Updated November 28, 2020
If you research home remedies for ear infections you’ll find all these choices…
- Aloe vera
- Apple cider vinegar
- Coconut oil
- Grapefruit seed extract
- Oil of oregano
- Witch hazel
The reason there’s so much interest in home remedies is simple: dog ear infections can be extremely frustrating. They’re common, they keep coming back and they can get very expensive. That’s without even mentioning the discomfort they bring to dogs.
I’m here to tell you that you can stop ear infections. But it’s never easy.
Later I’ll tell you my favourite natural remedy. But before choosing any treatment, natural or otherwise, you must understand two things:
- The real reason most dogs get ear infections
- The number one reason they keep coming back
Only then can we get a treatment to work properly.
1. Why Dogs Get Ear Infections
Look at this list from Dogs Naturally Magazine called “Why Does My Dog Get Ear Infections?”
- Diet (not natural enough)
- Anatomic (long ear flaps)
- Lifestyle (also not natural enough)
- Excessive Ear Cleaning
- Weakened Immune System (mainly food again)
- Other Chronic Disease (e.g. hypothyroidism or autoimmune disease)
While they are welcome to their opinion, vets will look at this list and say “it’s missing the big one”. Before I get to that, let’s quickly cover these other causes.
DNM say: Dry diets 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.
I say: Although possible, food is a rare cause of skin and ear problems. The two ways this could happen are via a food allergy, or if essential nutrients such as oils are lacking in the original diet. There is no evidence for anything else.
Everyone’s heard that dogs with floppy ears get more ear infections. That’s certainly what DNM say.
I say: There is some truth in it, but we need to also explain why so many dogs with floppy ears don’t get ear infections. Pendulous ear flaps may increase the risk, but on their own they don’t cause the problem. Clearly there’s more to it.
Lifestyle is entirely opinion-based, and I’ll say no more.
Excessive ear cleaning is certainly a real cause, but very uncommon. I never advise cleaning of normal ears, and only start cleaning after a problem is recognised. Then I monitor its effects closely so it’s only beneficial.
In other words, follow your vet’s advice and this should never happen.
A weakened immune system as a cause is once again an opinion that cannot be tested.
Other chronic diseases can certainly cause ear infections, but these are rare. Read my page on hypothyroidism in dogs and you’ll see my frustration at the over-diagnosis of this condition. As for auto-immune diseases, they’re even rarer, but here DNM come tantalisingly close to a better answer. Not autoimmune, but immune-mediated…
Causes Of Ear Infections, According To Vets
The number one reason why a dog gets an ear infection is skin disease, especially atopic dermatitis. This is an allergic skin disease that only gets more common as the years go by. Dogs who have their atopy brought under control can expect to suffer from far fewer or even no more ear infections.
Number two is a foreign body, especially a grass seed. This is mostly in spring and summer, and should only affect one ear. DNM say that you can remove them with tweezers, which is very rarely true, or to try a homeopathic remedy, which needs some explaining. Surely the most natural thing is to take it out.
Number three is ear mites, but this is almost exclusively in young puppies or neglected adults. DNM advise applying mineral oil, olive oil or essential oils to the ear canal. Not only is this hazardous (see below), it also requires a firm diagnosis, quite a bit of optimism, and a wilful disregard of the safe ways to eliminate ear mites.
To any of these causes, a floppy ear, a hairy ear canal, excessive wax or a frequent swimmer will make it a little harder to manage. With rare exceptions, these factors won’t cause an infection on their own.
One thing both Dogs Naturally and I can agree on is that ear infections are always secondary to something else. Instead of catching a nasty bug, an ear infection results from a common bug taking advantage of an abnormal situation.
2. Why Infections Keep Coming Back
Ear infections recur for two reasons. The first should already be obvious: a failure to properly identify and fix the underlying cause. I think we’ve covered this enough but you can read more about the treatment of skin diseases here.
However, it’s the second one that I see most often: a failure to properly resolve the last ear infection.
Just look at the dog ear diagram. It’s impossible to see the part of the ear canal where most infections are worst. This is why it’s very hard to treat a dog’s ear infection entirely at home.
Any treatment, no matter how well-chosen or targeted, must completely eliminate the infection right up to the ear drum. Yet you cannot tell this without a vet scoping the ear.
I am in the position of having more people wanting to bring their dogs to me than I have the time to see them. But I will always insist on a recheck appointment. I don’t do it to make more money- in fact, I’d make more by seeing someone else. I do it because it’s the only way.
Natural Remedies For Ear Infections
So with that said, let’s return to the original question: which natural remedies are effective and when can they be used? From wide experience watching them in practice, I only see one: apple cider vinegar in a 50:50 mix with cooled boiled water can be used for mild yeast infections.
But please don’t do it without reading this first:
- Yeast is only one type of ear infection. Vinegar will cause bacterial ear infections to get much worse.
- Ear drum rupture is not uncommon in ear infections. Once it happens, anything you put in the ear (and especially vinegar) can permanently damage the hearing and balance.
- Vinegar is acidic, and very painful on any broken skin. What looks mild at the top is often severe at the bottom and dogs rarely show the pain they’re feeling.
So I don’t see a way to avoid getting a vet to take a look first, to assess the severity, check the ear drum and determine the type of infection. Don’t be too disappointed if your vet thinks that it’s too severe for a natural remedy to work. These can still be great for longer-term prevention afterwards.
You can also use the opportunity to get the vet to take a look at your whole dog. A single ear infection may be ‘just one of those things’ but it’s more likely they’ll see a bigger picture. Also addressing this gives you one more way to prevent your dog’s future discomfort.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
Information from dogsnaturallymagazine.com/5-home-remedies-for-dog-ear-infection accessed 10 April, 2020.