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

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

Ours does. Quite often. 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.

Here’s a vet-recommended 2-step process for cleaning and treating your dog’s itchy, dirty, smelly ears.

Take it from me, you should do this before it turns into a serious ear infection!

How I Clean My Dog’s Ears

Dogs and ear problems go hand in hand — especially in the summertime.

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

The vet said this is a form of yeast infection, and the best way to treat it is to follow this 2-step procedure:

#1 – Clean the ears thoroughly with a dog-approved ear wash. (We use Corium 20 — got it at the vet.) Bonus: It makes your dog’s ears smell GREAT!

How to do it:

  • Squirt a liberal amount of 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 fair amount of 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… dogs typically enjoy a light massaging of the ears.
  • Then, let go of his ear, and let your dog 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!
  • After a quick “treat” for good behavior, get your dog back into a position that will enable you to look into his ear while his head is resting either on the floor, or on your lap.
  • Finally, tear a cotton ball in two 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. 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.

#2 – Treat the ears immediately with a prescription antibiotic and/or antifungal and/or anti-inflammatory medicine.

We use Otomax — got it at the vet. Otomax is the vet-recommended choice for treating a dog’s ear infection because it’s one of the few dog ear meds that has all 3 — antibiotic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory medication — 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, which is antifungal. ~Drs. Foster & Smith

How to do it:

  • Squirt one big drop 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 less messy when your dog shakes his head.)

This 2-step process typically keeps our dog’s ears clean, gunk-free, and itch-free for about 2 months — sometimes longer! The process itself takes about 5 minutes to do both ears.

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

UPDATE: I Found A Cleaner + Treatment In One… Zymox!

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 — a form of yeast.

I wasn’t too surprised, since my dog is prone to this type of ear infection if we don’t keep his ears clean. (We use Corium-20 year round.)

Since my vet was closed several days in a row for the holidays and I was out of Otomax, 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 even be 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!

Now I’m happily 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 do it:

  • Apply liberally to uncleaned ear, filling the ear canal.
  • Gently massage and work the fluid into the 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 chronic infections.

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 ear cleaner (like Corium-20) or a separate ear treatment (like Otomax) whenever you’re using Zymox. The Zymox does it all, and you don’t want to over-treat a dog’s sensitive ears.

Why Dogs Get Smelly, Itchy Ears

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

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, it hasn’t really been much of a problem for us. But in those early days, when he was a pup, he was coming down with ear infections every month. Now, it’s just part of his grooming routine to get his ears cleaned & treated on occasion.

Oh, and how do we know when it’s time to go through the process of cleaning and treating our dog’s ears again?… He will usually start 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 cleaner, and the ear treatment medicine, and we “do ears.” He knows exactly what to expect.

UPDATE: As mentioned above, these days Zymox is my dog ear infection treatment of choice — instead of Otomax. Not because there’s anything wrong with using Otomax, but because Zymox is a cleaner and treatment in one. So… year round I use the Corium-20 to routinely clean my dog’s ears and prevent ear infections from forming. 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 Zymox (alone).

More Tips For Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears

About Lynnette

I like to help people find unique ways to do things in order to save time & money — so I write about “outside the box” ideas that most wouldn’t think of. As a lifelong dog owner, I often share my best tips for living with and training dogs. I worked in Higher Ed over 10 years before switching gears to pursue activities that I’m truly passionate about. I’ve worked at a vet, in a photo lab, and at a zoo — to name a few. I enjoy the outdoors via bicycle, motorcycle, Jeep, or RV. You can always find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun & helpful websites).

Loading ...
Disqus Comments Loading...