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dog parent must-knows
Dog shaking off water

The essentials

  • Dogs have long ear canals — The structure of their ears makes it incredibly easy for moisture to get trapped inside.
  • Water in dogs’ ears is a common cause of infection — Severe ear infections can lead to pain, itchiness, and even hearing loss.
  • Pay attention to your pup’s ears — Keeping your pup’s ears clean and dry is only part of the process. You’ll also need to regularly monitor your dog’s ears for changes, like odor, discharge, or redness, that indicate something’s wrong.

There’s nothing quite as annoying as going for a swim only to leave with water in your ears. This issue is even more troublesome for dogs. The L-shaped structure of your pup’s ears makes it near impossible for them to get water out after swimming or bathing — no matter how much they shake and wiggle. Water that remains stuck in and around your dog’s ears can lead to risky infections.

You can keep your pup’s sensitive ears dry and prevent ear infections with a few simple steps and helpful products. If you suspect an ear infection, read on for signs of trouble, as well as some methods to help make your dog feel better.

Swimming and ear infections

Dogs have long, L-shaped ear canals that make it hard for them to remove water that gets trapped inside after a bath or swim. Moisture in their ears can allow bacteria or fungi to thrive. This can then lead to several different types of infections that, if left untreated, can even cause hearing loss. Some of the most common infections pups experience include:

Yeast infections. Trapped moisture is a common cause of yeast infections in dogs. When water is trapped in or around their ears, it creates a moist environment that allows yeast to overpopulate.

Bacterial infections. One of the most common causes of ear infections in dogs is bacteria. Though species of bacteria exist naturally in your pup’s ears, the environment changes when moisture gets trapped inside. This creates the perfect conditions for bacteria to thrive.

Otitis externa. This refers to general inflammation of the external ear canal and can include issues like swimmer’s ear. There are many things that can cause otitis externa, including allergies, parasites, fungi, or excessive moisture. This type of infection can range from mild to severe, in which case you’ll need help from a vet. Swimmer’s ear is usually treatable at home with a vet-approved cleanser.

Signs your pup has an ear infection

Ear infections can be painful and itchy, making your dog feel uncomfortable. There are many ways your pup may try to show you that their ears are bothering them. If you notice any of the following behaviors, consult your vet as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the worse your doggie’s ear infection could get.

  • Itchiness. Infections can make dogs’ ears feel itchy. To give your pup some relief while you wait for a vet appointment, here’s our guide on treating your dog’s itchy ears.
  • Redness. Many ear infections lead to inflammation in or around the ears, giving the skin a red appearance.
  • Discharge. Infected ears may have yellow, brown, or bloody discharge.
  • Rubbing or scratching their head or ears. Your pup may start rubbing their ears against the floor or scratching their head and ears more often than normal.
  • Shaking their head. Your dog may also shake their head frequently if they have an ear infection.
  • Foul odor. Bacteria or fungi that grow in the ear may lead to unpleasant smells. This is a common sign of an ear infection.
  • Swelling. Inflammation can cause the ears to swell. Ear flap swelling is called an ear hematoma or an aural hematoma.
  • Scabbing or crusting in or around the ear. Yeast infections in particular can cause dogs’ ears to scab over or become dry and crusty.
  • Loss of balance. Severe ear infections may lead your pup to lose their balance.

Breeds most at risk of developing ear issues 

Some dogs are more susceptible to ear infections than others. While you love Fido’s adorably long and floppy ears, breeds with this type of ear are prone to infections. Droopy, long ears make it even more difficult for pups to fully dry their ears, so water is more likely to get stuck inside. Here are some breeds that are most at risk of developing ear infections, all of which require extra care after swimming and bathing:

  • Beagles
  • Cocker spaniels
  • Basset hounds
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Dachshunds
  • Golden retrievers
  • Miniature poodles
  • Labradoodles
  • Old English sheepdogs
  • Bloodhounds
  • Foxhounds

Treating ear infections in pups

Since infections can cause pain and discomfort, it’s important to treat them as soon as possible. Depending on the type of infection, your dog’s veterinarian will likely use antibacterial or antifungal ear drops. In extreme cases, such as when a pup has severe ear canal stenosis, your vet may prescribe systemic antibiotics. The amount of ear drops or medication will depend on your dog’s size, but expect to apply medication once or twice a day. For long-acting, slow-release ear medications, such as Osurnia or Claro, you won’t have to put anything in your pet’s ears. Although there are some home remedies out there for dog ear infections, it’s best to follow your vet’s advice and use prescribed treatments instead. Home remedies, like vinegar dilutions or hydrogen peroxide, can make infections and inflammation worse.

How to remove water from your pet’s ears 

The best way to prevent ear infections is to thoroughly dry your dog’s ears anytime they’re exposed to water. While they’ll likely shake their head and body vigorously after a bath or swim, it’s difficult for dogs to get water out entirely. You can step in with a towel and a few supplies by following these steps:

  1. Start by gently drying the outside of your pup’s ear with a towel.
  2. Use a vet-recommended ear cleaner. You can use a cotton ball or gauze to apply the cleaner, but never use cotton swabs (often known by the brand name Q-tips), which can damage the eardrum or ear canal.
  3. If they don’t have pointed ears, lift your dog’s ear upward to apply the cleaner. Gently rub the base of the ear to help the cleaner move into your dog’s ear canal.
  4. Use a clean cotton ball to wipe away excess cleaner and debris from their ears.
  5. If your dog has an ear infection, you can follow the same steps to apply medication, such as ear drops, after going through the cleaning process. Allow the ear cleaner to fully dry for about 30 minutes before applying any medication. Some medications will require daily use, while others are only necessary a couple times a week.

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Keeping your dog’s ears clean and dry

Drying your pup’s ears can minimize the risk of ear infections, but there are also some additional preventative measures you should consider:

Keep up with regular cleans — Ear flushes and drying ear drops can help. Use a vet-recommended ear cleaner after every swim.

When possible, avoid their ears  — Take care to avoid their ears during bathtime or when playing with the hose.

Leave their ear hair alone when grooming — Some breeds have excessive hair in their ear canals, which can increase their chance of infection since hair traps water, debris, and bacteria. If your pup does have an ear infection, you should trim their ear hair. But if their ear is healthy, leave the hair in and around their ears alone. Unnecessary plucking can cause redness and increase their risk of infection.

Dry their ears after water-based activities — Some dogs love to swim and play in water. But after every bath or trip to the beach, make sure you thoroughly dry your dog’s ears with a towel and cotton balls. 

Frequently asked questions 

How can I get water out of my dog’s ears?

You can use a towel and a cotton ball to help dry your dog’s ears. You may also need to use a vet-recommended drying solution to ensure your pup’s inner ear is free of moisture.

What happens if water gets in my dog’s ears?

When water is trapped in your dog’s ears, it creates a moist environment that allows bacteria and fungi to thrive. This can lead to infections that, when severe, could even cause your pup to lose their ability to hear.

How can I tell if there’s water in my pup’s ears?

Water in your dog’s ears can be uncomfortable and lead to painful infections. Your dog will typically show some signs they’re in distress, some of which include shaking their head, rubbing their ears against furniture or the floor, and pawing at their ears.

What are the signs of ear infections in pups?

Discharge is a common sign of ear infections in dogs. Their ears and ear flaps may also be red, stinky, swollen, or crusted.

Can doggie ear infections go away on their own?

Ear infections rarely go away on their own. The longer you go without treating the infection, the worse it will get. If left untreated, your pup could eventually require surgery or even lose their hearing.