How To Clean & Treat A Dog’s Itchy Smelly Ears: Vet-Approved Products To Use

This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase through these links, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to yourself.

Does your dog have smelly ears? Itchy ears? Brown spots inside?

Ours does — all of the above. Quite often, too. He’s a Labrador mix.

Some dog breeds tend to have more ear infections than others. But basically, any dog with floppy ears is likely to get ear infections — including Labrador Retrievers.

Usually, dog ears smell bad due to an infection.

Following is our vet’s recommended 2-step process for cleaning and treating your dog’s itchy, dirty, smelly ears. It’s a simple dog ear infection remedy… that works!

Take it from me, you should try this dog ear infection remedy before it turns into a more serious ear infection — because the steps involved are more tedious and the meds are more expensive once a full-blown ear infection has set in. (I’ve been on both sides of this issue.)

Okay, now onto the best dog ear infection remedy and smelly dog ears home remedy, according to our veterinarian…

How To Clean Smelly Dog Ears & Treat An Ear Infection

Dogs and ear problems go hand in hand — especially in the summertime when dog ear yeast infections are most prevalent.

Our 3-year-old Black Lab mix, Destin, always gets that brownish-black gunk in his ears year round.

My vet said it’s a dog ear yeast infection, and the best way to treat it is to follow this 2-step procedure:

#1 – First, clean the ears thoroughly with a dog ear wash.

We use Corium 20

  • Save
— got it at the vet. UPDATE: Corium 20 is often out of stock these days, and our vet said it’s no longer possible for veterinarians to get Corium 20. They now sell Virbac Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleaner in its place. So I bought some on Amazon and yes — it works just as well. The only difference is it has absolutely no scent at all. (I used to really like the wonderful aroma that lingered in my dogs’ ears after using Corium-20.)

In addition to cleaning your dog’s ears quickly and easily — and it makes your dog’s ears smell good right away!

The ingredients in Corium 20 are: water, specially denatured alcohol, glyceride mixture, polysorbate 80, fragrance, BHT. ~Vet Depot

How to clean your dog’s ears with a dog ear wash:

  • Squirt a liberal amount of the Corium-20 directly into the dog’s ear canal — you can’t use too much. (When squirting, be careful not to touch the insides of the ear with the tip of the bottle, because your dog will likely jump when the cold liquid hits his ear, and you could hurt his inner ear with the bottle if you’re not careful.)
  • Use the dog’s own ear to close the ear opening and massage all of the liquid around inside his ear — up high and down low. Use a very light pressure to literally massage the inner ear and work the liquid down into the canal itself. But don’t rub too hard! (You’ll know when you’re being too hard… because dogs typically enjoy a light massaging of the ears.)
  • Then, let go of the dog’s ear, and let your him shake all of the excess ear wash out of his inner ear. You won’t have to do anything to prompt him to do this. Your dog will be eager to give a good head shake the very moment you stop massaging his ear… so watch out! (I’ve always done this indoors, and despite my painted walls and furniture getting thoroughly splashed by the wet ear wash coming out of my dog’s ears, there have never been stains or streaks or anything.)
  • After a quick “dog treat” for good behavior, get your dog back into a position that will enable you to look into his ear — with his head resting either on the floor, or on your lap. (Getting your dog to trust you again right away after pouring ear wash into his ears isn’t always easy. Sometimes, I just get down on his level to do the next step.)
  • Finally, tear a cotton ball into 2 or more smaller pieces. Hold your dog’s ear “open” with one hand, while wiping a small piece of cotton through the entire inside of his ear — just don’t push or rub too hard in there! For our Black Lab, it takes about 4 or 5 wipings with small cotton balls to get all of the now-loosened gunk out of one ear. (And boy, it is such a satisfying feeling!)

#2 – Then, treat the ears immediately with an antifungal dog ear infection medicine.

We use Otomax — got it at the vet. (It’s available only by prescription. See alternative product below.)

Otomax is the vet-recommended choice for treating a dog ear yeast infection because it’s one of the few dog ear meds that has these 3 things in one product — it’s an antibiotic, an antifungal, and an anti-inflammatory medication all in one!

