A picture of tea tree oil sitting on a table with a plant by it.

Home Remedies For Dog Ear Infection Such As Tea Tree Oil

Ear infections are one of the most common issues affecting dogs. Recurring episodes and the long course of treatment frustrate many owners. When medication doesn’t seem to work, many popular home remedies for a dog ear infection include tea tree oil. But is this a good idea to use on dogs? 

Tea tree oil has powerful antibacterial properties. However, it can also irritate and worsen the inflammation that leads to ear infections if used incorrectly. Products containing tea tree oil are beneficial. However, never apply tea tree oil directly to your dog’s ear as a home remedies option for a dog ear infection. Also, don’t create your own homemade solutions to treat your dog’s ear infection. Consult with your veterinarian instead.

What Is A Dog Ear Infection?

A dog ear infection is the inflammation of the lining of the ear canal. This condition affects up to 20% of dogs. 

Dogs with ear infections are usually in a lot of pain. They repeatedly shake their head, scratch or paw at their ears, and may have a smelly discharge coming from one or both ears. Sometimes the problem can advance further into the ear canal and lead to more serious complications, such as neurological signs and deafness.

How Do Veterinarians Usually Treat A Dog Ear Infection?

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough diagnostic evaluation to identify the source of the problem.  They may all look similar, but ear infections are complicated and have many possible primary causes. Usually, an ear infection is a symptom of a more serious underlying issue. Addressing this issue is paramount to prevent a recurrence. 

If there is a secondary bacterial or fungal contamination, your veterinarian may recommend a course of medication that is the best fit for your dog’s condition. Treatment options for ear infections range from topical (applied to part of the body) drops, ointment, and powders to oral and injectible medications, depending on the seriousness of the problem.

Why Is A Dog Ear Infection Frustrating?

The primary cause of an ear infection is inflammation of the ear canal due to various factors such as allergies, parasites, foreign materials in the ear, systemic illnesses, and tumors, to name a few. Secondary infections of bacteria, yeast, and fungi often complicate these. This happens when they multiply rapidly in the already inflamed area and produce a moist, smelly ear.

Dogs that spend a lot of time in the water or those that have very narrow, hairy ear canals are at increased risk of recurring infection. To make matters worse, prolonged inflammation can lead to subsequent narrowing of the ear canal – meaning that a dog who has had a drawn-out ear infection is more likely to experience repeated episodes. 

In many cases, relatively short courses of topical and oral medication only treat secondary bacterial, fungal, and yeast infections. This resolves the clinical signs for a while, making owners think the issue is resolved. However, without investigating and addressing the underlying primary cause, the problem never really goes away. The diagnostic process is long and challenging. The lack of an immediate answer frustrates owners.

What Is Tea Tree Oil?

A closeup of some bottles of tea tree oil.
Not to be used on dogs.

Manufacturers make tea tree oil with the steam distillation of the leaves and shoots of Melaleuca alternifolia. Traditionally, others boiled tea tree leaves, which people consumed to treat coughs. Crushed leaves help with wounds and skin ailments. The use of the extracted oil was popularized in the 1930s when its antimicrobial properties were revealed.

And, of course, some think it’s safe to use tea tree oil as one of many possible home remedies to treat a dog ear infection.

What Are The Benefits Of Tea Tree Oil?

Newer research has touted the antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antiprotozoal, and anti-inflammatory properties of tea tree oil when used in a laboratory environment. Many topical formulations containing tea tree oil have shown beneficial results. However, evidence to support the clinical use of tea tree oil directly on the skin (such as for a dog ear infection) is lacking.

While tea tree oil has lots of benefits, you should consult your veterinarian before doing anything. Here’s why.

Why Owners Shouldn’t Use Tea Tree Oil To Treat A Dog Ear Infection

In its pure form, tea tree oil can be toxic when applied to the skin or when accidentally ingested in large enough quantities.

Using tea tree oil directly on the skin without a carrier oil or medium can cause allergies and skin irritation. Previously, we discussed how inflammation is always the initiating step in an ear infection. Therefore, applying tea tree oil directly to the ear as a home remedies option for a dog ear infection would actually make matters worse.

Using it with a carrier oil isn’t a great idea either. One of the major causes of non-resolving ear infections is the buildup of cellular debris in the ear canal. This keeps it moist and stops the medication from coming into contact with the skin. The oily wax in the ear must be thoroughly cleaned out before initiating treatment, so adding an extra layer of wax later on is counterproductive.

Additionally, putting tea tree oil into a dog’s ear as a home remedies option for a dog ear infection can cause them to inadvertently swallow it. The eustachian tube connects the middle ear chamber to the back of the nose. In dogs with damage to their eardrum, tea tree oil can enter the middle ear and travel down to the back of the throat via the nose. This may not be enough to cause toxicity but it will cause inflammation. It may also irritate the sensitive structures in the inner ear that help with hearing and balance.

Alternatives To Tea Tree Oil For Ear Infections

The most effective way to address a dog ear infection is to treat the underlying cause. This requires frequent visits to your veterinarian and diligence in following the recommended treatment plan. 

There are many products on the market, such as medicated ear washes, that manufacturers formulate using the right solvents and concentrations of tea tree oil. With your vet’s recommendation, these can be a safe and effective way to soothe your dog’s painful ears.

DIY treatments are never recommended for ear infections because they are never able to address the root cause. Depending on the formulation, home remedies may worsen or temporarily alleviate the clinical signs but ultimately they will only contribute to the frustration of the returning infection.

In Conclusion: Home Remedies For Dog Ear Infection Such As Tea Tree Oil

If you think your dog is suffering from an infected ear, schedule an appointment with a veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure the best chance of successfully resolving the issue once and for all. Commercially formulated ear cleansers containing tea tree oil help soothe or prevent ear disease, but owners should never rely on home remedies alone to treat a dog’s ear infection.

So, is your dog dealing with or has it dealt with an ear infection? Let us know how it’s going or how it went in the comments below!

Dr. Umaya Gunaratne (DVM)
Dr. Umaya Gunaratne (DVM)
Umaya Gunaratne is a veterinarian plus dog and cat mum currently pursuing her PhD in small animal cardiology. Her field of interest is degenerative mitral valve disorders in small breed dogs, but her passion lies in bridging the gap between academia and the real world. She enjoys helping pet parents understand the research-backed science behind raising their fur kids. She spends her free time playing football, clicker-training her cat, Ria, and spending quality time with her many houseplants.