Just like in humans, ear infections in dogs or cats can occur for a myriad of reasons. For cats, the most likely problem is ear mites, although they may also suffer from allergies. For dogs, floppy ears (in breeds like spaniels, beagles, and labradors) are often the cause, if not a reason for a worsened infection.
For that reason, you should make sure that your pet’s hygiene is well maintained. Generally, you don’t need to bathe a cat unless it allows itself to get too dirty (in which case, you may want to investigate if it’s having some other sort of problem). To prevent mites (on cats and dogs) look for a natural anti-pest powder that contains ingredients like rosemary and eucalyptus rather than chemicals. If they already have mites, have your vet clean out any build-up, and make a point of asking if they have a natural solution you can try to eliminate mites and their eggs. Mites can spread, so keep your pet from scratching and keep it isolated from other pets and children.
To keep your dog well groomed, bathe it regularly. Depending on where you live and where your dog can go outside (whether it’s limited to a fenced in yard, whether there’s a lake or other still water on the property, whether it goes hunting, digging in bushes, etc.) how often your dog needs to be bathed will vary. For a very dirty dog, once or twice a week is plenty. Choose shampoo and conditioner that’s certified natural, as these often omit common ingredients (like sodium lauryl sulfate and it’s variants, used to create a rich bubbly lather) that dry out skin. Dry skin may flake. Brush your dog’s coat daily to keep loose hair at bay, and if you trim your dog yourself, make sure to carefully cut back the ear hair which can reduce air flow and cause build-up that may lead to an ear infection.
After bathing your dog, or taking it out in the rain, the pool, or other water, make sure that it’s ears are dry. Very gently use a cotton ball (and not a swab) to do any drying or cleaning. Your pet’s ears only need cleaning if there is an excess amount of build-up, as generally they should clean themselves naturally. If they need cleaning, you can use vinegar diluted with water, this also works as a dog ear infection remedy when the ear infection is minor and caught early. To increase air flow to your dog’s ears, it also helps to flip them on top of their head for a while when you’re petting them. Damp dog ears are breeding grounds for yeast that can cause a dog ear yeast infection.
If all of this prevention fails, you may notice that your pet’s ear is red, swollen, and has a smelly discharge. These are the symptoms of a cat or dog ear infection. Further signs of a cat or dog ear infection are that the pet is fussing with it’s ear (scratching, shaking, rubbing). So, having already addressed mites and hygiene, here are the other causes and some home remedies for dog ear infections:
- Food Allergies can affect both cats and dogs, so note what’s in their food if they start to have symptoms such as ear infections, rashes, and stomach sickness. First, do an elimination diet to discover the source of discomfort (put your pet on a very limited diet for two weeks, and then reintroduce one food one week at a time until symptoms reappear). Then seek alternative treatments such as acupuncture and enzymes and probiotics to ease digestion.
- If environmental toxins are causing an infection or an allergic reaction, follow steps similar to those for food allergies and remove the toxin if possible. If it’s common, like pollen, consider looking for something to reduce the bodies immune response to the allergy by supplementing to support the immune system.
- A Bacterial Infection, like Staph, can also be the cause (or indirect cause, if it’s a blockage that allows the bacteria to back up). Keep your pet’s immune system strong so that it can fight the infection, and monitor it closely.
- Blockages, such as tumors (which a vet may need to remove), foreign objects (from outdoor play, or from small children), or hair/wax build-up can also cause infection. See above for wax removal. Any severe blockage needs to be properly removed by a vet.
- Cat and dog ear infections can also be caused by a weakened immune system, as a result of other health problems such as puppy strangles or older age conditions. You can supplement to strengthen your pet’s immune system, as well as make sure they have a balanced diet, stress free (or reduced) home life, and plenty of both rest and exercise (when able).
Talk to a vet about a proper diagnoses, and don’t let other pets or children near the infection as it can spread.
In the meantime, comfort your pet with a warm compress, and infuse olive oil with crushed or minced garlic, which is a nice home remedy for an ear infection. It can take 1-2 weeks to fully infuse oil, but letting it sit overnight may work in a pinch. Make sure to strain before applying.
Check on the infection often, if it doesn’t go away, or becomes chronic, complications can include tumors (which cause blockages leading to more infections), nerve damage, and deafness.