Ear infections in dogs and cats are caused by bacteria, yeasts, or ear mites. Chronic ear infections occur in certain breeds such as Retrievers and Spaniels due to anatomic abnormalities or lifestyle (frequent swimming). Chronic ear infections may also be caused by underlying abnormalities such as food allergies, atopy, or hypothyroidism. Accurate diagnosis requires examination of the ear discharge under a microscope (ear cytology). A medicated ear flushing (sedation is often required) will clean the ear and allow the owners to apply treatment more easily.

Principal natural treatments
The treatment utilizes herbal ear drops containing herbs such as aloe vera and calendula. Aloe is often used topically as a soothing rinse or topical preparation. Aloe contains a number of beneficial chemicals. The prostaglandins in aloe have beneficial effects on inflammation, allergy, and wound healing. While many would profess to appreciate the healing effect of aloe on wounds and burns, no properly designed scientific studies have been completed that could tell us just how effective aloe really is for these conditions. Topical aloe gel may improve the rate of healing of minor cuts and scrapes, although one report suggests that aloe can actually impair healing severe wounds.

Aloe has antibacterial and antifungal effects; the antibacterial effects have been compared to silver sulfadiazine.

Calendula, also called the pot marigold, is an herb related to the sunflower. It is useful as an anti-inflammatory herb and for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. The various oils in the flowers (such as essential oils and flavonoids) assist in cell healing and decrease bacteria and fungi in the wounded part. Diluted calendula is often recommended for ear infections, eye infections, and topical treatment of minor wounds. It may also be helpful topically for pets with ringworm. Internally, calendula can treat inflammation and infection of the digestive and urinary systems.

Calendula may induce abortions and should be avoided in pregnant animals. Calendula contains a small amount of salicylate in the leaves and stems. While unlikely to be harmful due to the small amount salicylate, to be safe for long-term use, it should only be used internally under veterinary supervision in cats. As with any condition, the most healthful natural diet will improve the pet’s overall health.

Conventional therapy
Conventional therapy utilizes antibiotic or antifungal ear drops (combined with corticosteroids in the drops to relieve inflammation). Therapy, following a medicated ear flush in the doctor’s office, must be given for two to three weeks in most cases.

Shawn Messonnier, DVM

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Shawn Messonnier DVM Past Supporting Member, Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!

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