For the care of healthy ears, hairy ears, or dogs with bacterial and yeast infections
If your dog has a hairy ear canal, has had ear problems in general, or if you are just looking to prevent ear problems, this article is for you.
- HEALTHY EAR CARE
- MOIST EAR CARE
- INFLAMED EARS WITHOUT THE PRESENCE OF INFECTION
- YEAST INFECTIONS IN DOG EARS
- BACTERIAL EAR INFECTIONS
1. Healthy Ear Care
The most prominent mark of a “happy” and disease-free ear is that it requires zero care. Many people mistakenly believe that in order to keep your dog's ears healthy, they need to be cleaned and or plucked.
In fact, regular ear cleaning is often the cause of recurrent ear inflammation, stubborn chronic infections, and superbug overgrowth. In dogs, the ears have evolved to signal general system imbalances and health problems. They are the “signal lights” of your dog’s body when there is something wrong.
A dog's ears are closely connected to the health of its digestive tract, liver, and spine. While the nature of ear conditions makes them appear localized in the ear, most ear conditions are, in fact, indications of a systemic disease.
A healthy ear might have a slightly sweet odour, which is normal. Most important of all, the skin of a healthy ear is pale, with no signs of swelling, inflammation, wetness, itching, or discomfort. The presence of a small amount of wax may be normal especially in dogs that have thick skin such as Spaniels and Labrador Retrievers.
What to do with healthy ears?
Despite popular belief, healthy ears require no regular cleaning. A healthy ear canal skin functions as a “conveyer belt” growing from the inside out, carrying debris and impurities out of the ear canal.
It is ok to gently wipe your dog’s ears once a month or so, but in most cases, even that is unnecessary. Pouring ear solution in the ear canal often leads to bacterial imbalances and superbug overgrowth. When it comes to ears, the saying: “If it is not broken, don’t fix it” applies very well.
How about plucking? If your dog’s ears are hairy but otherwise dry and healthy, plucking is not required. Repeated plucking of healthy ears may lead to inflammation, discomfort, scratching and a higher likelihood of an infection.
2. Moist ear care
I use the term “moist ears” whenever I see an ear canal that is not inflamed or infected, yet there is excessive moisture and the ear makes a squishy sound when rubbed. Sometimes, it may be an indication of over-cleaning, at other times, it may be due to too much hair in the ear canal and moisture being trapped inside.
There are many situations in veterinary medicine where breeding for certain characteristics brought in some other challenges in the breed. The soft coat of Poodles, Wheaton Terriers, and Bichons and other breeds resulted in excessive hair growth in the ear canal, which makes it more prone to problems
A common misperception is that dogs that swim have wet ears. This should not be the case in the healthy ear of a dog that swims.
Shave, pluck or do nothing? If your dog’s ear canal is moist but no inflammation is present, and your dog does not bother the ear, the best solution may be to do nothing.
However, if your dog shows signs of discomfort or scratching, you may decide to try one of the ear and nose hair trimmers for people first. This may be more gentle than plucking and still, will bring more air into the ear canal. The second option is to pluck the ears with the understanding that, the less you need to do this to keep the symptoms at bay, the better.
To calm the irritation after plucking the ears, use herbal Skin Spray by saturating a piece of gauze and gently apply it on the plucked area to reduce the redness, swelling, and the possibility of an infection. Remember that Skin Spray is used to calm down the irritated skin, not to treat infected or inflamed ears in the long term.
If the ears continue to be “moist” after plucking, you may try to use Zn 4.5 Otic, zinc-based ear drops. You may need to use the solution for 2-4 weeks to see the effect and because it is not an antibiotic, you can use it as needed without the danger of bacterial resistance. (Note that these drops are not to treat bacterial ear infections.)
3. Inflamed ears without the presence of infection
Inflammation of the external ears (otitis external) is one of the most common conditions in dogs. Such ears appear red, swollen, moist and are often itchy. Such ears are often treated locally with antibiotics and steroids, which in my opinion cause more long-term problems than benefits.
Ear inflammation is most often caused by imbalances in the digestive tract, the liver, or injury of the cervical spine, as I mentioned above. Addressing your dog’s toxin levels, diet, and nutrient deficiencies, along with proper spinal assessment is the way to go.
Here is the link to an article on how to treat ear problems naturally without antibiotics and chemicals.
4. Yeast infections in dog ears
Perhaps you are wondering why so many dogs are diagnosed with yeast ear infections or why most of them get antibiotic, anti-fungal, or steroid-containing drops. The reason is that the conventional medical approach does not fully acknowledge the systemic nature of ear conditions and focuses only on a change in diet (more processed kibble). My experience is that as soon as dogs are put through the natural ear protocol, the ear canal inflammation settles down, and yeast will be in check.
Other predisposing factors to yeast infections are frequent ear cleaning and swimming—even though a healthy dog should be able to swim without any problems.
If an ear culture test is done and reveals no bacteria, just yeast, and your dog is itchy or in discomfort, you can put one drop of oil of oregano into each ear canal and add one to four drops of the same oil to your dog’s diet, depending on your dog’s size. (Please note that oil of oregano is not suitable for dogs with epilepsy.)
Please note that reddish black wax in the ear canal can be a sign of yeast infections but can, in some cases, be quite normal, especially if the amount of wax is small. In such cases, it is better not to “mess” with the ears and leave them alone, unless your dog is uncomfortable or persistently itchy.
If nothing else helps, you may need to use anti-fungal medication; however, make sure you avoid steroids! They come concealed under the following names: Otomax, Panalog, and Surolan.
5. Bacterial ear infections
The biggest flaw in conventional treatments
Most dogs with bacterial infections have a history of repeated ear problems with their ears being cleaned frequently. The idea that cleaning will somehow get rid of the ear problems is false. The reason is that the origin of ear problems is almost always systemic, not local, with the exception of ear mites.
What to do?
When your dogs have painful ears with a puss-like discharge, strange putrid odour, redness, or even blood, you must see your veterinarian.
In many cases, your dog may need to be sedated to eliminate pain to go through the following steps:
- Collect bacterial ear culture to determine what bacteria is present.
- Flush the ear in hospital.
- Apply anti-fungal or antibacterial medication based on your vet’s experience while waiting for the culture. Avoid any meds with steroids as they suppress healing and make ears more difficult to treat in the long term. This is where you have to stand up for your dog as most conventional veterinarians still use corticosteroid/antibiotic preparations.
- If systemic antibiotics are prescribed, make sure that you use probiotics to replace healthy bacterial flora.
- Ensure that you take your dog off kibble and feed either cooked or raw diet. Here is a link to a short course.
- Last step: use the Healthy Dog Tool to customize your dog’s cleanse and supplement program to finely tune your dog’s health.
Start now. :-)
Here is a list of additional resources for ear issues in dogs that you may find to be helpful:
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM