Dog Ear Infection: Symptoms, Causes & Natural Treatments
Loving pet parents tend to anticipate our dogs’ needs. We take them on adventures, bathe them when those adventures get messy, spoil them with treats and toys, and make sure they’re healthy. But even dogs who receive the best care can suffer from occasional or frequent ear infections. In fact, some favorite or even necessary activities - like splashing in ponds and getting a good scrub-down - can lead to ear infections.
Ear infections are one of the most common health issues dogs experience. Dog ear infections are often a complex or even chronic issue with hidden underlying causes, so it’s important for every pooch parent to educate themselves and make informed decisions on how to safely treat ear infections in a holistic way.
Types of Dog Ear Infections
There are three general types of dog ear infections that affect different parts of the ear: otitis externa (infection of the outer ear), otitis media (middle ear), and otitis interna (inner ear). The most severe type of infection is otitis interna, as the infection resides nearest the brain and nerves and will result in central nervous system symptoms.
Infection of the outer ear is most common type, but if there’s any doubt that your dog may have a deeper, more serious infection, be sure to consult a holistic veterinarian.
Dog Ear Infection Symptoms
Symptoms commonly associated with ear infections include:
- Discharge, often rust-colored and waxy
- Pungent or sweet odor
- Inflammation and redness
- Scabs or crustiness
There are also behavioral signs to keep an eye out for, and they may even be the most telling. They include:
- Rubbing head on dog bed, blanket, or furniture
- Scratching and pawing ears
- Trouble chewing
- Tilting or shaking head, holding ears at different angles
- Watery eyes
Rushing to the vet doesn’t have to be the first measure you take for an ear infection, especially if your dog finds vet visits nerve-racking and unpleasant. If your dog is experiencing mild irritation and/or discharge, you may want to try an all natural remedy before going to a traditional vet. However, signs of a more severe infection will warrant professional treatment. These include:
- Loss of balance
- Swollen or punctured eardrum
- Excessive head shaking (as this may be indicative of a neurologic disorder, and excessive head shaking in and of itself can cause hematomas in dogs predisposed to this health issue)
- Central nervous system symptoms like facial paralysis, trouble blinking
- Persistent, long-term ear problems
While ear mites are far less common among dogs than ear infections, you may also want to check for signs that what you suspect is an ear infection may, in fact, be ear mites. These signs include dark residue, flakiness, dryness, and hair loss. The good news is, both ear mites and dog ear infections can be treated naturally.
Causes and Risk Factors
As we mentioned above, even dogs who are treated to proper hygiene can be predisposed to ear infections. Genetic factors such as ear shape and allergies play a role in susceptibility, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing that can be done to remedy the situation. However, we’ll get to holistic approaches to these more complex issues below. For now, let’s discuss the most common dog ear infection causes and risk factors. These include:
- Non-erect, folded or floppy ears that are characteristic of many breeds
- Foreign object in ear (like foxtail or other grass seeds)
- Allergies, which inflame the skin and make it more susceptible to infections
Floppy or folded ears are more susceptible to infections due to the dark, closed environment that leads to more moisture, which in turns allows bacteria or yeast to grow. Hound breeds as well as breeds with thick, curly hair are predisposed to the risk of ear infections. Dogs who swim frequently are also vulnerable for the same reason - moisture and darkness create a breeding ground for growing organisms.
Foreign objects and folded ears are easy to identify as the source of the problem, and simple to remedy because you know exactly what you’re dealing with. Allergies, on the other hand, can be a little more difficult to pin down, but there are several surefire signs your pup is suffering from allergies. If ear infections are accompanied by itchiness - indicated by paw-licking, frequent scratching, or the redness and inflammation not just in the ears but in other areas like the rear and belly - you may need to think about treating your dog for allergies.
Food-related allergies are usually marked by gastrointestinal symptoms in addition to the itchy skin, itchy paws, and ear infections. Your dog may have an allergic response to an ingredient that is common in dog foods, like wheat. Consider switching to an all-natural, grain-free diet if your dog has frequent or chronic diarrhea or gas. Remember to transition your dog’s diet gradually so as not to cause further digestive issues. Mix a little more of the new food into the old food each day for seven days to facilitate a smooth transition.
If you suspect your dog may have seasonal allergies, or if you would like to know specifically what ingredient or allergen elicits the negative reaction, there are helpful allergy skin tests your holistic veterinarian can perform.
It is also possible your dog may be suffering from tumors, polyps, or a hormonal disorder, but these causes are less common than the factors listed above.
All-Natural Treatment for Ear Infections
Now that we’ve covered the basics of identifying this issue, let’s tackle dog ear infection treatment. Non-severe ear infections can often be identified and treated at home with the right supplies. While some remedies contain harsh chemicals that can exacerbate the problem, Wondercide vet-recommended natural ear care kit only contains ingredients that can be used safely on dogs of all ages. Ingredients like organic oils of peppermint, spearmint, lemon eucalyptus and tea tree are combined with a natural emulsifier to gently cleanse the ear canal and perform as a natural remedy for bacteria, yeast, fungi, and ear mites.