Otomax is an effective combination steroid, antibacterial, and antifungal ointment used to treat acute and chronic ear infections. The active ingredients are betamethasone valerate (a steroid), gentamicin sulfate (an antibiotic), and clotrimazole (an antifungal). ~Drs. Foster & Smith

How to treat your dog’s ears with a dog ear infection medicine:

  • Squirt one big drop of Otomax in each ear.
  • Use the dog’s own ear to close the opening to the ear and massage the liquid all around the inner ear.
  • That’s it! (The Otomax is much thicker than the watery Corium-20, so it’s way less messy when your dog shakes his head.)

The above 2-step process (done just one time!) typically keeps my dog’s ears clean, gunk-free, and itch-free for several months.

The process itself takes about 5 minutes to do both ears.

I follow this dog ear infection remedy every time I trim my dog’s nails: 

  • If I don’t see any brown spots in his ears, then I only use the Corium-20 alone.
  • If I see any brown spots inside, then I use the Corium-20 and the Otomax (or I just use Zymox — see below).

This video shows how to clean a dog’s ears yourself.

TIP: Start getting your dog used to having his ears handled now. Gently play with his ears when petting him, and practice holding his ears open to peer into them. You can even gently rub the inside of his ear with your finger. If your dog is already used to having his ears touched, cleaning will be much less stressful when you need to do it. ~Dogster

Sometimes I Use Zymox (A Dog Ear Cleaner + Dog Ear Infection Medicine In One)

Recently, hubby and I took a 5-week long motorcycle trip across the country and our dog stayed with a pet sitter. When we returned, my dog’s ears were itchy, smelly, and filled with tiny brown spots — yep, another dog ear yeast infection! I wasn’t too surprised, since my dog is prone to this type of ear infection if we don’t keep his ears clean & dry. (As mentioned, we use Corium-20 year round as a dog ear cleaner.)

Since my vet was closed several days in a row for the holiday and I was out of Otomax to treat the dog ear yeast infection, so I got the next best thing: Zymox.

It doesn’t contain any antibiotics like the Otomax does. Instead, it contains Hydrocortisone 1% — a steroid. The Zymox successfully treats my dog’s ear infections just as quickly.

In fact, Zymox may be even better than using the Corium-20 first to clean the ears, and then the Otomax to treat the ear infection — because it cleans and treats in one step!

Since then, I’ve been using Zymox whenever my dog starts shaking his head a lot or pawing at his ears. It works like a charm every time.

How to use Zymox to clean and treat your dog’s ears: 

  • Squirt the Zymox liberally into your dog’s uncleaned ear — filling the ear canal. (Repeat: Do not use Corium-20 or any other dog ear wash before using the Zymox or it will not work properly.)
  • Gently massage and work the fluid into the dog’s ear.
  • Wipe the ear to remove any excess (after your dog instinctively shakes his head right away).
  • Apply once a day for 7 days (or 14 days for a chronic ear infection).

By the way, at my dog’s next annual vet appointment, I told our veterinarian that I switched from using Corium-20 and Otomax to using only Zymox instead. He took a good look inside my dog’s ears and said, “Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s working!”

NOTE: You cannot use a separate dog ear cleaner (like Corium-20) or a separate dog ear infection treatment (like Otomax) when you’re using Zymox to treat a dog ear yeast infection. The Zymox does it all — cleaning and treating — alone. You don’t want to over-treat a dog’s sensitive ears.

Why Do My Dog’s Ears Stink?

It’s common for dead skin cells, ear wax, dirt, and debris to build up inside your dog’s ears.

When those things remain in a dog’s ears too long (rather than being pushed out naturally over time), a strong odor can form inside the ears.

The size and shape of your dog’s ears determine how likely your pet is to have stinky dog ears (or even worse — routine dog ear infections).

Very long and/or narrow ears canals, a lot of ear hair, or exposure to water from regular swimming or bathing can all make it harder for the ears to push wax out of the ear canal. In these cases, ear wax and other detritus can build up, making for a more potent smell. ~PetMD

Yeast is the most common type of bacteria to build up inside a dog’s ears and cause smelly dog ears. But there can also be other underlying causes of dog ear odors, including:

  • Allergies
  • Bacterial infection
  • Parasites or mites
  • Ruptured eardrum
  • Tumor or polyp within the ear canal
  • Trapped object

NOTE: If the strong odor remains even after following the dog ear infection remedy mentioned above, then it’s definitely time to see your vet — that’s the only way to get to the bottom of your dog’s smelly ears.

