Natural remedies for ear infections in dogs

Conventional medications for ear infections in dogs can cause side effects and lead to resistant pathogens. These natural remedies offer an effective, non-toxic alternative.

Ear infections are very common in dogs. In fact, your own canine companion has probably had at least one ear infection at some point. Getting a proper diagnosis as to the cause of the problem is important, after which a range of natural remedies can help to effectively get rid of it.

Diagnosing ear infections

As with any condition affecting your dog, it is vital to work with your veterinarian to achieve a proper diagnosis. He or she will begin with a thorough history of the condition, along with an ear examination. Diagnostic testing may be required and can include an ear swab to rule out ear mites and provide a basic cytological evaluation of the microbes in the ear. An ear culture may also be needed. These are generally sent to special laboratories that will determine which organisms are causing problems within the ear, and which treatments are most likely to provide the best results.

Tip: Because some ear infections can be caused by allergies, your vet should also ask about your dog’s environment, as well as his diet. Allergy testing or diet changes may be some options for further diagnosis and treatment.

Natural remedies are becoming more important

There are many options when it comes to treating ear infections in our dogs. The treatment protocol you are probably most familiar with includes some form of medication applied directly to the ear canal, or given orally in the form of antibiotics, antifungals, or anti-inflammatories. While these medications have been the mainstay of veterinary medicine for quite some time, side effects can occur, and resistance to infection-causing agents is on the rise. This means alternative options are becoming more and more important. These are just a few of the many choices available.

1. Natural ear cleaners

Start by keeping your dog’s ears good and clean. This not only helps remove dirt, but also aids in balancing the ear’s natural environment and maintaining the proper pH. One of the easiest solutions to make is a combination of 3% hydrogen peroxide and water, which can help remove waxy buildup in the ears. Another great natural ear cleaner is apple cider vinegar, which can be used alone or in combination with isopropyl alcohol. See sidebar for some recipes.

Tip: Don’t overclean your dog’s ears.  Excessive or aggressive cleaning can irritate or damage the tissue lining the ear canal.

2. Probiotics

Probiotics aid in maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal (GI) environment. In recent years however, the impact of “gut” health on other parts of the body has come to light. For example, proper GI health has been linked to a stronger immune system, better cognitive function, and better skin health.

With improved immunity and skin health, the body has a better chance of maintaining proper pH and skin functions. This in turn aids the ears in maintaining the proper micro-environment, with appropriate levels of normal bacteria and other microorganisms needed for pH balance and function. While it may take a few weeks before results are noticed, beginning a probiotic regiment is extremely important for ear health along with overall wellness.

Probiotics come in many forms with various dosing instructions. Consult with your veterinarian to find the best product for your dog and his specific condition.

3. Laser therapy

The use of therapeutic lasers in veterinary medicine has increased substantially over the last ten to 15 years. Once thought to be out of reach for the average veterinarian, and used primarily by specialty practices, laser therapy is now easily accessible to most vets. In fact, certain laser units have been cleared for use by animal parents in their own homes.

With ever-advancing scientific research, the medical circumstances in which therapeutic lasers are used have grown as well. Once thought of as solely another tool to treat pain, laser therapy now allows for the treatment of a multitude of conditions, including ear inflammation and infections.

4. Essential oils

Essential oils are very concentrated and can produce powerful effects. So remember that a little goes a long way. It is also vitally important to remember that not all essential oils are created equal. Purity and quality are absolutely paramount for safety and efficacy.

Do not apply undiluted (“neat”) oils directly to the dog, especially to sensitive areas such as the ears. Always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil. Applying diluted oils around the ears, and to the base of the ears, can be beneficial for treating inflammation and infections – see sidebar for a list of essential oils commonly used for ear infections.

Tip: While opinions may vary, some animal aromatherapists do not recommend applying essential oils directly to the ear canal. Consult a veterinarian trained in essential oil use before going this route.

5. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM)

Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) centers around diagnosing patterns and disorders of the body’s systems while treating the root cause of the ailment, not just the symptoms. In other words, TCVM focuses on the whole patient to maintain health and balance within the body.

Within TCVM, ear infections are often classified as a Gallbladder Damp Heat. The goal is to use specific acupuncture points known to clear the heat, and points along the gallbladder meridian to help move the body’s energy and open up the channel. Local points around the ears are also important and can be used to reduce local pain and inflammation.

Tip: Chinese herbal supplements prescribed by a veterinarian trained in TCVM are also wonderful at helping improve the body’s immune responses, thereby improving the dog’s condition and overall health.

These are just a few of the natural treatment options that can be used for ear infections in dogs. If your own dog is prone to recurring ear problems, rather than trying another round of antibiotics or antifungals, consult a holistic or integrative veterinarian about alternative therapies.