How to raise a healthy dog

Ear infections are common problems in dogs. What measures can one adopt at home so the pet is safe and healthy?
Aditi Trivedi, 28, New Delhi
Ear problems are one of the top routine reasons why dogs visit the veterinarian and many dogs suffer with painful and unpleasant ear conditions for years on end before a true long-standing cure is found. A holistic approach to the problem considers the environment in which the dog lives, what he eats and his lifestyle.

The Symptoms
  Head shaking
  Excessive ear scratching
  Redness of the ear flaps (otitis)
  Subtle signs of an underlying ear problem
  Slight tilt of the head
  One ear being held at a slightly different angle than the other
  Pungent, yeasty odor emanating from the ears
  Dark reddish brown buildup of waxy substance around the folds of the ears and deeper within the ear canal itself

The Causes
  Certain breeds with ears that hang down, like setters, spaniels and retrievers, can be pre-disposed to infections and yeast buildup because these longer ear flaps provide an internal ear environment that’s dark, potentially more moist – and perfect for the growth of yeast and bacteria. While some breeds are routinely subjected to ear-cropping, this is almost entirely a cosmetic (and in the opinion of most, a cruel) surgical mutilation.

  Food (or environmental) allergies are especially likely to be implicated in ear problems when both ears are involved. An excess of grain and/ or sugar in the diet is one of the most common causes of ear infections in dogs

  The sugar actually feeds the yeast which lives naturally in the body and causes a yeast overgrowth, which results in the dark, yeasty-smelling buildup that can occur inside the ears.

  A grain-free diet is almost always helpful in combating chronic yeast infections. Grains contain natural sugars which yeasts can feed upon, and multiply.

  A raw or natural, minimally processed diet can be very helpful in combating ear problems, because it provides the natural, whole-food nutrition that the dog’s immune system needs in order to regain strength. Removing toxic chemical preservatives and excessive gluten, by-products and fillers can have a marvelous effect on most of the body, including the condition of the ears.  

  Those dogs who regularly swim can be more prone to ear problems than those who don’t go near the water. Any dog who swims should have his ears gently dried afterwards, using a soft towl or cotton wool to remove the excess moisture. This alone can prevent many ear infections from building up, because yeast and bacteria love to reproduce in dark, moist places.

  Dogs who spend a lot of time outdoors and are lucky enough to run in the woods or other grassy 
open spaces, are more at risk for grass seed working its way into the ears. This can cause severe pain and discomfort and often require surgical removal although in some cases, a vet may suggest pouring mineral oil or another substance into the ear to soften the seed and allow it to be shaken out by the dog – however it’s essential that a correct diagnosis is made before this approach is taken and it should only be attempted under veterinary supervision.

  Parasites such as mites can invade the ear canal. Sometimes, allergic ear problems can be mistaken for ear mites. If they do invade, a confirmed case of ear mites can be treated with Neem or plain mineral oil

  Chronic and persistent ear ailments that do not clear up using simple measures, require veterinary attention. Contact your vet for a moderate treatment option.

  Cleaning: Most dogs’ ears do not require regular cleaning and can mostly be left alone. In fact, it’s better to leave normal, healthy ears alone and not attempt to clean them for the sake of it, because this in itself can disrupt the delicate pH balance and natural environment there. Some dogs require occasional cleaning to remove debris

  Minor amounts of debris can be removed with a clean, dry cotton pad alone, which is the best solution for maintaining ears that don’t have a deep-seated problem of any kind. Never try to clean beyond the areas of the ears that you can actually see.

A basic ear cleaner can be prepared at home, and work double duty to correct the pH and kill any contaminants residing there:

  Make up a solution with 1 cup of luke-warm water
  2 tablespoons of one or more of the following:
  hydrogen peroxide
  apple cider (or white) vinegar 
plantain tincture.

This mixture can be used to wipe out excess debris from visible areas of the ear. Calendula Lotion is nice product for topical use because it’s very healing and has wonderful healing properties, as does comfrey, which can also be applied to the ears. Oil is an excellent ear product that’s recommended by some veterinarians for basic ear infections.

How can ear infections be prevented?
Check your dog’s ears regularly for abnormal discharge, odor and/or redness. If your dog’s outer ear appears dirty, clean gently with a cotton ball dampened with a solution suggested by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can make recommendations on how frequently you should clean your dog’s ears. 

After baths and swimming, be sure to dry your dog’s ears thoroughly. If your dog has excessive hair in the outer ear canal, it should be removed. 

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