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Ask A Vet: Can I Treat My Dog’s Ear Infection At Home?

At home recipes abound for Otitis Externa (ear infections) in dogs. The reason for this is the ear infections are mostly due to an underlying issue, like allergic disease and so they tend to recur and become chronic. People get frustrated and want to avoid a trip to the vet. Many of these DIY recipes involve hydrogen peroxide, vinegar or alcohol.

To know why these are a bad idea, it is necessary to understand a little bit of chemistry. The chemical formula for hydrogen peroxide is H2O2. The chemical formula for water is H2O. So when you put hydrogen peroxide into an infected ear, the bubbling that occurs is because the bacteria in the ear (whether normal flora or bad infection) act on the hydrogen peroxide to release that extra oxygen molecule. The bubbles that you see are oxygen molecules being freed.

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The release of oxygen, in theory, is a good thing because oxygen can have an antibacterial effect, but it is more important that you understand that when that extra oxygen molecule goes away, all that is left in your dog’s warm and infected ear is WATER.

So now your dog has a dark, warm and wet environment and the bacteria rejoice! Just like human children whose ears require a swimmer’s ear rinse in the summer, a dog’s ear canal needs to be dry to stay healthy.

Vinegar, also, has been suggested for ear treatment. The acidic characteristic of vinegar is a good thing because some of the pathogens that infect ears do not prefer to grown in acidic environments. The trouble is that vinegar too contains mostly water, so even if the pH discourages one part of the issue, other bacteria involved will be so happy that you have chosen to give them a moist home.

Some of these same recipes suggest that you can head off this troublesome issue of the water in the dog’s ear by adding some rubbing alcohol. Although alcohol does help dry up excess moisture, think of how rubbing alcohol feels when you pour it onto inflamed tissue. The only thing that you will teach your dog is never to let you put anything in her ears, if you choose this route. And let’s face it, if your dog has an issue with otitis, you WILL need to put things in her ears that are prescribed by a vet, probably for the rest of her life. Don’t teach her to hate seeing you coming!

The bottom line is that ear infections are painful and frustrating. If you try at home care without seeing a veterinarian first, you risk hurting your dog, both in what you choose to apply and how it can affect the original issue. You risk making the situation worse and even costing your dog his hearing. Do the right thing and see your vet. Trying to treat Otitis at home is a recipe for disaster.

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Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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