Does your dog have itchy, gunky, smelly or even painful ears that don’t seem to get better? If you answered yes, you’re not alone. Dog ear infections are one of the main reasons pet owners take their dogs to the vet.
Most dog owners get frustrated by how hard it can be to get rid of chronic ear issues. But there’s a reason ear infections are so hard to get rid of and keep away. That’s because chronic ear infections are usually a sign that something else is wrong. The ear infection is her body’s way of alerting you that her system is under stress.
To help you on your way to fixing your dog’s ear infections for good, there are 5 important steps you need to take.
Step 1: Make Sure It’s Really An Ear Infection
Ear infections are very painful so you’ll know when something is wrong with your dog’s ears. If your dog has an ear infection, you’ll see …
- Head tilting towards the side with the infection
- Head shaking
- Scratching or pawing at ears
- Rubbing ears
- Hot ears
- Smelly ears
- Waxy discharge
- Crusty, scabby or red, irritated skin inside the ear flap
Extreme cases may cause …
- Hearing loss
- Loss of balance
- Walking in circles
If you see any of these more serious symptoms, consult your holistic vet.
Types of Ear Infections
Ear infections can appear in various parts of the ear.
- Otitis externa: Inflammation or infection of the external part of your dog’s ear (the parts you can see).
- Otitis media: This is inflammation or infection of the middle ear structures. 16% of dogs with otitis externa will have otitis media. It’s also a problem in more than 50% of dogs who have chronic otitis externa.
- Otitis interna: This is inflammation or infection of the inner ear. Unresolved otitis media can spread and become otitis interna.
You can easily manage otitis externa at home.
For deeper ear issues, some of the home remedies I’ll talk about later on can help. But you may also need to work with your holistic vet. If you’re not sure where in the ear your dog’s infection is, talk to your holistic vet.
Step 2: Avoid Conventional Treatments
Conventional vets will often prescribe antibiotics and medicated topical treatments. These medicines may help clear up your dog’s ears at first … but the problem often returns later.
That’s because drugs only treat the symptoms you can see. They’re just a band-aid … they don’t address the underlying condition that’s causing the symptoms. And they can have negative side effects.
Antibiotics disrupt the bacterial balance in your dog’s gut, which can lead to more health issues. And that’s just the start. If your dog’s microbiome is disrupted, yeast can grow out of control … and that kills more good bacteria.
Sometimes your vet may even prescribe steroids to manage ear problems. Steroids work by suppressing the immune system and can cause harmful side effects. So avoid them if you can.
When you suppress symptoms without correcting the underlying disease, that’s a problem. And with ear infections, it’s especially bad.
We live in a toxic world. Exposure to drugs, pesticides, vaccines, and other chemicals stress your dog’s immune system. Your dog’s body tries to get rid of these environmental stressors as best it can. Her bowels, urinary tract, skin, and ears are all ways that toxins can leave the body.
Seeing discharge and inflammation in the ears is a sign that the body’s trying to remove these toxins. From a holistic perspective, this is a good thing! Your dog’s body is working to heal itself by getting rid of substances that are wearing it down.
If you close off that exit route by using suppressive drugs, it can drive the disease deeper. It’ll come back somewhere else. And that means your dog will get sicker … often with a more serious disease.
So, finding the cause of your dog’s ear problems is the key to ridding her of them once and for all. And that leads me to the next step …
Step 3: Identify The Source Of The Ear Infection
The next step in treating your dog’s ear infection is to identify the possible sources of the problem.
These are some of the most common types of ear issues for dogs.
Yeast exists naturally in healthy ears, but can get out of balance. If your dog’s ears are yeasty-smelling with a dark brown discharge, it’s often yeast overgrowth. Yeasty ears may be itchy but are usually not painful.
Your dog can also get bacterial infections in her ear. You may notice a bad-smelling yellow or greenish discharge if your dog has a bacterial infection.
Your dog can pick up grass seeds or foxtails, a bug, water from swimming, or even dirt in her ears. It will usually cause her to shake her head to get rid of the debris. If she’s unsuccessful, she may develop irritation and bacteria or yeast overgrowth.
If your dog shakes her head or scratches it too hard, she can cause an aural hematoma. This is a type of bruise that forms a pool of blood between the skin and the ear flap cartilage. Most vets will recommend surgery for this condition. Don’t rush into it! There are gentler treatment options.
Ear mites are a parasite infection and a type of mange. Dogs with ear mites will often shake their heads and scratch at their ears. Young dogs often get mites and they’re very contagious, so you’ll want to treat them fast. You can usually identify mites by the “coffee-ground” discharge they leave in the ear. The outer ear may also have reddish crustiness.
But an ear infection is rarely just an ear infection. Like other skin conditions, ear problems are often a symptom of an underlying disease. A lot of the time you’ll need to look a lot deeper than the ears to help your dog overcome her problems.
Diet is a huge factor, especially if your dog eats a processed diet. Kibble is high in refined carbohydrates, preservatives, and processed ingredients. And these feed the natural yeast in your dog’s body.
