Ear infections can become a chronic health condition for your pet. Owners can often tell when their pets have an ear infection because of the odor and debris in the ear. (The healthy ear should be free of debris and odor.) Dogs may also display head shaking or excessive scratching of the ear, making you very aware that your dog is uncomfortable. If your dog or cat suffers from recurring ear infections, this article will give you both conventional and natural alternatives for treatment.
Conventional Veterinary Perspective
Dogs and cats have 2 portions to their ear canals; a vertical portion that can be somewhat visualized with the naked eye and a horizontal portion that you cannot see. (Human beings have only a horizontal ear canal.) If you see wax, dirt, or debris in any amount in the ear canal, there could be an infection deeper within the part of the canal you can’t see. Your veterinarian will usually use an otoscope to visualize the horizontal ear canal and tympanic membrane (ear drum).
Some breeds of dogs are predisposed to ear infections. Any of the brachiocephalic breeds (pug, bulldog, Boston terrier, Shar-Pei etc) have narrowed ear canals and excessive wrinkling which do not allow free movement of air. Without this free movement of air, moisture gets trapped in the ear canal and between the skin folds, predisposing to infection. Other breeds with genetic predisposition to allergy or skin disease (cocker spaniel, Golden Retriever) usually also have ear issues because the ear canal is actually an extension of the skin. Dogs with skin problems often have ear problems too.
Your veterinarian will look at your pet’s ear and determine which organisms are in the ear and will prescribe the right type of medicine to do the job. Often the doctor will take an ear smear of the debris from the affected ear, smear it on a slide, and determine what is causing the problem. This is an important diagnostic step because it helps the doctor choose the right medicine. Yeast, bacteria, mites, and inflammatory cells are usually identified with the microscope. The number and type of bacteria are important to identify. Small round bacteria (cocci) are easier to treat and less serious than rod bacteria, which are often very dangerous. In general, the treatment for ear infections typically involves antibiotics, antifungals, anti-inflammatory medications and antiparasitic formulas–both oral and topical.
Some pets will allow the veterinary team to clean the ear canals, but many pets are so painful and uncomfortable that sedation or anesthesia may be necessary to do a thorough job. Ideally, debris must be removed from the ear canal to facilitate effective treatment with the ear ointments or ear drops. It also allows the doctor the possibility of carefully examining the ear drum. Is it still intact or has the ear drum been ruptured? This will determine which medication to put in the ear. Are there foxtails of other foreign material deep within the ear? Sedation or anesthesia will allow the veterinarian to remove these safely.
It is important for pet owners to follow the doctor’s instructions on treating the ear. Make sure you return to the office on the re-check visit so the doctor can make sure the problem has been cured. The doctor should then illustrate what you need to do to try and keep these infections from returning. Prophyllactic ear rinse solutions are available, and should be used in most cases after the infection has subsided.
WARNING: Many owners mistakenly put hydrogen peroxide in the ear. This is not a good idea. Hydrogen peroxide eventually turns into water, which will then create a perfect environment for bacteria to start growing. The ear canal is one place where hydrogen peroxide should never be used. If you prefer to use a natural solution instead of the prescription ear washes, you can try using 1 part white vinegar with 2 parts warm water. The ear cleansers and/or vinegar solution will keep the pH of the ear canal at an optimum level, discouraging the colonization of bacteria and yeast. For some dogs, this will become a lifetime regimen and we often recommend that pet owners do this 2 to 3 times a week for life.
Let’s Learn More About Natural Alternatives For Dog Ear Infections
Pets with chronic ear infections typically have skin infections too. It is quite common for pets to have ear infections, hot spots, hair loss, scratching/itching, urinary tract infections and digestive issues—all seemingly unrelated but quite often all due to the same issue—allergies (both food and environmental) and poor digestion. When pets are allergic to what they are eating and/or are fed foods that are poorly digested (many “brand name” commercial pet foods are hard to digest because they contain preservatives, fillers and allergens such as corn), the pet experiences an inflammatory response.
In addition, the pet’s digestive system can often become compromised, reducing their overall immune response. This sets up an environment for yeast, bacteria and parasites to overgrow. That’s why the first step in healing a pet with chronic ear infections is to put the pet on a healthy, hypoallergenic diet. This is not always an easy task as many times, pets are allergic to different foods. Common food allergens are corn, soy, milk products, casein (found in cheese), peanut butter, wheat, gluten, beef and chicken. Some cats are allergic to fish and chicken. Overall, try to seek out local pet stores that may carry more natural, holistic brands that do not contain wheat or corn. We have had terrific success using pre-made frozen raw diets but this may or may not be the right food for your pet. Each pet has different digestive issues and what works for one may not be ideal for another. For best results, you might want to schedule a holistic consultation with Dr. Selmer.
In addition to changing your pet’s diet, some supplements can really help your pet fight off yeast infections from the inside out. If your pet has taken antibiotics or prednisone, it is critical that you restore the balance of flora to prevent the infection from coming back. Many times, people and pets experience chronic infections because the antibiotics kill off the good bacteria (as well as the bad) and unfortunately if you haven’t made the changes to support a healthy digestive tract, the bad bacteria will grow back faster than the good bacteria. That is why it is so essential to supplement with probiotics (and antifungals if you or your pet have a tendency to get yeast) following a course of antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatory medications.
Using both conventional and holistic veterinary care, we have seen pets with chronic infections completely improve without continued reoccurrence. If your pet has been been struggling with recurring ear infections, contact Dr. Selmer for a PHONE or EMAIL CONSULT.