The L-shape of dog and cat ear canals are designed to protect their highly developed sense of hearing. Unfortunately, this design may also cause moisture, debris, parasites and wax to be trapped in the ears, resulting in infections.

Causes of Ear Infections

In cats, the most common causes of ear infections are mites or a weak immune system (which may be caused by the feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus). Persian cats can be prone to ear infections.

In dogs, the most common underlying afflictions are allergies (upwards of 80%) and yeast, both of which often result in secondary bacterial infections. Dogs with floppy ears and swimmers are prone to ear infections.

Dog ear structure - Otitis infection
Dog Ear Structure Diagram: Sunshine Connelly

Other causes of ear infections include:

  • Fungal and yeast infections can result in scratching that turns into a bacterial ear infection.
  • Inherited anatomical abnormalities in the ear canal structure can leave pets predisposed to ear infections due to inadequate drainage or constriction.
  • Chronic ear infections can cause a build-up of scar tissue, leading to more infections.
  • Ear growths/tumors/polyps may block efficient ear drainage in both dogs and cats.
  • Ticks and fleas
  • Water in the ears after swimming or a bath may cause an ear infection in dogs.
  • Hot, humid weather brings a higher risk of infection.
  • Trauma to the ear
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Diabetes

Symptoms of an ear infection may include:

  • Excessive ear scratching or rubbing ears against objects
  • Head shaking or tilting
  • Foul smell that may remind you of yeast, sweat socks or a sewer
  • Redness & bleeding
  • Swelling
  • Matted fur around the ears
  • Stumbling, walking in circles, clumsiness
  • Droopy eyes
  • Brown, black or yellow discharge
  • Pinkish-brown ear wax may indicate a yeast infection
  • Dry, dark, discharge may be ear mites, which can lead to an ear infection.
External ear canal infection - Otitis Externa Swimmer's Ear Photo
Dog with Otitis Externa Ear Infection

Preventing & Treating Ear Infections in Dogs & Cats

High quality essential oils may be blended into a cleansing and/or natural treatment solution for ear infections, with the most commonly used for dogs being lavender, aloe vera, mullein flower, grapefruit seed extract, bergamot, niaouli, calendula, manuka and chamomile. Cats are highly sensitive to essential oils but some are reputed to be safe to use as hydrosols, such as witch hazel, aloe vera, rose, and lavender.

Remember to use very small, heavily-diluted amounts of essential oils for all pets.  We rely on essential oils from Starwest Botanicals for their medicinal quality.  Avoid drying agents like alcohol and dangerous “cures” like gentian violet. If you prefer a premixed solution, holistic veterinarians often recommend Ear Clean.

Medications are often necessary to bring an ear infection under control, especially if the problem is in the inner ear or if serious swelling is involved. Unfortunately, a vicious cycle can follow treatment with antibiotics, anti-fungal medications and other drugs intended to treat ear infections in dogs and cats. The chemical balance of the ear and the bacterial balance within the body is often affected by these treatments, resulting in a long-term battle against secondary and recurring infections. Antibiotics, for example, can inadvertently kill off beneficial bacteria, allowing yeast to flourish.

It is very important to nurture balance following medication, and maintaining that balance should become a routine part of natural pet care to prevent ear infections and mites.

This may include:

  • Prebiotics and probiotics (such as plain yogurt)
  • Cleaning with white or apple cider vinegar to maintain a healthy chemical balance in the ear
  • Feeding anti-fungal foods
  • Feeding anti-inflammatory foods
  • Nurturing a healthy immune system with a naturally balanced diet that includes antioxidants and fatty acids.

Cleaning dog and cat ears every 1-3 weeks can prevent infections. This can be as simple as a 1:1 blend of organic apple cider vinegar or white vinegar with sterile water. Some holistic veterinarians also suggest making a pure, green tea that can be cooled and dropped into the ear. A convenient option is purchasing natural ear cleansing solutions or mite treatments. Cleaning ears too often can cause problems of its own, so only clean when necessary.

Use a soft plastic dropper and massage the base of the ear to distribute.  When your dog or cat shakes their head afterward, the debris will be ejected.  Clean around the ears and dry thoroughly with a clean cloth.  Do not use cotton swabs.  Note: If massaging the ear causes pain, it may be due to a foreign object in the canal or severe infection. Stop massaging and contact your Veterinarian.

Keep ear hair clipped if your dog or cat has a lot of fur in the ear. This allows for more air circulation. Be sure to use blunt-tipped scissors or an electric trimmer.

If you suspect allergies, try a gradual switch to a more natural food that doesn’t contain harsh chemicals, and a short ingredient list that allows for a process of elimination. You may also wish to try quercetin or bromelain supplements, which may help prevent allergic reactions in the gastrointestinal tract. They can often be found in combined formulations for easy administration. Environmental allergies may include pollen or dust mites.

If ear mites are the issue, you can place a few drops of extra virgin olive oil or almond oil mixed with vitamin E into the ear after cleaning to smother them. Some also suggest following this treatment with a Yellow Dock infusion.

Note of Caution: Treatment of ear infections (otitis externa, otitis media and otitis interna) in dogs and cats should always begin with an examination and diagnosis by your Veterinarian. Your pet may initially require ear drainage or antibiotics. All natural treatments and dietary changes should be cleared by your Veterinarian.

??? Have you found a natural treatment or preventative for dog or cat ear infections that is particularly effective? We’d love to hear about it! Please post in the comments below.

