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Clean dog’s ears after swimming

Q: Jake, our retriever mix, loves to swim. I sometimes get swimmer’s ear when I swim. Can he develop the same problem?

A: Yes, swimmer’s ear is an infection of the external ear canal associated with water retention there. Dogs are at greater risk than humans, because a dog’s ear canal is L-shaped, going down and then bending inward. Bacteria love the moist, warm, dark environment, so they proliferate.

The result is the same pain, itchiness, redness, discharge and muffled hearing you experience when you have swimmer’s ear. Typical clinical signs in dogs are shaking or rubbing the head and scratching the affected ear(s). Sometimes a foul odor comes from the ear.

To prevent swimmer’s ear, clean Jake’s ears with a veterinarian-prescribed ear cleaner after every swim.

  • Start by holding up his ear flap to straighten the L-shaped ear canal.
  • Fill the canal with cleaner until it drips out.
  • Massage the base of Jake’s ear to loosen any debris.
  • Let go of his ear, allowing him to shake his head.
  • Remove the liquid and debris he shakes up onto his ear flap with tissues or cotton balls.

Don’t use a cotton swab, as it may push debris further down into the ear canal and even damage Jake’s ear drum. To prevent water from entering Jake’s ears when you bathe him, put a cotton ball into each ear.

My canine family members and I love to play in the water, so I know you won’t be able to keep Jake away. But you can prevent swimmer’s ear by cleaning his ears at the end of each day of water sports.


Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at askdrlee@insurefigo.com.

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