Looking for effective home remedies for dog ear infections? You are not alone.
Dog ear infections can be chronic and very difficult to resolve. In his book The Nature of Animal Healing (great reference book BTW!), holistic veterinarian Dr. Marty Goldstein comments that he has a higher success rate in reversing cancer than chronic ear problems.
The conventional approach is to treat the infection with antibiotics and steroids. This helps in the short term but does not eliminate or address the underlying issues, so the infections return again and again.
Underlying inflammation can lead to bacterial ear infections. This inflammation can be caused by allergies, a co-infection with yeast organisms, and excessive moisture within the ear canal.
A healthy dog can usually defend themselves against bacterial overgrowth, but if the dog has a weakened immune system bacterial overgrowth can quickly occur.
In this article we will discuss how to treat an ear infection naturally. In addition, we’ll discuss natural remedies that treat the underlying conditions responsible for many chronic ear infections.
Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs
Itchy and painful ears can be caused by many conditions, so the first and most important step is to figure out what ear issue you’re dealing with.
If your dog has a history of ear problems you probably have a good idea of the cause and can try some of the home remedies for dog ear infections talked about in this article.
For most infections, it’s worth a visit to your holistic vet to determine what is going on before choosing the appropriate conventional or natural treatment.
Your dog’s ear discomfort may be a result of:
As the name implies, your dog has an overgrowth of bacteria causing pain and itching in their ears. Reasons for this overgrowth range from weak immune systems to allergies and more.
Fungal (Yeast) Infections
Yeast is another common organism that can cause dog ear infections. Excessive moisture in the ear canals is a common cause, as are gut flora imbalances and excessive wax in the ear.
Ear mites are most common in puppies and dogs in neglectful situations (who therefore have weakened immune systems). They are very contagious to other pets in your house. Identified by coffee ground-like discharge in the ear, or microscopic identification by your vet.
Foreign Substances, Tumors, Injuries
The presence of any of these in the ear can cause discomfort. It also can result in a secondary bacterial infection.
Genetics or Breed
Some breeds have ears or ear canal shapes that make them predisposed to developing ear infections (bacterial or yeast). Other dogs may genetically inherit a set of ears that is predisposed to infection.
According to Christopher G. Byers, DVM at American College of Veterinary Emergency/Critical Care, about 50 percent of dogs with allergic skin disease and 80 percent of dogs with food hypersensitivity will show signs of ear inflammation.
Any dog with a weakened immune system will be at higher risk for contracting an ear infection.
Endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s Syndrome are known to increase the occurrence of ear infections in dogs.
Cleaning your dog’s ears too aggressively or too often can lead to irritation and inflammation of the ear canal, leaving it prone to infection.
Dog Ear Infection Symptoms
These pictures show a severe ear infection that one of my fosters had when he came into rescue. You can see the deep red color, copious amounts of black smelly wax, and the angry inflamed skin.
Being aware of the symptoms of ear discomfort will help you identify an issue early, which increases your odds of successful treatment. Symptoms include:
- Pawing at or scratching ears
- Shaking the head
- Tilting head (often towards the side that is infected or most irritated)
- Rubbing ears on ground or furniture
- Smelly ear odor
- Ears appear red or inflamed
- Inner ears have a lot of dark, blackish wax
- Ears are painful to touch
Extreme, untreated cases may progress to:
- Loss of balance
- Hearing loss
- Aural Hematoma (a pool of blood between the skin and ear flap cartilage caused by excessive ear shaking and/or scratching)
These require an immediate visit to your holistic vet.
Before I Start…
Important Disclaimer: I am not a vet. Not even close! My degree is in marketing. My goal is to share my personal experience and information I have gathered; not to give medical advice.
If you think you want to try something you read about here, talk to your vet! But first read this and many more articles to empower yourself for a good discussion in which you can ask your vet great questions about what you want to try.
Knowledge is power – never forget that!
I want to be up front that as a dog owner, I have been very lucky not to have a dog with chronic ear infections. I like to think it is because my dogs have been on natural diets and have strong immune systems, or perhaps I’m just lucky!
My experience, therefore, in natural remedies for dog ear infections is limited. In writing this article my goal was to compile information from experts to give you a well rounded idea of different treatment options for your dog’s ear infections. This way, when you take your dog to the vet to have their ears examined, you can make intelligent, informed decisions about what is best for your dog.
That said, I do have a lot of experience in the supportive and preventative measures that are discussed below. Many of the dogs I have fostered came into foster care with raging ear infections. Because they are fosters, I need to use my rescue’s conventional vets and treatments.
What I can do for my fosters is spend my own money to put them on a diet and supplement regimen that contains immune system boosters for dogs, probiotics to offset any antibiotics they are on, and other health building components. Doing this prevents recurrence in most dogs that I foster.
I have seen, over and over, the benefits of taking a “whole body” holistic approach to prevent recurrence of ear infections.
Are Home Remedies for Dog Ear Infections Effective?
In situations where you catch an ear infection on the early side, natural remedies for dog ear infections can be just as effective as their conventional counterparts. Better yet, they do not destroy your dog’s gut flora and further weaken its immune system.
I have done with with numerous foster dogs and my own dogs. When I see their ear is a little too waxy or a little red, I cleanse the ear with a natural cleanser and monitor it closely.
In more serious infections where your holistic vet feels conventional medications are necessary, they will help you add probiotics and other supplements to minimize the negative effects of the medication. They will also have you continue this holistic treatment regimen after the medication resolves the ear infection.
By focusing continued treatment on the dog’s underlying issues, your vet is healing the root cause of their ear infections. This most likely will involve building up the dog’s immune system with these immune system boosters for dogs, and switching your dog to a healthier diet that avoids certain ingredients.
