Swimmer’s Ear & Your Dog - PetFirst
Swimmer’s Ear & Your Dog
Pet Care & Health

Swimmer’s Ear & Your Dog

by MetLife Pet Insurance
1 year ago

Commonly referred to as Swimmer’s Ear⁷, many humans can relate to the pain, burning, and itching in the ears after a day of swimming. For some, it can be unpleasant, but for others, downright painful!

Typically, drying ear drops and a little ibuprofen solve the problem for our species, but if not, it’s lounging poolside until the ear canal dries out and inflammation dies down. In severe cases, though, a doctor’s visit may be necessary.

Though common for pet parents to experience, did you know that your dog can also suffer from Swimmer’s Ear too? 

What is Swimmer’s Ear?

Like with many things, our pets just can’t tell us how uncomfortable they are when hurt or ill. Pets also do not understand what causes pain and may be eager to go dive right back into the source of their discomfort.

If your canine pal has Swimmer’s Ear, they will commonly display clinical signs that you should recognize:

  • Pawing at ears or rubbing ears against your leg, the ground, or other objects
  • Head shaking
  • Whining
  • Restlessness

According to Julie Reck, DVM, Co-Founder of Aspire, and Owner/Founder, Veterinary Medical Center of Ft. Mill, South Carolina, ear infections are common in dogs and are frequently the outcome of the interaction with water from both bathing and swimming⁸.

“When we compare many of our domesticated dog breeds to ancestral canine species (for example: wolves, dingos, coyotes), one of the most notable differences is the shape and position of the ear,” Reck said. “Wild dogs have an erect ear pinna or flap. This helps air circulate and improves water evaporation in the ear canal. Our domestic breeds, however, have developed a long floppy ear pinna that creates a dark, moist, warm environment, the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and other pathogens.”

Now not all dogs that go swimming, or who get water in their ears during a sudsy bath, end up with swimmer’s ear, and not every ear infection is swimmer’s ear.

Often, dogs that do develop ear infections after swimming have any underlying allergy to food or something environmental – grass, trees, pollen. Additionally, dogs that have a bout with parasites, have a systemic immune-suppressive, or endocrine disorder or a tumor in the ear canal can be more prone to an infection. The allergies or conditions can cause underlying inflammation and an abundance of bacteria so that when water enters the ear canal during a bath or swimming, moisture increases which can result in the creation of infection9.  

To help distinguish Swimmer’s Ear from another form of ear infection is to get to know your pet from snout-to-tail. Perform regular at-home checks, looking closely at the ears, and monitor your dog for patterns: Does your dog get infections year ‘round, or just during swimming season? Does your dog get bacterial skin infections on other parts of the body? Discuss any patterns or health concerns directly with your vet. 

Preventing Swimmer’s Ear

According to Liz Koskenmaki, DVM, Media City Veterinary Hospital, Burbank, California, dog’s with swimmer’s ear likely have an underlying problem, such as an undiagnosed ear infection, a ruptured eardrum, or foreign body migration (like a foxtail) into the ear canal10.”

Being aware of your dog’s symptoms and behavior is important so that you can avoid letting your furry friend swim if he or she has any health issues. Dogs that do swim, should have their ears flushed with a veterinary-approved ear wash after each swim to prevent infection. 

“The ideal product is pet-specific, as it will be created with soothing agents [to diminish pain], drying agents to help water evaporate, and also be the correct pH [for the canine ear],” Reck said.

Thinking of trying a home remedy? According to Reck, there are home remedies, such as vinegar or oils, that can cause harm rather than being helpful for your pup.

Koskenmaki said that over the counter canine Otic Flush is safer10.

“Rubbing alcohol is an irritant to the ear, water will promote infection, vinegar is too acidic, and oil can trap debris between ear fur and the eardrum,” Koskenmaki said. “Because a dog’s ear canals are vertical, unlike ours which are horizontal, anything that is applied in their ear will travel down and collect by their eardrums which can irritate and damage if it’s not specifically formulated for use in dog’s ears.”

Be sure to talk to your veterinarian to find out what is recommended for your unique pooch to prevent this pesky problem from ruining his or her summertime fun!    

Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances.

 1PetFirst Healthcare, LLC (“PetFirst Pet Insurance” or “PetFirst”) is the program administrator authorized to offer and administer pet health insurance policies underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company, a Delaware insurance company, with its main office at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, or New Hampshire Insurance Company or The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania, each with its main administrative office at 500 West Madison Street, Suite 3000 Chicago, IL 60661. For costs, complete details of coverage, and a listing of approved states, please contact PetFirst Healthcare, LLC. 

2Like most insurance policies, insurance policies offered by PetFirst Healthcare, LLC contain certain exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force.

⁷Swimmer’s Ear, Mayo Clinic
⁸Author-conducted interview with Julie Reck, DVM, Co-Founder of Aspire, and Owner/Founder, Veterinary Medical Center of Ft. Mill, South Carolina, April 29, 2020
⁹Underlying causes, VetzInsight, June 25, 2018,
₁₀Author-conducted interview with Liz Koskenmaki, DVM, April 23, 2020

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