My Pet is Shaking Their Head. Could it be Ear Problems or an Infection?

Many pets come in daily because they are shaking their head, scratching their ears, or having gooey waxy stuff coming out of their red, painful, ears. Pet owners always ask, “What could be wrong?” “Could it be infection?” “Is there something down in there?” “Do they have ear mites?”

Red itchy, gunky, ears are a very common medical problem in both dogs and cats. However, it is a bigger problem in dogs, and especially common in Labradors. Ear problems can be mild. You may only notice an occasional scratch or shake, and the ear won’t look that much different. Moderate to severe ear problems can cause a really red ear filled with gunky wax.

The ear canals should always be checked for mites, ticks, and foxtails. This often takes a bit of cleaning and a look down in the ear canal with an otoscope. Dipping a Q-tip in the black waxy stuff in a cat’s ear and spreading the wax on a slide may show ear mites, a common cause of ear problems in cats. If ear mites or other critters aren’t found, and there isn’t a foxtail or tumor down in the canal, and the ear is red, gunky, and painful…then infection and irritation is the culprit.

The hairy, small canals of toy breeds and other individual pets can cause moisture and wax to build up. Once this wax builds up and becomes soupy, lots of bugs can grow and cause the painful signs we see. Bacteria and yeast will over-grow in a warm, moist, soupy ear and they will cause redness, swelling, and pain. Trimming or pulling the hair from inside the ears and bi-weekly ear cleaning solutions may be necessary to keep the wax from building up, and providing a great home for the bacteria and yeast to grow. Removing hair to allow more air to circulate and dry the ear and cleaning out built up wax may help prevent ear infections.

Allergies are the largest cause of ear infections. Reactions to pollens and molds and food ingredients are the most common cause of red, itchy, goopy ears that never seem to clear up despite repeated treatments with antibiotics and ear cleaners. If your dog scratches their ears and chews at their feet, then they are suffering from hay fever. When the pollen count rises, their ears and feet will itch. Itchy ears produce more wax and can become infected with the bugs we talked about before. Weekly shampoo and conditioner, a daily rinse, or moist wipe of the feet, body, and ears may help remove irritating pollens. During the times the pollen count causes itching, an antihistamine like Benadryl, or a prescription of anti-inflammatory from your vet may help.

One of the most common causes of allergic ear infections are food allergies. Dogs are affected much more than cats, but I’ve seen a few cats with itchy ears that responded to a change of food ingredients. Both ear and skin problems can result from allergies to wheat, beef, or chicken in the food. The best hypoallergenic ingredients are duck or fish, and potato combinations. If you are going to try a limited ingredient food trial to see if food allergies are the cause of ear infections, you have to feed a hypoallergenic diet and avoid wheat in all treats, biscuits, or chews. It usually takes at least a couple months to see if a limited ingredient diet will help those red, itchy ears. The diet usually will really help in at least half of all chronic ear issues. (A hypoallergenic diet may also help with skin, bowel, anal gland, and seizure problems!). If a pet produces lots of wax, regardless of the cause (small or hairy ear canals, allergies to pollens or food ingredients) then ear washes once to twice weekly may be needed to prevent chronic ear infections.

A food trial takes about 2 months to see if it will make a difference with ear or skin problems. That same hypoallergenic, limited ingredient diet is discussed in Dog Dish Diet, and if you want to home cook for your pet, Feed Your Pet to Avoid the Vet. Feeding your pet better ingredients may help with all allergies, seizures, bladder issues, and other medical problems. Click this link for more info: http://dogdishdiet.com/order-now

If your dog have really painful ears and needs temporary relief, you can use dawn detergent to wash the ears with a vinegar rinse. You can also use aspirin (dogs only) and Benadryl for pain and itching. This is only a temporary treatment until you can see your vet. But these painful episodes always seem to happen night, weekends, and holidays when treatment can be more expensive! You can also download a free PDF, Dr Greg’s 11 Practical Home Remedies, for temporary treatment of common medical issues. You can google it, or find it at http://www.dogdishdiet.com/dr-gregs-11-practical-home-remedies-for-dogs-and-cats/

Here’s a video on what makes dogs itch!

Dr. Greg’s Dog Dish Diet

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