This causes the yeast to grow larger colonies in the gut … leading to inflammation. That’s why you’ll often see signs of food allergies or intolerances if you feed kibble. It’s always important to feed your dog a fresh, raw and organic diet if you can.
If your dog has long ear flaps, like a Cocker Spaniel, she’ll be more prone to ear infections. Long ears trap more debris and moisture and there’s less airflow than in a dog with pricked ears.
She may also have a tendency for waxy buildup and discharge. Her ear canal is a dark moist environment that can encourage the excess growth of yeast and bacteria.
Dogs who live a more natural lifestyle are less likely to develop ear infections. Make some lifestyle choices that reduce stressors:
- Feed your dog a whole food, raw diet.
- Don’t over-vaccinate. Talk to your vet about titers and avoid unnecessary vaccines.
- Use caution with pharmaceutical drugs, like antibiotics and pest preventatives. Avoid them when possible.
- Avoid exposure to pesticides and chemicals in your dog’s environment.
Excessive Ear Cleaning
Healthy ears shouldn’t need cleaning. If your dog’s ears look a little waxy, try to leave them alone. A little wax in the ears is normal.
If your dog isn’t uncomfortable, don’t clean the ears. Overcleaning can lead to skin irritation and inflammation. If you do need to clean your dog’s ears, wipe them out with a little organic witch hazel on a cotton ball or pad. Never use anything smaller than your finger inside your dog’s ear. To avoid damaging the ear canal, never use Q-tips to clean them.
Weakened Immune System
If your dog has food or environmental intolerances, her immune system is weak. That means you’ll need to get to the bottom of your dog’s allergies to resolve her ear issues.
There are many ways to help manage your dog’s allergies but, like ear infections, you need to find the root cause. Often they’re due to problems in the gut. I’ll talk more about the gut when we get to step 5.
Other Chronic Disease
Chronic conditions like hypothyroidism or autoimmune disease can also result in ear infections. Again, these conditions stress your dog’s immune system. And that means her body won’t be able to tolerate stressors and toxins from her environment. Work with your holistic vet to identify the underlying reason for the problem.
Step 4: Topical Remedies
I mentioned earlier that ear infections are usually a sign of deeper issues. And that gunky ears are how your dog removes toxins … it’s the body healing itself.
That’s why I don’t put anything in my dog’s ears … even when they have an ear infection. When something is wrong with my dog’s ears, I know it’s a sign of deeper issues. It’s important to let your dog’s body do what it needs to.
But sometimes ear infections are just too uncomfortable for your dog. So let’s look at natural soothing solutions you can start with. These will get her comfortable while you get to the root cause.
But remember … these soothing remedies won’t make your dog’s ear problems go away. There are more steps to follow if you want to manage your dog’s ear infections long term.
Green tea contains antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation. To use green tea for ear infections …
- Boil 8 oz of water and add two green tea bags.
- Let the tea steep for a few minutes and cool to lukewarm temperature.
- Sponge or syringe some of the solution into the ear canal.
Calendula can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. It also has antimicrobial properties to help prevent infection. To use calendula …
- Buy herbal calendula in tincture form.
- Add 5 to 10 drops of calendula tincture to 1 cup of lukewarm filtered water.
- Use a dropper or sponge it into the ears.
Grapefruit Seed Extract
Grapefruit seed extract (GSE) is a powerful natural antioxidant. It’s also antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal. To use it topically …
- Mix 10 drops of GSE with ½ oz of pure aloe vera juice.
- Use it to clean the ears.
To use it internally, add 3 to 5 drops of GSE to your dog’s food.
Oil Of Oregano
Oil of oregano is a natural antibiotic. To use if for your dog’s ear infections …
- Add one drop to ½ oz of warm pure aloe vera juice.
- Clean the visible parts of the ear with a cotton ball soaked in the mixture.
Vinegar And Water
Vinegar can help reduce itch and discomfort if your dog has an ear infection. To use vinegar for your dog’s ear infections …
- Mix 1 part vinegar and 1 part filtered or spring water. Organic apple cider vinegar is a good choice.
- Clean the visible parts of the ear with a cotton ball soaked in the mixture.
Make sure you get the liquid into the ear canal by holding your dog’s ear still. You can pour or squirt the liquid (at least one dropper full each time) into the ear canal. Then massage gently below the ear.
Herbalist and holistic veterinarian Randy Kidd DVM PhD recommends a mullein mix that works for most ear infections. You can make your own or buy one at health food stores. HerbPharm offers a good mullein-garlic oil.
To make your own:
- Pack mullein leaves and flowers in a glass jar and cover with olive oil. For increased antibiotic effectiveness, you can add a clove or two of garlic per pint of oil.
- Let the mixture sit for 2 to 3 weeks.
- Strain and apply several drops of the warmed oil into the ear canal daily
Homeopathic Remedies For Dog Ear Infections
You can also use homeopathic remedies for acute or minor ear flare-ups. Choose the remedy below that best matches your dog’s symptoms. Use a 30C potency.
