If your dog’s ears seem to have a distinct “yeasty” or sweet smell, you’re not going alone. In my practice, ear fungal infections are one of the most common problems that I come across.
There are many types of medicated ear ointments that are available – and I’m not against using them. This is especially the case when a dog’s ears are extremely painful and inflamed due to a severe infection.
But unfortunately, these medications tend to only delay the problem. It eventually comes back. And, in many cases, it doesn’t take so long for the infection to come back. That’s one of the reasons why I like trying natural approaches to help reduce the chances of this happening.
Let’s first start at the beginning…
What Is a Yeast Infection?
Yeast is a fungus (also known as candida) that is present on all dogs (and all humans!). But it’s a fungus that’s a part of your healthy flora – on your skin and in your gut. Kept at it’s normal healthy numbers, it’s harmless. But when the immune system becomes stressed, a candida overgrowth can occur.
This buildup of yeast can cause all sorts of issues – namely itchiness, inflammation and discomfort. Not to mention a rather unpleasant smell. And, though a yeast infection isn’t fatal, it can go on to cause other health complications.1
What Are the Symptoms of Yeast Ears in Dogs?
The most common signs and symptoms of a candida fungal infection include:2,3
- Head shaking – a dog will try to relieve her discomfort by shaking or moving her head about.
- Scratching or rubbing – a dog can’t get a paw into its ear so it will try to do the next best thing: scratching the greater ear area or rubbing it up against furniture or the ground.
- Odor – This is where that sweet smell enters the equation. Yeast tends to give off a sweet-ish smell that becomes far more “funky” smelling over time. Though it’s important to note that some bacterial infections have similar “sweet-smell” symptoms.
- A brown, yellow or bloody discharge – observe anything that is coming out from their inner ear.
- Loss of balance or walking in circles – any infection of the inner ear can cause a loss of balance, or a vertigo sensation, in both humans and pets alike. This is because our balance comes from our inner ear.
- Loss of hair or crusty skin around the ear flap – this may indicate both an inner or outer ear yeast overgrowth.
- Loss of hearing – your pup may not seem to hear you as well as usual.
- Redness or swelling – inside or around the ear canal.
The Main Culprits
Every dog’s ears are filled with trillions of yeast and bacteria. Some dogs have major ongoing problems with ear infections. Why is this the case? Also, why do recurrences happen so often when using many of the topical ear infection medications on the market?
One reason why ear infections occur so often is that bacteria and yeasts thrive as a result of canine allergies. These harmful microbes need something to help them grow, and allergies provide them with the optimal environment.
Allergies cause inflammation – this is especially the case when it comes to a dog’s ear canals. This leads to an excess of moisture within the ear. And this is the best possible environment for yeasts to really thrive.4
Diet plays an equally important role in canine ear infections. Remember, dogs are carnivores. Eating food high in cereals, carbohydrates, grains, and processed starches can have a damaging effect on a dog’s system.5 Harmful microbes feast on the carbs and sugars in many dog food brands. This, in turn, aggravates allergic reactions. This vicious cycle continually makes the ear canals hotbeds for yeasts to thrive.6
I can’t tell you how many times chronic ear conditions (especially the really smelly ones) improve dramatically after something as simple as a dietary change. Simply switching to diets containing high levels of fresh, high-quality meats can make a huge difference. You’re giving your dog what they’re born to eat – a species appropriate diet.
3. The Shape of a Dogs Ear
A dog’s ear canal is shaped like the letter “L” which means that deep into that L-shape is an environment that’s extremely favorable for a fungus to grow – it’s dark and moist and things can get easily trapped. Especially water, if your dog loves to swim.7
Your best plan of attack for this is to remove water and get those doggie ears dry immediately after they’ve been swimming or bathing. There are some easy and gentle commercial options for this – like ear drops that contain drying agents like witch hazel.
Dogs with floppy ears are especially prone to ear infections. This is because their ears trap moisture more easily, they have less airflow within their ear canals, and are often genetically predisposed to ear-canal infections.8
How To Treat Yeasty Ears
In addition to thinking about switching your dog’s diet, there are natural, safe medicinal approaches to battling the frustrating problem of recurrent canine ear infections.
Coconut oil might prove helpful. It’s rich in MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides). One of the components of MCTs, caprylic acid, has antifungal properties. In fact, caprylic acid has actually been proven to help fight candida yeast in humans.9 Caprylic acid is also effective at eliminating a common yeast that causes canine ear infections, known as Malassezia pachydermatis.10
The best way to apply coconut oil to your dog’s ears is to warm it slightly – make sure it’s not too hot – and then apply several drops to the affected ear using an eyedropper. You can also soak a cotton ball in the oil, and gently wipe in and around the ear canal.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Another effective way to attack a canine ear infection is to use apple cider vinegar. In fact, years ago, I wrote in my book, The Nature of Animal Healing, about using a solution made of diluted apple cider vinegar as an ear rinse for dogs suffering from infections. I’ve received lots of good feedback on this “hack” for fighting chronic, non-responsive yeasty ear conditions in canines. And I’m glad it’s worked for so many pups.11
When you look around the internet and research apple cider vinegar for ear infections, you’ll see a lot of different opinions on how to dilute it. I’ve found that using a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar per half-cup of tepid water works best.
Another great option for yeasty ears is adding probiotics to your dog’s food. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria (yes, there is actually such as thing as “good” bacteria) that live in your dog’s intestinal tract. They help to balance out the bad microbes that cause digestive and other problems.12
When your dog’s gut works properly, their body will function properly as well. And this is exactly what a quality probiotic supplement does. It helps the intestines work as they should.13
I could go on and on giving you more recommendations regarding alternative methods to address chronic, yeasty ear infections in dogs. There are certain Chinese herbal formulas, for example, that help clear moisture from the body. These herbs can go a long way toward making it much more difficult for yeasts to survive.
Dog Ear Cleaning
A regular ear cleaning process is a great way to keep your beloved pet free of ear infections. Once a month is a great standard to live by, but ask your vet their opinion on your dog’s specific breed, age, and history of ear infections.
You may also want to increase ear cleaning over the summertime.
These months are perhaps the worst time for doggie ear infections because the warm and moist weather (unless you live in a dry climate) coupled with plenty of swimming help yeast to thrive.
A good ear cleaning isn’t just about what you put in your dog’s ears. Good grooming also counts. Make sure to keep the ear area free of excess dirty, matted hair – especially around the ear canal and ear flap. This can restrict good air flow into the air. If your pup has exceptionally hairy inner ears talk to your vet about having it gently removed – especially if your dog is prone to recurrent infections.14
Whenever you place any type of cleaning solution into your dog’s ears, you should follow these steps:
- Dribble only a small amount of liquid into the ear canal.
- Gently massage the base of your pup’s ear for about 20 seconds.
- If your dog expresses any kind of pain during this process, see your vet immediately.
One Last Word
Here’s one final piece of advice on this subject: Never try any sort of alternative medicine without first having a detailed discussion with your veterinarian. If possible, find a vet who’s open to integrative medicine. This vet will weigh the benefits of both traditional and alternative approaches, and give you honest, thorough answers to your questions. You will find this to be a big help when conventional approaches haven’t worked.
Article updated: June 21st, 2018