Dr. Angie Krause at www.BoulderHolisticVet.com has a great article about how to stop ear infections. It explains her preference to use conventional meds to treat most ear infections that she sees in her holistic practice, but only when combined with a holistic treatment regimen that addresses underlying factors during and after conventional treatment to prevent recurrence of the infection.
Dr. Peter Dobias also discusses the need for conventional anti-bacterial or anti-fungal medications for serious ear infections. He recommends avoiding medications with steroids, preferring to use anti-bacterial or anti-fungal medications that are not combined with steroids. He feels that steroids suppress healing and make ears more difficult to treat in the long term.
See Your Veterinarian First
As much as we would love to treat our dog’s ear infections without a vet, most times a visit to the vet is necessary.
When your dog starts scratching at their ears, the first step is to figure out what is causing them to itch. Unfortunately, we can’t figure this out at home. Determining if the discomfort is coming from mites, bacteria, or yeast requires microscopic examination of what is in the ears. In addition, your dog may have a foreign object in their ear that your vet can see with an otoscope.
At the appointment, your holistic vet will:
- Visually inspect the ears
- Take an ear culture to look at under a microscope
- Clean your dog’s ears
- Recommend a treatment based on results of the culture.
- Discuss changes in food, supplements, and lifestyle that will help prevent recurrence of the ear issue. Explain why only treating the dog’s ears will not address the systemic issues tied into the overgrowth of bacteria or yeast in the ears, and how reinfection is likely if these systemic issues aren’t treated.
What Home Remedies for Dog Ear Infections Might My Holistic Vet Recommend?
Your holistic vet’s recommendations will depend on what they find when they examine your dog’s ears. Below is a list of the most common natural remedies for dog ear infections:
Changing Your Dog’s Diet
Snap a picture of your dog food’s ingredient list and bring it to your vet appointment. Your vet will determine if a diet switch could be beneficial for your dog.
Some vets will have you switch to a food that doesn’t contain wheat, corn, soy, and possibly grains if they suspect a food sensitivity. You can also use Jean Dodd’s Nutriscan test to determine what foods your dog is sensitive to, then choose a food that doesn’t contain any ingredients your dog should avoid.
Many holistic vets will recommend switching to a raw or home cooked diet. If that isn’t possible, they will help you choose a better kibble for your dog.
When comparing a raw diet to kibble, a natural dog food diet has surprising benefits. If you aren’t comfortable feeding raw, homemade cooked food also offers many advantages; read more about the pros and cons of homemade dog food to learn about these benefits.
Add Probiotics to Your Dog’s Diet
Probiotics serve two purposes in this situation. If your dog is put on antibiotics for their ear infection, probiotics will help recolonize the intestines with good bacteria. For this use it’s important not to give them at the same time as the antibiotic; give the probiotic in between antibiotic doses.
Probiotics are also an important tool for boosting your dog’s immune system so it is able to fight off future ear infections.
Omega 3 Fish Oil
Omega 3 fatty acids lessen the inflammatory response and support the immune system. Make sure to buy a high quality supplement to ensure the fish oil is harvested sustainably and tested for toxins.
Dr. Peter Dobias makes his own Omega-3 oil from sustainable, human-grade sources:
Several studies have been conducted looking at the effect of echinacea on dogs’ immune systems, including this study which found that echinacea stimulates the immune system in multiple ways.
Factors such as stress, exercise, attention, and weight all affect your dog’s immune system.
If you think one of these might be an area that needs improvement, you will want to add this to your treatment plan to strengthen your dog’s immune system.
Dry Your Dogs Ears After Swimming
If your dog loves to swim but is prone to ear infections, it could be that their ears canals do not drain well after swimming. Gently wiping the ears with a clean dry cloth after swimming or bathing is a good idea.
It’s important to only wipe the areas you can reach easily. DO NOT use Q-tips, and don’t jam a cloth into your dog’s ear, you will cause more irritation.
Check Your Dog’s Ears
As your dog’s ears heal, you will want to take a look at what their ear looks like when it’s healthy so you know. The skin will be a healthy light pink. There may be some wax (that’s OK), but it won’t be excessive, black colored, or smelly.
Every week or two, take a look at your dog’s ears to make sure there are no changes you need to address.
An Occasional Cleansing Might be Necessary
One of the leading causes of ear scratching, believe it or not, is from the owner washing the ears too much.
If you do your weekly check and the dog’s ears look healthy, don’t clean them! Some dogs, however, may start to have an excessive wax buildup. In these cases, a gentle ear washing can be beneficial.
Dr. Krause at Boulder Holistic Vet has a great recipe for a gentle ear cleanser:
Note: do not use this if your dog’s ears have scratches, cuts, or sores, it will sting!
If you would rather buy a pre-made herbal ear wash, here is a great option. It is made in a base of witch hazel and contains soothing extracts such as chamomile, calendula, mullein, and more.
Did These Home Remedies for Dog Ear Infections Surprise You?
When I first started learning about natural treatments for dog ear infections, I thought that natural treatments were things that directly addressed the symptoms my dog was experiencing.
As you have seen in this article, that is not the case for ear infections. People may read this article hoping to find over the counter ear infection medicine, but hopefully will take away new knowledge that home remedies for dog ear infections involve treating much more than the ear.
It involves strengthening the dog’s immune system, changing their diet and lifestyle, and more. The result will be a healthier dog that not only gets fewer (or no) ear infections, but also has fewer health issues overall.
That is one of the benefits of a natural and holistic approach to your dog’s health: you are making your dog healthier and will see widespread benefits of any changes you make.
Kudos to you for taking the time to educate yourself and raise your dog naturally!
Until next time-
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