How To Prevent Itchy Smelly Dog Ears In The First Place

Our veterinarian said our dog will likely have this “problem” all of his life because he’s got long floppy ears they tend to trap moisture inside — it’s the perfect environment for growing yeast (which smells as it grows).

About the only thing we can do is to prevent this from happening more frequently is to keep his ears as dry as possible — so after he goes swimming or gets a bath, we use a cotton ball to dry up any water & moisture that remain in his ears.

Since we keep an eye on it, dog ear yeast infections haven’t been as much of a problem for us as they were before — so we don’t always have to follow both steps in the dog ear infection remedy mentioned above. Just doing the routine ear cleaning alone works well for us now.

But in those early days, when he was a pup, he was coming down with ear infections every month. Now, it’s part of my dog’s grooming routine to clean his smelly dog ears regularly — before the yeast grows and it becomes a serious ear infection.

When I say “Let’s do ears,” he knows exactly what to expect — a quick & painless dog ear cleaning with Corium-20.

So, how do we know when it’s time to use the dog ear infection medicine again?

If he starts pawing at his ears, scratching them, or tilting his head to one side like his ear is bothering him… that’s when we break out the dog ear infection treatment (either Otomax or Zymox, as mentioned above).

The Bottom Line…

You may have noticed in a couple of the photos, our 2 newest puppies are pictured. One of them also gets yeast infections frequently and needs to have his ears cleaned a lot. (But they’re not nearly as bad as our older dog Destin’s ears.)

These days, Zymox is my dog ear infection medicine of choice — instead of Otomax. Not because there’s anything wrong with using Otomax, but because Zymox is a cleaner and treatment in one.

Year round I use the Corium-20 to routinely clean my dog’s ears and try to prevent ear infections from forming.

But since we travel so much and leave our dog with a pet sitter for long periods of time, he might go for awhile without the routine ear cleaning and, as a result, an ear infection might pop up.

That’s the only time I use the Otomax (in conjunction with the Corium-20) or the Zymox (alone) — when there are signs of a dog ear infection, as evidenced by those brown spots of yeast inside the ear.

If at-home remedies for ear cleaning are preferred, the best mixture to reach for is white vinegar in water as a 50/50 mixture. The vinegar acts to break down the wax in the ear, and creates a pH in the ear which prohibits the growth of bacteria and yeast. ~Vet4Petz

More Tips For Cleaning & Treating Your Dog’s Ears

In addition to the links I’ve included above, here are some other resources to help you find the best dog ear infection remedy for your dog:

If you found this post helpful, it would mean the world to me if you would share it with others on Pinterest:


I like to help Dog Parents find unique ways to do things that will save time & money -- so I write about "outside the box" Dog Tips and Dog Hacks that most wouldn't think of. I’m a lifelong dog owner -- currently have 2 mixed breed Golden Aussies that we found abandoned on the side of the road as puppies. I've always trained my own dogs and help friends train theirs, as well. Professionally, I worked at a vet and have several friends who are veterinarians -- whom I consult with regularly. (And just because I love animals so much, I also worked at a Zoo for awhile!) I've been sharing my best ideas with others by blogging full-time since 1998 (the same year that Google started... and before the days of Facebook and YouTube). My daily motivation is to help first-time dog owners be better prepared from the first day your new puppy enters your home. I like to help dog owners understand what's 'normal' and what you can expect in terms of living with and training your dog -- how to get through the ups & downs of potty training, chewing, teaching commands, getting your dog to listen, and everything else that takes place during that hectic first year! When I'm not training, walking, grooming, or making homemade treats for my dogs, you will find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun & helpful websites). To date, I've written over 600 articles for dog owners on this site! Many of them have upwards of 200K shares.

Recent Posts

link to How To Stop Puppy Nipping & Biting: Why Do Puppies Bite? When Do Puppies Stop Biting? What To Do When Your Puppy Keeps Biting & Nipping All The Time

How To Stop Puppy Nipping & Biting: Why Do Puppies Bite? When Do Puppies Stop Biting? What To Do When Your Puppy Keeps Biting & Nipping All The Time

All puppies nip or bite at your hands, feet, and ankles. See the #1 reason you should not allow this behavior any more, How to stop a puppy from nipping and biting, Why puppies bite, When puppies...

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap