Ask a Vet: My Dog Wont Let Me Put Ear Drops In! 

“My GSD has chronic ear infections. She hates having her ears cleaned to the point of literally running from me if I have anything that looks like a bottle of ear cleaner in my hand. I have found several wipes with good reviews on Amazon. I’d like to try them and see if she is any less traumatized. Do you have an opinion on which are best and if they work?”

–Veola

Hi Veola,

Thanks for submitting your question. Your dog is not alone in hating to have her ears cleaned!

I understand the desire to find an easier treatment when your dog won’t let you put ear drops in. I’ve known veterinary dermatologists to advocate the use of Miconahex+Triz ear wipes (click to view on resources page) for dogs with ear inflammation. 

But honestly, I haven’t found ear wipes alone to be very effective at controlling a dog ear infection. The problem is that a dog’s ear canal is “L-shaped” and you can’t really clean the deepest part with a wipe.

Does Ear Cleaning Hurt Dogs?

There could be multiple factors causing your dog to hate having her ears cleaned. Dogs with raw skin or sores in their ear canals may experience significant pain during ear cleaning. 

Some ear cleaners have a low pH or an astringent to help dry the ears. While those factors are important for getting rid of excess yeast and bacteria, they can STING! 

You should consult your veterinarian about finding a non-stinging ear wash that will work for your dog’s particular circumstances. I’ve found Epi-Otic (click to view on resources page) is pretty well-tolerated by most dogs.

I’ve even used sterile saline warmed to 100 degrees to flush the ears of extremely sensitive pups. 

Home Remedies Like Vinegar or Alcohol for Dog’s Ears

If your dog already hates having her ears cleaned, don’t be tempted to use homemade ear cleaners you may have read about on the internet. Apple cider vinegar and rubbing alcohol sting like the Dickens when applied to raw skin! 

Your dog will NOT be happy with you and neither of these are as effective as the internet wants you to believe.

Tan dog with person's hand holding the ear (my dog won't let me put ear drops in)
Ear cleaning can be quite painful for some dogs.

How Do You Clean a Dog’s Entire Ear Canal?

Another mistake some dog owners make is wiping the ears too aggressively. It’s better to FLUSH the dog’s entire ear canal rather than trying to WIPE them.

To flush a dog’s ears, you need to use a LOT of liquid to cause debris to spill out of the ear. Afterward, you can let the dog shake her head to get most of the liquid out. 

Then very gently DAB (don’t wipe) excess moisture from the outer ear canal. I recommend you use only soft cotton balls or roll cotton for this. 

Repeat the flushing procedure until the cotton comes away cleaner than when you started. If you see blood on the cotton, stop flushing and wiping. 

It’s not that the bleeding is dangerous so much as it indicates a problem more complicated than you can treat with home care. Contact your vet for help. 

How Do You Clean a Dog’s Ear That Hates It?

Another strategy to get your dog to accept having her ears cleaned is to use positive reinforcement. She has probably built up ear cleaning in her mind to be something horrible.

You can train her for ear cleaning just like you might have trained her to sit or come when called. Start slowly by touching her ears and giving her a high-value treat (try rotisserie chicken meat) when she accepts it calmly. 

Very gradually work up to holding the ear flap, touching the ear canal with cotton, and finally pouring in some body-temperature ear cleaner. 

Don’t progress to the next step until she trusts you and is calm with the current step. The idea is to show her you respect her comfort and will do all you can not to cause her pain. 

Read more about ear inflammation in dogs

Dog's Ears Are Red and Hot

Can I Sedate My Dog to Clean His Ears?

So, maybe you’re still shouting, “Dr. T, seriously… My dog won’t let me put ear drops in!”

Sometimes the best option is for your veterinarian to sedate your dog and do a good ear cleaning in the clinic. That way, they can do a really good examination of the horizontal ear canal and eardrum to identify problems. Plus, your dog won’t have to endure the pain and psychological stress of the ear cleaning. 

Don’t try to do this at home. You can’t safely achieve the level of sedation needed to clean a dog’s painful ear at home. I’m a vet and I would not attempt it at home!

One-Time Application of Ear Drops by Veterinarian

Vets can now apply a one-time application of a combination ear medication that works well for many dogs. There are caveats to consider and your vet will want to examine the ear before recommending a product like Claro®. 

A single-application medication can be a Godsend for dogs who won’t let you put ear drops in. But you can’t rely on them over and over without the risk of creating a very bad resistant bacterial ear infection. They are best for very occasional use only. 

That brings us to discussing the very best approach to treating a dog’s chronic ear infections…

Diagnose and Treat the Underlying Causes 

Get a diagnosis of the underlying cause. 

Environmental and food allergies are common factors in recurrent ear infections in dogs. Some dogs have small growths deep in their ear canal and others have resistant bacteria growing there. If we can identify an underlying cause, we can treat it.

Accurate, focused treatment can remove the need to clean your dog’s ears regularly. With proper diagnosis and careful treatment, I’ve watched patients go from having low-grade ear inflammation non-stop for months to having only one or two mild flare-ups per year. 

A recent paper confirmed that dogs with chronic ear inflammation had a better outcome when managed by a primary care veterinarian and a veterinary dermatologist.(1) 

It’s well worth the money and time it takes to see a specialist. You’ll end up spending less money on repeated vet visits for recurrent ear inflammation and your dog will be happier!

Good luck with your pup…

Dr. T.

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References

  1. Logas, D., & Maxwell, E. A. (2021). Collaborative care improves treatment outcomes for dogs with chronic otitis externa: a Collaborative Care Coalition study. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 57(5), 212-216.
  2. Nuttall, T., & Cole, L. K. (2004). Ear cleaning: the UK and US perspective. Veterinary Dermatology, 15(2), 127-136.