Ear Problems, Yeast, and Mites

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Ear diseases are a common condition in pets, often centered around the outer ear canal. The medical name for inflammation of the outer ear canal is ‘otitis externa.’ Common signs of ear disease include:

  • Excessive ear scratching or rubbing ears against objects
  • Head shaking or tilting
  • Odor that may remind you of yeast, sweat socks or a sewer
  • Redness & bleeding
  • Swelling
  • Matted fur around the ears
  • Pain around the ears
  • Changes in behavior such as depression or irritability

The most common causes of ear diseases include moisture, parasites and bacterial or yeast infections. Fortunately, if these problems are not severe you can tackle them yourself.

Start by improving the ear environment

Bacteria and yeast could not ask for a better environment to live in than a warm, dark, moist ear canal, and they can cause severe ear problems! Just look at the shape of a dog's ear canal — it's practically an incubator for problems.

Yeasty ears typically have a dark reddish brown buildup of waxy gunk around the folds of the ears and deeper within the ear canal itself, and/or a pungent, yeasty odor. Either is an indicator of unhealthy ears. Daily cleaning of the ears is a must before things go from bad to worse. Depending on the condition of the ears, it may take a few cleanings to clear all the yeast and debris. Once things are cleared out, keep them sparkling with regular maintenance cleanings.

How to clean your dog’s ears
This is one of those times when you really need the right tool for the job. Get yourself a good veterinary ear cleaner or flush designed for removing pathogens and sticky debris. We recommend Boracetic Ear Flush because it gently but effectively eliminates ear conditions associated with bacteria, yeast and fungi. It also provides relief for ear inflammation & pain, discharge, pruritus and head shaking. It’s great for flushing oily or crusty ears and most importantly — flushing out the yeast mites feed on. Anyway, grab your ear flush and let’s get busy.

  1. Warm liquid ear cleaner to comfortable temperature. (You won't believe how this changes the experience for your dog!)
  2. Give your pet a treat for sitting and show her the ear cleaner.
  3. Gently hold the flap of the ear upright and fill the ear canal with ear cleaner. Direct the tube vertically downwards.
  4. Keep ahold of the ear and move your hand down to where the ear meets the head.
  5. Massage at the base of the ear, aiming to mix the ear cleaner around within the ear canal. You should get a squelchy noise if you are doing this correctly.
  6. After you have massaged the ear for 20–30 seconds, stand back and let go of the ear. Your dog should now vigorously shake his head.
  7. Grab some cotton balls and use it to wipe out the folds at the opening of the ear canal until it looks pretty clean.
  8. Repeat until you can't get any more matter out.
  9. Give your dog a treat and move on to the other ear.

The key with ear cleaning is to use a liberal amount of ear cleaner. As the ear canals are quite long, the wiping step is not enough to get all the ear discharge out. The idea is that when you massage, you will be breaking up the discharge lining the inside of the ear canal, so that it forms a solution with the ear cleaner. Your pet can then shake the liquid out.

Eliminate parasitic mites

Common ear mites (otodectic mites) are a frequent cause of ear problems in dogs and cats. Some pets are so hypersensitive to them that the itching can be intense to the point that they scratch so much they severely traumatize the ear.

Animals with ear mites will scratch around their ears and/or shake their heads. The amount of scratching and shaking depends on the severity of the infestation. With more advanced infestations, the ear canals will bleed and either fresh or dried blood will appear inside the canal. If you peer into your pet’s ears and notice a build-up of a material that looks like coffee grounds, then your pet probably has ear mites, although a bacterial and/or yeast infection is also a possibility.

Ear mites are very common, but still serious. They can spread out of the ears to other areas of the body. Left untreated, they severely damage the ear canals and eardrum and can cause permanent hearing loss. They are also extremely contagious to your other pets including cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, mice, ferrets, etc. If ear mites become a problem in your household, all pets must be treated for them even if they are not showing symptoms. Humans are not affected. 

Even though the ear mite doesn't live long when it is off the host, it's best to do a good cleaning around the house to ensure you get rid of the parasites entirely. Wash pet bedding in hot water, detergent and 20 Mule Team Borax and vacuum the place thoroughly, then throw the bag out. Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is great for areas you can't vacuum or clean.

Demodectic mites can affect a dog’s ear flaps (pinna) and occasionally occur in the ear canal as well. It makes perfect sense because they eat yeast and the moist, humid environment of the ear canal certainly is fertile territory for excessive yeast. Dogs with Demodectic mange should get routine ear cleanings and their ear flaps and ear canals should be treated with Mite Avenge at least twice a week.

Sarcoptic mites are no strangers to ears. Dogs suffering from Sarcoptic mange nearly always have them on the margins of their ears. So much so that rubbing or manipulating the outer ear a certain way is a remarkably accurate home test for Sarcoptic mange. It’s called the Pedal-Pinna test and it’s easy to do. Just gently manipulate the outside flaps (pinna) of the dog’s ear. If the dog reflexively moves a hind leg (pedal) as if to scratch its ear, then the dog likely has Sarcoptic mange. This test works because in many cases of mange, the mites infect the ears and is often more accurate than skin scraping. Cleaning the ears to remove trapped yeast and bacteria is always a good idea and treating the ear canal and outer ears with Mite Avenge is a must.

How to treat for mites in ears
Clean the ears thoroughly to remove yeast and waxy buildup then apply a product designed for ear mites according to the product’s directions. We recommend Davis Ear Mite lotion because it is all natural, gentle and effective. For a simple case of common ear mites, this is all there is to it.

If you suspect there's even a remote chance that Demodectic or Sarcoptic mites may be present as well, or that common ear mites have migrated to the face, go the extra mile and apply Mite Avenge liberally to the outer ear, in the ear canal and face twice a week as well. Dry the ears with a cotton ball an hour or so after applying Mite Avenge but don’t probe too deep into the ear canal. Instead, use ear-drying drops to remove any moisture in the ear canal that your dog hasn’t shaken out.

Keep those ears dry!

The L-shape of dog’s ear canal (see above) is designed to protect their highly developed sense of hearing. Unfortunately, this design may also cause water to be trapped in the ears, which can result in yeast and/or bacterial overgrowth, inflammation and infection. Preventing the accumulation of moisture and keeping the ear canals dry can help reduce the severity and frequency of ear problems and may even prevent them

Here’s how
After the dog’s ears have been exposed to water, let him shake them out. Then give the ears a good cleaning with a drying agent. One home medication that is recommended by many veterinarians is a mixture of equal parts white vinegar and isopropyl alcohol. The vinegar is acidic and helps destroy bacteria and yeast. The alcohol is a drying agent and helps remove excess moisture. Place several drops of the vinegar and alcohol mix in the ear and massage the base of the ear to distribute. Clean around your dog’s ears and dry thoroughly with a clean cloth. Do not use cotton swabs. This remedy is typically used as a preventative but can be used as a treatment in early ear infections as well. It is not very effective in treating full-fledged, active infections.