My Dog Won’t Let Me Put Ear Drops In

Photo by Caspar Rae on Unsplash

If you thought getting a dog to take his meds was tough, wait till you have to put some drops in his ears.

It’s not just aggressive dogs that will give you troubles, most dogs will react violently if you try putting something in their ears.

Still, as a responsible owner you have to do it, no matter what.

Here are a few tricks to help you help your pet. And escape with all your fingers intact.

Why won’t a dog let you put ear drops in?

If you’ve ever had an ear infection, you don’t need to ask such a question.

These infections can be extremely painful, so no wonder the dog won’t allow anyone to go anywhere near his ears.

You probably would, even if your ears feel particularly sensitive, but that’s because you know ear drops are good for you.

A dog doesn’t.

All he knows is that he’s in pain and the last thing he needs is anyone messing around with his ears.

One of the most baffling situations dog owners are faced with is that in many cases, a dog with an ear infection will still allow them to touch his ears or even brush them, but will bare his teeth the moment they see the ear drops container.

And he will bite if you insist. 

It’s hard to understand why a dog will let you stroke his ear, but not put anything inside.

A possible explanation might be that while scratching and stroking are associated with pleasant memories, for the dog your attempt to put some ear drops in is linked with the pain itself.

How can he be sure that your drops won’t cause even more pain, after all?

How do you put ear drops in an uncooperative dog?

There are no easy answers to this question.

If your dog has an ear infection, you know that he needs medicine and he’ll have to get it no matter what.

Restrain the dog

It’s not going to be pleasant, but you have to do this.

The best thing is to call for reinforcements and simply gang up on the poor dog.

With a mid-sized dog, one person can hold the dog down while you quickly squirt some ear drops in.

Don’t worry too much with dosage.

In this type of situation, it’s hard to count an exact number of drops and it really doesn’t matter as long as you get a little of the ear medicine in.

If you feel strong enough, you can try to get a hold of his head, pin the dog to your side and administer the treatment he needs.

If you also need to clean the ear canal before putting the drops, have everything you need ready, like a tissue or swipe with a mild cleanser on it.

Don’t try for perfect cleaning at this point. If you can give the ear a quick swipe that should be enough.

If you’re afraid your dog is going to bite you, there’s no alternative than to use a muzzle. 

This approach has a major drawback as it will damage the trust relation between you and your dog. Your pet will consider you did a bad thing and will hold it against you.

To overcome this problem you will need to regain his trust.

This can only happen when he’s well again.

Desensitize the dog

You need to help the dog overcome his fears.

Once he’s cured you can continue to keep the medicine bottle around and show him it’s not something he should be afraid of.

You can do this by sitting on the couch with the dog by your side and gently touching his ear.

If the infection episode is still recent, touch him lightly with the tip of your finger in a playful manner.

If he doesn’t object, put the whole hand on his ear, give him a nice massage and help him relax. You can even try to turn his ear as if you’re about to put the hated drops in.

All this time, keep the medicine bottle in the other hand or on the coffee table where the dog can plainly see it.

Show him it’s just play and the medicine bottle won’t harm him in any way.

This way you can desensitize the dog so he gets over his apprehension. This will be very useful next time he needs ear medicine.

Trick and treat

Bribing a dog is not the best way to train him, but when it comes to giving him the much needed medicine it’s an honorable solution.

Prepare a tray of nice treats. Something small, bite-size so he’ll be interested in staying by your side. Peanut butter is a good choice as the dog needs a bit of time to lick it off the spoon.  Have the medicine ready, preferably out of his sight. Give the dog a couple of treats and pat his head, sliding your hand over his ears. If he’s focused on the treats he’ll ignore you’re touching his ears. 

Next comes the part when you trick him. Once again, an accomplice would be of great use. When the dog is busy eating his next treat, quickly tilt his head to the side and put some ear drops in. Have the next treat ready to shut his mouth with.

A greedy dog might accept this trade-off readily. Other dogs will protest and you’ll have the same trust issues to deal with, but this can wait until the infection is gone. 

Corner the dog

Experts say you should never administer medicine in the dog’s favorite spot as this would create an association with an unpleasant event and make the dog fearful. Also, don’t call the dog to you (unless you have treats, of course). 

It’s you that needs to go to the dog and pushing him into a corner is a good way of getting the job done. If the dog doesn’t have any room to back away he will let you put the drops in so you leave him alone.

With a small dog, it is recommended that you put him on a raised surface, such as a table. You can easily force the dog to lie down while you put the drops in. Make sure you keep your hand on the dog at all times, just in case he decides to jump off a high table. 

Attack by surprise

This is yet another stealth method. The doctor might have told you to administer the drops at certain hours, but since he’s not there to help you do what you can. You know your dog’s habits and you can time the medicine around the moment he’s likely to lie down for a nap. It’s definitely not nice to pounce on a sleeping dog, but if you catch him sleeping on his side with the ear exposed don’t hesitate to grab the medicine bottle and put some drops in. 

The problem is that it won’t be easy to put the drops in the other ear as well, but at least it’s something.

Can you sedate the dog to put ear drops in?

When you take an aggressive dog to the vet, they sometimes sedate the animal in order to perform tests or even to clean his ears. Many pet owners wonder whether they could use sedation at home to put the drops in. However, this is not a viable solution considering that you need to administer the drops several times a day. You simply cannot keep the drug sedated all day long. 

At most, you can ask your vet if you could give your dog Benadryl. This is not a sedative per se, but an antihistamine and it’s usually prescribed for allergies. In certain cases, Benadryl is recommended to combat travel anxiety and motion sickness in dogs. Bendaryl often makes dogs sleepy and you could use this to squeeze those drops in.

However, you should always ask the vet first before administering this type of drug to your dog. Also, keep in mind that Benadryl side-effects include dry mouth and an increased heart rate.  

Ask for a different type of medicine

If putting ear drops in is simply impossible or requires too much of a fight, ask your vet for another type of medicine.

If the ear is infected on the inside maybe there’s an ointment he can prescribe instead of drops. The good thing with an ointment is that you can put it on your fingers without the dog noticing and then you can pretend you’re just playing with his ears like you normally do.

Try to be very gentle. Lift the ear flap just a little so you can squeeze a finger in and rub some ointment on the inside of this ear. 

You can also ask the doctor for some pills, like oral antibiotics, to treat the ear infection without having to put any drops in. 

Closing thoughts

Putting some drops in your dog’s ear is one of the most difficult tasks as dogs are pretty sensitive about their ears. If you have a large and uncooperative dog it will be a fight and there’s no way around it. You’ll have to use brute force, back him into a corner and probably muzzle the dog while you clean his ears and put the drops in. If your dog is more reasonable, bribery in the form of some yummy treats will do. If possible, ask the vet if there’s an ointment you could use instead of drops or if you can rid the dog of the infection with pills. 

Sarah Pulsen

Hello, I have been in love with dogs since I was a little girl. I became even more infatuated with them when I was told by my Mum that I couldn't own one. Since I left home there has rarely been a time in my life when I have lived without a dog. My current dog is a Collie Terrier cross, called Ian.