Antibiotics and antifungals are commonly used types of dog ear infection medicine as they suppress symptoms quickly; however, they fail to treat underlying causes. If you don’t address the deeper health issues lurking behind ear infections, they can become a recurring and chronic problem for your dog. That’s why it’s essential to take a holistic approach not just to ear infections, but to your furry friend’s overall health.
So what does that mean? Taking a holistic approach means doing more than simply addressing the symptoms. It means reevaluating your dog’s diet and lifestyle and making changes that are not only better for your pet, but for you, your home, and the environment. It means working with a veterinarian who applies prescription medication when required, but also relies on homeopathic, herbal, and all-natural remedies when advantageous. A holistic vet will build a relationship with you and your dog in order to thoughtfully assess how issues might be interconnected, and in order to advise lifestyle changes that can prevent other common canine illnesses like diabetes, obesity, and cancer.
In addition to finding the right professional care, choose pet care products that do not contain artificial fragrances or harsh chemicals that can cause irritation to the sensitive skin of your dog’s ear. Wondercide products are free of alcohol, parabens, phosphates, sulfates, artificial preservatives, colors and fragrances, and are bottled in BPA-free plastic.
And remember, canine health isn’t just about what you put on your pet. Avoid yard pesticides that may cause irritation and instead use natural pest control products. While you’re reevaluating the products you use on your pet and property, it may be a good time to think about what you put on your own skin. A strong artificial fragrance or chemical ingredient in your personal grooming products could contribute to any allergic reactions your dog might experience - especially if she likes to lick the tasty product off your skin! Consider switching to all-natural soaps and lotions that are free of chemical ingredients that might be secretly harming you or your pet.
Make sure your best bud is consuming a nutritional diet that takes any unique needs into account. Your dog may be allergic to beef, dairy products, soy, sugar, wheat, fish, or other commonly occurring ingredients in dog foods and treats. Choose natural, grain-free treats and food from brands you know you can trust. You can also prepare food for your dog at home with human-grade, fresh ingredients.
Preventative Action for Dog Owners
It’s better to prevent ear infections than to treat them. Prevention means less discomfort and pain for your dog, and less stress for both of you. Be proactive especially if you think your dog may be susceptible to ear infections due to genetic traits or certain activities.
Take these precautions for many healthy, happy dog years without ear infections:
- Keep ears clean and dry, especially if your dog has a history of ear infections. Use all-natural ear wash to remove dirt and wax. Drop into ear canal and massage at the base for about a minute. Apply to cotton pad and wipe the ear flap until dry. Never reuse a cotton swab in the other ear, and never use Q-Tips inside the dog’s ear. Rely on your dog inevitably shaking its head vigorously to spread solution to those deeper, hard-to-reach areas rather than venturing deep into the ear with foreign objects. Follow all instructions for application closely.
- Clean the folds of skin around the ear as well - for this, you can carefully use cotton balls or cotton pads.
- Avoid getting your dog’s ears wet when giving it a bath.
- Detangle matted hair around the ears in a gentle manner.
- Do not use too much of a drying, acidic cleanser or it may irritate the skin and exacerbate the condition.
- Don’t go over the top with ear grooming. Over-plucking ear hairs can cause inflammation and vulnerability to infections.
- Research your dog’s breed to learn specific vulnerabilities associated with their genetics and the best way to clean their ears - whether floppy, hairy, or erect - to prevent infections.
- Talk to your groomer and make sure they’re taking the proper precautions with your dog’s ears when bathing and grooming.
- Be aware of other natural home remedies that can be used in a pinch, including grapeseed oil, mineral oil, apple cider vinegar combined with purified water, and calendula cream (all separate solutions).
- Be scrupulous with advice you see online; not every natural product suggested is going to be helpful for your dog, so lean on reliable resources and products approved by holistic vets rather than advice you might find in forums or on blogs that are unassociated with trustworthy brands or credentialed veterinarians. Ear infections can be safely prevented and treated at home, but taking the wrong advice can harm your pup.
- Consider using dog supplements, like Neem Bark for immune support, to promote overall health and resistance to pathogens.
- Be calm when you use ear treatment products on your dog. If you surprise your dog or fail to keep it calm and comfortable, it may make reapplication more difficult. Do your best to make ear infection prevention and treatment routines a pleasant and soothing experience for your dog. You may want to offer healthy treats as a reward for compliance.
Being proactive in preventing ear infections may feel a bit overboard sometimes, but taking a few minutes each week to gently clean your pup’s ears and make sure they’re inhospitable to bacteria and yeast can save both you and your furry companion a heap of trouble down the road. These are simple and straightforward steps to prevent a potentially complex and agitating issue, so take action if you see signs of an ear infection or think your dog may be particularly susceptible.
Pet parenting is doing everything in your power to protect your dog and give them a healthy and harmonious life. That means nipping ear infections in the bud with natural products and gentle application.