Is bad doggy gas associated with uncommonly dirty ears? At one time, I wouldn’t have thought so. But my experience with our Labrador Retriever taught me otherwise. And the culprit turned out to be an allergy to a fairly common dog food ingredient.
Before I proceed to the technical stuff, let me tell you a little about Harvey (he’s the handsome labbie pictured here). Harvey had gas. I don’t mean a somewhat subtle and occasional toot: I mean, Harvey’s gas was evil. It was so bad that even Harvey would leave the room.
Harvey’s rescuer, Labrador Retriever Rescue of Cincinnati, called it “Labra-Gas.” We called it bioterrorism. Harvey’s gas was accompanied by bouts of intestinal distress and the bane of pooper scoopers everywhere: loose stools.
Harvey also suffered from persistent ear infections. His ears got filthy very quickly, and always seemed to have a vinegar-like smell to them. Poor Harv would shake his head and itch and scratch at his ears. The flies tormented him when he was outdoors. It was bad.
Now, the wonderful thing about Harvey is that no matter how uncomfortable he is physically, he still loves the world and everything in it. It’s easy to want to do the right thing by a dog like Harv, and frustrating when you don’t know what to do next. We knew we could live with the gas (open the windows, provide guests with face masks, stock up on the Renuzit). But his ears were a problem that needed a solution.
So off Harvey went to the vet, who prescribed regular ear cleaning, antibiotics, and ear drops. We administered these things religiously, and they worked only as a temporary measure. In addition to the medication protocol, we tried different brands of ear cleaners, and we tried homemade ear cleaners. Still Harvey had dirty ears.
The vet also suggested we remedy Harvey’s effluvious emanations with diet change. But when the chicken dog food made only a small improvement, we simply accepted that Harvey’s effervescent nature was just going to be part of life with a Labrador retriever. As wise author Shinta Cho wrote in The Gas We Pass, everybody farts — and some more than others.
Friends suggested we mix yogurt in with Harvey’s food, and treat him as if for a yeast infection. They suggested it might also help with his gas. It was a good idea that rendered bad results: Harvey, it seems, is lactose intolerant. He had explosive diarrhea after eating yogurt and his gas returned with a vengeance.
The persistently dirty ears actually provided the biggest clue to resolving Harvey’s issues.
At the time Harvey’s ears were approaching a crisis stage, I was a volunteer with English Setter rescue. Some of my fellow volunteers and adopters reported that when their dogs had chronic ear infections, it turned out to be food allergies. When they changed dog foods, their setters’ ears cleared up. Even though this was purely anecdotal information at that point in time, and I couldn’t find any solid information online to substantiate their claims, I nevertheless wanted to give the allergy theory a chance at panning out.
I was met with skepticism by both my loving husband and our vet. “Dogs don’t have food allergies,” my husband insisted. Our vet said food allergies cause skin problems, not ear problems. But both agreed that it couldn’t hurt to see if a diet change helped Harvey’s ears.
When food allergies are suspected, the first step is to put the dog (or child or hamster) on an elimination diet. This means we needed to feed Harvey “rare” foods — rare meaning uncommon, not raw, and consisting of ingredients that Harvey had not eaten before. He would need to be on this diet for at least two weeks, maybe longer, before we could expect to see a change. During that time, we needed to pay close attention to what was happening with Harvey’s condition.
The usual culprits in canine food allergies, and therefore the ones we needed to avoid, were common carbohydrates like corn, wheat, and rice, and the standard proteins, which are beef, chicken, and lamb. The elimination diet also means no dog treats or rawhides.
Veterinary offices carry “hypoallergenic” diets, which can be quite expensive. But there are several good, commercially-available dog foods that contain novel carbs and proteins, and they run the gamut from buffalo, duck, and whitefish proteins to millet and sweet potato carbs. We chose Wellness Whitefish and Sweet Potato food.
Step One was to put Harvey on this food for no less than two weeks. This took extra effort because we lived in rural Kansas and had to special-order the food through a pet supply store that was 30 miles from home. It also was a challenge to keep Harvey away from our other dogs’ food. That proved to be more difficult than the commute to the store because Harvey eats kibble like an Oreck vaccum sucks dust.
It was well worth all the work. My once-doubting husband considered it to be a minor miracle: Harvey’s ears cleared up, his stools became firm, and the Labra-gas was indistinguishable from the setter- and weimie-gas. But the real magic was seeing how much better Harvey felt in less than two weeks. He stopped scratching and rubbing at his ears, and when I cleaned them I didn’t need an entire bag of cotton squares. They were naturally clean.
Step Two in an elimination diet is to reintroduce the suspect ingredients one at a time. This can be difficult with a prepared dog food, so we tried different brands of dog foods, one at a time. The ear infections came back. I switched Harvey back to Wellness, and *poof!* the ear infections cleared up within days. Wellness appeared to be the only thing that worked.
By this point I couldn’t figure out what was causing the allergic reaction, and I was losing track of what I’d tried. So I created a spreadsheet that listed all of the dog food ingredients, and looked for a common link. My husband spotted it: brewer’s yeast. Wellness did not contain yeast or anything that resembled a “fermentation product.”
What completely proved the yeast allergy to me was a trial on Purina One Sensitive Systems dog food. If you want to talk “common food ingredients,” Purina is full of them. But they had changed their formula and replaced yeast with yogurt. Harvey had no problem whatsoever with the Purina One Sensitive.
From that point on, I have scoured dog food labels like a hawk, scanning the ingredients list for yeast. It is a challenge to find food that does not contain the stuff, and if I misread a label, Harvey’s ears (and nether regions) flare up in short order. It is even more of a challenge to find treats that don’t contain yeast, so I make dog treats at home. We have a set of cute cookie cutters and my kids help me with the rolling and shaping of the treats. My adventurous nine-year-old son says one of my recipes tastes like graham crackers, and all four of our dogs like ‘em, too. Enjoy!
Harvey’s Favorite Molasses Cookies
- 3 cups flour
- 1 cup oats
- 1/4 cup oil
- 1/4 cup molasses (Hint: Measure the oil first, then use the same cup to measure the molasses. It’ll slide right out!)
- pinch of salt
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup water
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Mix the flour, oats, oil, molasses, and salt until it has the texture of cornmeal. Gradually add the water and knead the dough. The dough will be dry until the kneading it done, then it will be rubbery.
3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll to 1/4″. Cut with a knife or cookie cutters.
4. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet 30-35 minutes, then flip the treats. Bake another 10-15 minutes.
5. Turn the oven off and allow the treats to cool on the sheet in the oven. This will make them crisp.
6. Store treats in an airtight container.