If you have a dog, chances are you’ll face an ear infection sooner or later. Dog ear infections are common. In fact, they’re arguably the leading cause of veterinary visits in the U.S. They’re painful for our pups and have a nasty habit of recurring, again and again. But what causes canine ear infections, and what are the symptoms? The following guide will help answer these questions and provide some natural ways you can help deal with this common problem at home.
Remember: There’s no substitute for a professional veterinarian. We suggest consulting a vet before attempting holistic approaches on your own, if only to rule out other possible health conditions, and to verify that you are in fact dealing with an ear infection.
There are a variety of issues that cause ear infections in dogs. These are the most common:
- Anatomy: certain breeds with hanging ears, like spaniels and retrievers, are more prone to ear infections than others.
- Bacteria: this is the most common cause of canine ear infections.
- Parasites: mites sometimes infest canine ears, especially in puppies.
- Lifestyle: dogs that frequent the outdoors or commonly swim tend to experience ear infections more often, sometimes due to water or grass seed that’s become stuck in the ear.
- Fungus: fungi, like yeast, for example, can sometimes lead to infection.
- Diet: poor and imbalanced diets are sometimes the source of recurring ear infections.
Here’s what to look for if you suspect an ear infection:
- Frequent shaking or tilting of the head that favors one side.
- Red or brown discharge
- An odd, almost sweet, odor coming from the ear
- Scabs on the outside or inside of the ear
- Constant rubbing or scratching of the ear
- Trouble keeping balance
The following natural approaches are said to help prevent ear infections, or provide relief from the symptoms:
After swimming, hiking, camping, or any activity that takes you and your pet into the outdoors, make sure to towel off your pup’s ears. Gently dry both outside and inside your dog’s ears. This will help prevent bacteria and fungi from reproducing in the ears.
Natural Ear Washes
While not effective after an infection has occurred, natural washes and rinses can be helpful in preventing ear infections. A couple of drops of olive or coconut oil will do the trick. This gentle approach will help soften any extra earwax so that it can be removed naturally from the body, or by a quick wipe with a towel. Frequent rinsing can actually make ears more prone to infection, so wash sparingly (approximately once a month).
Switch Up Your Pet’s Diet
A few changes in your pup’s diet can help make them less vulnerable to ear infections. Dogs with high starch diets, for example, tend to suffer more ear infections, likely due to the extra yeast their diet exposes them to. Grain-free diets can help eliminate this issue (some vets suggest cutting out chicken, too). In general, aim for a diet that’s low in starch, preservatives, processed foods, and that’s as natural and raw as possible.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is another natural approach for preventing ear infections. Mix a solution of half purified water with half apple cider vinegar; then, soak a cotton ball with this mixture and use it to gently clean your pup’s ear and ear flap. Make sure to use a cotton ball not a q-tip, so as to avoid potentially damaging the inner ear. This solution will help remove dirt and pollutants from the ear, as well as stifle the growth of unwanted fungi and bacteria. Just don’t use this solution if your pup’s ear is already swollen, red, or has open wounds or scabs; the acidic nature of the mixture will likely cause them pain if they already have these symptoms.