Anette Loeffler, Monika Linek, Arshnee Moodley, Luca Guardabassi, Julia M. L. Sung, Margit Winkler, Reinhard Weiss and David H. Lloyd. First report of multiresistant, mecA-positive Staphylococcus intermedius in Europe: 12 cases from a veterinary dermatology referral clinic in Germany. 2007.
VetCare Tauranga. Ear Infections in Cats. 2007.
Mansfield Animal Clinic. Ear Infections in Dogs. 2009.
Bell, Kristen Leigh. Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to the Use of Essential Oils & Hydrosols with Animals. 2002.
Harris, Viv BVSc Natural Remedies Dogs and Cats Wish You Knew: A Holistic Care Guide. 2008.
Messonnier, Shawn DVM. Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats: Your A-Z Guide to Over 200 Conditions, Herbs, Vitamins, and Supplements. 2001.
Tilford, Gregory. Wulff, Mary.  Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet’s Life. 2009.
Winter, William G. DVM The Holistic Veterinary Handbook. 1997.

✔ You may also be interested in reading:
Natural Treatment and Prevention of ‘Swimmer’s Ear’ (Otitis Externa) in Dogs
EEEWWW What’s That Smell? Dog Odor Causes and Natural Treatments
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39 thoughts on “Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats – Natural Treatment and Prevention

  1. Ear infections in dogs are common but often owners fail to identify until they are quite advanced. Because ear infections can be very painful and result in chronic problems, it is really important to learn to regularly check your pets ears for problems and initiate treatment early.

  2. I remember when I was a kid we had a dog that never had to go to a vet even once. I take very good care of my dog but she always gets ear infections, skin problems and once even a prob with her eyes. I don’t know if it’s pollution or what but something is wrong somewhere. Thanks for the info.

  3. One of our dogs gets frequent ear infections but not really bad ones. I’ll try this stuff thanks!

  4. I will gratefully try these suggestions because nothing else has worked for my dog’s ear infections yet.

  5. I’m just crazy about this blog and its excellent information! 🙂 I’ll be putting the ear infection information to good use on my prone dog. 🙂

  6. This dog has ear infections so often I don’t know what to do with him! 7 years of them since he was a puppy……..I’m always open to more ideas!

  7. Great ideas! I believe I’ll avoid long eared dogs in the future but in the meantime I have one that gets infections all the time.

  8. It sure gets old, dealing with chronic ear infections in two dogs. We love them and want to cure them for good!

  9. My cat gets some kind of fungus in her ear so I hope your natural remedies will help her too.

  10. My cat has only had one ear infection but I lost count of how many the dog has had……..

  11. Our cat has a recurring ear mite infestation that she passes on to the dog who promptly gets an ear infection. Hopefully this will put an end to the vicious cycle!

  12. This is the best article about dog & cat ear infections that I’ve found yet, it was truly helpful.

    • I have a dog that is just getting over his first ear infection but I will keep this article in case there’s another one. I hope not!

  13. It was our homeopath holistic vet who finally cured our dog from ear infections. The medicine other vets gave her made her worse or only worked for awhile & stopped. Then she started getting sick from all of the medicine and we decided ENOUGH!

  14. My dog had ear mites when I got him as a puppy and he’s had ear infections ever since. I think they damaged his ears. I’ll try these treatments and hope for the best outcome.

  15. Finally some good information about ear infections that doesn’t recommend meds. Good for you!

  16. Thank you for this high quality post about dog and cat ear infections. So much on the internet is BS but I can see you did your homework. I’ll try out some of these treatments and get back to you.

  17. My dog gets yeast infections in his ears sometimes but he gets it less since we started giving him yogurt. I thought my daughter was nuts when whe suggested it but it works.

  18. My veterinarian diagnosed chronic ear infections and said we can only deal with them as they come along. It’s great to find out there may be more we can do to prevent them and treat them naturally. My dog has been on antibiotics far too many times to count and I’d like to avoid them if I’m able.

  19. Man you aren’t kidding about the head shaking and that was my first clue that something was wrong with my dog’s ears because he shook his head so much it kept us awake at night. He has floppy ears and the vet said he’ll probably get more infections. I’m glad to have this information when that happens

  20. I think this will be my last floppy eared dog because the poor baby always has ear infections.

  21. I have to tell you the natural treatments work so well with my dog. He used to have ear infections constantly but not anymore.

  22. Our cat sometimes has ear infections but I don’t see any ear mites. She shakes her head constantly when she has one but doesn’t seem to be in pain. We’ve been to the vet about it many times it bothers her even if it doesn’t hurt. If I can prevent more ear infections for her I sure would love to!

  23. I use a natural treatment for my dog’s ear infections and it works like a charm. Nothing the doctor gave me worked. He gets them less often and they don’t last long and they don’t seem to bother him as much. 🙂 NATURAL DOG REMEDIES RULE! (-: Every natural remedy I’ve tried on my dog worked better than vet medicine.

  24. I hope this works! My dog has ear infections and the trips to the vet are going to be the death of me.

  25. I wonder why so many dogs have ear infections now? I was so happy that my doberman didn’t have her ears docked and now I’m wondering if I should have. 🙁

  26. I think my dog has an ear infection all the time but its worse sometimes than other times. I will definitely try your suggestions and I’ll let you know if it works.

  27. here is an experience I had recently, saved this feral cat, she had an ear tumor, it was nasty, bothered her so much, I started dropping essential oil of lavender in it twice daily, so time goes by and I schdule her for surgery to remove it, it starts to change suddenly, gets darker, smelly too, then on the night before her surgery, it falls out, just falls out, she avoides surgery, which at her old age is a blessing, so consider essential oil of lavender,the only essential oil you can use on cats, for anything ear…blessings cat lovers

  28. hi admin,

    reading your post will enable pet owners during instances of ear infections that could occur to your pet dog and cat. at the same time, this post include simple and practical solutions that pet owners can utilize in connection with incidents of ear infection. indeed, it pays to be prepared during such health related cases. thank you.

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