Belladonna – Use Belladonna when the ears are very hot and inflamed. Your dog may be impatient and irritable.
Pulsatilla – This remedy is helpful for acute flare-ups. Often with sensitivity and redness, along with a yellowish discharge. Pulsatilla animals like to sit near open windows, hate getting their paws wet and won’t go out in the rain. They also tend to have a very sweet (and often needy) disposition.
Hepar Sulphuris – Hepar sulphuris is useful for irritable animals who don’t like to have their inflamed ears touched.
Step 5: Manage The Gut
I mentioned earlier that imbalances in the gut can cause food intolerances. The same goes for ear infections.
Ears are a window to your dog’s digestive health. When something is wrong with your dog’s ears, it means her immune system needs help. About 90% of your dog’s immune system lives in her gut … so gut health leads to overall health.
One problem you’ll want to rule out is leaky gut …
Many dogs with chronic health issues have some form of leaky gut. Toxins and bad bacteria in the body harm the cells that line your dog’s gut. This lets food particles, bacteria and toxins into the bloodstream that shouldn’t be there. And that can lead to many chronic health problems.
Major causes of leaky gut include:
1. Poor Diet
2. Drugs And Other Toxins
Leaky gut can take time to heal … but treating it can make a huge difference in your dog’s health. Here are some ways you can help manage your dog’s gut …
RELATED: Does your dog have leaky gut?
Remove Harmful Ingredients
Processed dog food is full of ingredients that can cause leaky gut syndrome and ear infections. If you want to help fix your dog’s gut and ear infections, you should avoid …
Glyphosate is a herbicide that’s used to treat non-organic soy, wheat, potatoes and legumes. High levels of glyphosate are present in nearly all dog foods containing grains and legumes.
Lectins are proteins found in legumes, peas, lentils, soybeans and most grains. Gluten, which causes many intolerance in dogs, is a lectin. Lectins attack the gut lining.
These cancer-causing molds grow on grains, legumes and other plants. Mycotoxins are in many pet foods.
Many dogs don’t produce enough of the digestive enzymes needed to break down milk. If your dog has a dairy intolerance, it could be because of leaky gut.
Add Helpful Food And Supplements
There are also dietary supplements you can add to your dog’s dish to repair and prevent leaky gut.
This non-essential amino acid helps grow and repair the cells that line your dog’s gut. It can also help maintain proper pH levels.
If your dog doesn’t have any history of ear troubles … just leave them be. You don’t want to fix something that isn’t broken. Glutamine is naturally found in …
If your dog has leaky gut, an L-glutamine supplement can also be a good idea.
N-Acetyl Glucosamine (NAG)
NAG is in shellfish and helps promote healing of the gut lining. NAG also binds to lectins, which stops them from damaging the gut lining. Bone broth contains NAG but you can also use a supplement.
Licorice root improves blood flow to nourish the cells of the gut lining. It also increases mucus production to help soothe and protect your dog’s digestive tract. When looking for licorice root, always use deglycyrrhized licorice. It’s easier on the kidneys and liver.
Prebiotics And Probiotics
Probiotics help your dog digest food and tighten junctions between cells in the gut lining. Probiotics also ferment prebiotics (soluble fibers) to create beneficial short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs help prevent leaky gut and boost your dog’s overall health.
You can give your dog probiotics and prebiotics through whole foods or a supplement.
Aloe vera juice is full of polysaccharides that reduce inflammation. They also promote the regeneration of cells. Like licorice root, aloe juice can also soothe and protect the digestive tract to give your dog quick relief.
Get Yeast Under Control
Yeast not only causes ear infections … when it grows out of control, it can release toxins that irritate the gut lining. That is why it’s so important to help get yeast under control. Here’s how …
- Remove carbs and sugar from your dog’s diet … this is what yeast thrives on.
- Avoid vaccines, pesticides, and poor quality food and water. These can contain heavy metals that build up in your dog’s systems and feed yeast.
- Feed your dog garlic. Research shows it can shrink yeast populations.
- Add MCT oil to your dog’s diet. It contains caprylic acid that can destroy yeast.
- Give your dog Pau d’arco. It contains lapachol, which can kill yeast.
Be Patient With Chronic Ear Infections
You’ll need to be patient with the healing process when you’re dealing with chronic ear issues in your dog.
As your dog releases toxins through her ears, remember that this is an important part of healing. The ears are one way your dog’s own healing power gets rid of toxins. You don’t want to suppress that process.
Any drug or herb that can stop symptoms fast is likely to suppress them. This drives them deeper into the body where they can cause more serious issues later.
Be patient, and use the soothing solutions I mentioned above for comfort in the meantime. And work with your homeopathic or holistic vet to discover the root cause.
So by now, I hope you feel more confident using natural remedies at home for your dog’s ear infections. It’s the first step on your journey to finding your dog’s perfect body balance … and saying good-bye to ear infections for good.