The L-shape of dog’s ear canal is designed to protect their highly developed sense of hearing. Unfortunately, this design may also cause water to be trapped in the ears when bathing or swimming, resulting in inflammation and infection of the outer ear canal’s lining. This type of infection is Otitis Externa, often referred to as ‘Swimmer’s Ear’.

Causes of Dog ‘Swimmer’s Ear’

  • If your dog swims in natural waters, such as lakes or ponds, bacteria may be introduced along with the water.
  • Chlorinated pools pose a risk due to chlorine killing off beneficial bacteria in the ear.
  • The longer the water lingers in your dog’s ear, the greater the risk of fungal, yeast or bacterial growth. Dogs usually remove water by shaking their head but swelling, wax, or existing infections may trap the water.
  • Long, floppy ears increase the possibility of moisture remaining in the dog’s ear after swimming or bathing.
Dog ear structure - Otitis infection
Dog Ear Structure Diagram: Sunshine Connelly

Natural Prevention of Swimmer’s Ear in Dogs

  • Since dogs won’t tolerate ear plugs, you may have to avoid swimming if your dog is prone to ear infections.
  • Keep ear hair clipped if your dog has a lot of fur in their ear to improve air circulation. Be sure to use blunt-tipped scissors, an electric trimmer, or see a professional dog groomer. Do not attempt to clip deep in the ear.
  • Dietary support that includes natural anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, prebiotics and probiotics will help your dog fight off infection.
  • After the dog’s ears have been exposed to water, let him shake them out. Then give the ears a good cleaning with a drying agent, such as a 1:1 blend of organic apple cider vinegar or white vinegar with sterile water. Vinegar also serves as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent, and balances the ear’s pH to prevent yeast. Some holistic veterinarians also suggest making a pure, green tea that can be cooled and dropped into the ear. You can also use a 1:1 solution of sterile water and isopropanol (rubbing alcohol) but many find that to be too drying unless combined with a drop of virgin olive oil or pure Aloe Vera.  If you prefer a premixed natural ear clean solution for dogs, holistic veterinarians often suggest blends like Ear Clean.  Use a soft plastic dropper and massage the base of the ear to distribute. Clean around your dog’s ears and dry thoroughly with a clean cloth. Do not use cotton swabs.

In spite of all your efforts, your dog may still develop a ‘Swimmer’s Ear’ infection.

External ear canal infection - Otitis Externa Swimmer's Ear Photo
Dog with Otitis Externa Ear Infection

Symptoms of an Otitis Externa ear infection may include:

  • Excessive ear scratching or rubbing ears against objects
  • Head shaking or tilting
  • Odor that may remind you of yeast, sweat socks or a sewer
  • Redness & bleeding
  • Swelling
  • Matted fur around the ears

If you suspect an ear infection of any kind, we refer you to Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats – Natural Treatment and Prevention.  If the infection is severe or the dog is in pain, please see your veterinarian. We recommend a veterinarian diagnosis before administering natural remedies.

Harris, Viv BVSc Natural Remedies Dogs and Cats Wish You Knew: A Holistic Care Guide. 2008.
Tilford, Gregory L. & Wulff, Mary L. Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet’s Live. 2009.
Messonnier, Shawn DVM. Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats: Your A-Z Guide to Over 200 Conditions, Herbs, Vitamins, and Supplements. 2001.
Winter, William G. DVM The Holistic Veterinary Handbook. 1997.


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19 thoughts on “Natural Treatment and Prevention of ‘Swimmer’s Ear’ (Otitis Externa) in Dogs

  1. My dog is shaking his head all the time and that’s a sure sign of swimmer’s ear for him. Thanks for the suggestions, we’re putting together a kit for him.

  2. Yes sir, worked for us too. We spent a lot of time in the water with the heat waves and sure enough our dogs BOTH got swimmers ear.

  3. Perfect for me to find before heading to the cottage for a week this weekend!

  4. I have honestly never found a pet website that is as useful as this one. You answer all of my weird questions and then some LOL

  5. I didn’t know that either! I’m going to start keeping a journal of when Cara gets ear infections to see if they increase in the Summer. We have a cabin on a lake so she swims a lot. Swimmers Ear! I can’t believe I didn’t think of it! 🙁

  6. We’re dealing with swimmer’s ear in our dog right now. Thanks for the info.

  7. We haven’t see this in our dogs yet and they always swim in creeks and lakes but it’s good to know.

  8. OH NO! I didn’t know that letting my dog swim in lakes could be the cause of his frequent summer ear infections! Thank you very much for this post!

  9. Our lab used to get ear infections when he was alive but our shepherd hasn’t had one yet. Maybe it’s the long ears after all.

  10. My dog had swimmer’s ear before and it turned into full blown otitis infection so I really like these tips.

  11. I didn’t consider chlorine to be a cause of ear infections but my dogs do get them a couple of times in the Summer. I didn’t know it was called swimmer’s ear for dogs either. I love websites I can learn from, thanks.

  12. A very useful post and the ear infection article you linked to is even better — thank you!

  13. I can’t imagine keeping our labs out of the water so I appreciate the natural solutions for otitis you’ve provided here.

Comments are closed.