Are Ear Drops Safe for Dogs?
Whether they’re big and floppy or little and pointy, we love our dogs’ ears. They are fun to scratch, they are almost cartoonishly expressive, and they are one of the features that seem most unique to each specific breed. Ears make the dog. Just as a basset hound is unrecognizable unless their ears dangle past their chin, so the button ears of a Jack Russell terrier define the breed. Dogs’ ears are expressive and well equipped to pick up important stimuli. Those ears are important for your dog to detect your footsteps coming up the walkway—or, even more importantly, the crinkling sound of a treat bag.
So when our dogs start to have ear problems, we are heartbroken. If my dog is pawing at their ear and showing discomfort, I’m going to do just about anything to alleviate their symptoms. So, can I raid my home pharmacy for the drugs I use to treat my own ear infections? Can you give your dog ear drops?
Technically, yes—unless the ear drops in question have some pretty heavy duty ingredients, they are unlikely to cause any serious problems. However, using medications formulated for humans is generally recognized as unsafe. We do not recommend using your own ear drops to try to treat your dog’s sore ear. Most of the over-the-counter drugs we use to treat our own eye and ear infections will not cause lasting damage to dog bodies, but they are far from ideal. If you want to try to treat your dog’s ear pain on your own, go find a brand of over-the-counter ear drops that has been formulated specifically for canine. A quick Google search will bring up several popular products that pet parents use to treat their furry friends’ health problems.
It is once again important to highlight the difference between ‘can’ and ‘should.’ While you can give your dog ear drops, it is a much better idea to hold off until your dog has been examined by a veterinarian. Any time you administer medication on your own, you run the risk of treating the wrong thing. What seems like a mild ear infection may very well be something more dangerous.
Though administering ear drops seems to ease their pain in the short term, you may end up masking their symptoms without addressing their underlying cause. In the end, your dog may wind up getting much sicker than they would have if they had been diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian. Failing to properly treat ear conditions, even if they seem to be ‘normal’ ear infections, can result in permanent hearing damage.
This is especially true if ear infections are a common issue for your dog. Many dogs develop chronic ear infections as a result of allergies. These recurring ear infections have inspired some practical pet parents, who want to avoid vet visits, to come up with recipes for homemade doggy ear drops. Many of these home remedies use ingredients like vinegar, peroxide, and alcohol, which can actually do more harm than good in the long term.
Vinegar and peroxide can worsen ear infections due to their high water content—bacteria need water to thrive, so the moisture left behind by ear drops that use peroxide and vinegar may actually prolong the infection. Rubbing alcohol, which is sure to kill the bacteria in your dog’s ear, is not recommended for another reason entirely: it can cause your dog severe pain. Pouring alcohol into your furry friend’s ear is unnecessarily painful, but it is also an excellent way to ensure that they will no longer trust you to touch their ears in the future. Ear infections are uncomfortable and tedious in the best of times. There is no need to complicate matters by haphazardly treating them at home!
Things to Consider
Because ear infections can have a variety of different causes, your dog may need a specific type of ear drops. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for canine ear infections. Your veterinarian will be able to account for foreign objects, parasites, or allergies. Make sure to follow your vet’s instructions closely. Don’t stop administering the ear drops just because symptoms have improved—you need to make sure the infection is completely gone.
Important: if there is any chance that your dog may have a ruptured eardrum or open wounds inside of their ear, do not administer ear drops and seek veterinary care. If your furry friend is showing symptoms other than ear pain, such as fever, lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, or pain in other parts of the body, take them to the vet as soon as possible.
While ear drops are usually safe for pets, you should never attempt to treat your dog’s illnesses without veterinary input. If your dog is having ear problems, take them to see a vet who can provide a diagnosis and proper treatment. And, of course, if your dog’s symptoms worsen or do not improve, stop using ear drops and consult the vet.