S. N., Bassyouni, R. H., Masoud, M., & Ahmed, F. A. (2020). Promising anti-microbial effect of apple vinegar as a natural decolonizing agent in healthcare workers. Alexandria Journal of Medicine, 56(1), 73-80.
- Gopal, J., Anthonydhason, V., Muthu, M., Gansukh, E., Jung, S., Chul, S., & Iyyakkannu, S. (2019). Authenticating apple cider vinegar’s home remedy claims: antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral properties and cytotoxicity aspect. Natural product research, 33(6), 906-910.
- Halima, B. H., Sonia, G., Sarra, K., Houda, B. J., Fethi, B. S., & Abdallah, A. (2018). Apple cider vinegar attenuates oxidative stress and reduces the risk of obesity in high-fat-fed male wistar rats. Journal of medicinal food, 21(1), 70-80.
- Hill, L. L., Woodruff, L. H., Foote, J. C., & Barreto-Alcoba, M. (2005). Esophageal injury by apple cider vinegar tablets and subsequent evaluation of products. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 105(7), 1141-1144.
- Lang, I. M., Sarna, S. K., & Condon, R. E. (1986). Gastrointestinal motor correlates of vomiting in the dog: quantification and characterization as an independent phenomenon. Gastroenterology, 90(1), 40-47.
- Luu, L. A., Flowers, R. H., Gao, Y., Wu, M., Gasperino, S., Kellams, A. L., … & Zeichner, S. L. (2021). Apple cider vinegar soaks do not alter the skin bacterial microbiome in atopic dermatitis. Plos one, 16(6), e0252272.
- Luu, L. A., Flowers, R. H., Kellams, A. L., Zeichner, S., Preston, D. C., Zlotoff, B. J., & Wisniewski, J. A. (2019). Apple cider vinegar soaks [0.5%] as a treatment for atopic dermatitis do not improve skin barrier integrity. Pediatric dermatology, 36(5), 634-639.
- Matousek, J. L., Campbell, K. L., Kakoma, I., & Schaeffer, D. J. (2003). The effects of four acidifying sprays, vinegar, and water on canine cutaneous pH levels. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 39(1), 29-33.
- Morgan, J., & Mosawy, S. (2016). The potential of apple cider vinegar in the management of type 2 diabetes. International Journal of Diabetes Research, 5(6), 129-34.
- Nitin, S., & Raghuveer, C. (2016). A Review of the Therapeutic Applications of Vinegar. Sch J App Med Sci, 4(11B), 3971-76.
- Webb, A. D. (2000). Vinegar. Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology.
- Mederle, N., Kaya, A., Albu Kaya, M., Pătrașcu, M., Kumbakisaka, S., Morariu, S., … & Dărăbuș, G. (2017). Therapeutic efficacy testing of two topical products used in dry demodicosis lesions in dogs from Mehedinti County.