Your Dog’s Ear Infections May Be Linked To Food

Harvey and his boy

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.

14 Responses to “Your Dog’s Ear Infections May Be Linked To Food”

  1. Pukanuba says:

    Ask me about labra-gas……..I’m an expert on that subject. Oust & I have become best friends…….

  2. Pukanuba says:

    My dog is getting home cooked meals……however, I have found some veggies give her gas. Little by little, we are weeding those out of her diet as I can’t live in the same home with her during these “episodes”.

    When I’m following her around with a can of Oust, I’m usually cracking up. That’s my sick sense of humor…….

    When company stops by, I have to tell them what’s going on so they won’t be looking at me like I have absolutely no class……..tee hee.

  3. Katie says:

    yup! another good reason to home cook. No gas, no doggie smell and clean breath.

    Pukanuba, be careful of broccoli, spinach and cabbage. They need to be cooked and fed in limited quanities.


  4. Pukanuba says:

    Katie: I laughed at your post……it was a broccoli/cauliflower medley that gave her gas. Also heard that zucchini causes gas…….thanks for the heads up on spinach & cabbage. I rarely cook either of those because I’m not overly fond of them but I did share my broccoli/cauliflower because it’s my favorite. Won’t do that again anytime soon. BTW, they were cooked but still gave her wicked gas. The only thing she gets raw are carrots. She likes them cooked or raw.

    I love that term “Labra-gas”…….cracked me up.

  5. Mary Hufford says:

    I wish I could claim Labra-gas… And I do admire all of you who home cook for your critters. I struggle enough with cooking for my two children and husband. I really don’t do “cooking” well at all.

    Baking — now that’s a totally different story. But chocolate’s not good for the dogs, either :-(

  6. MIZZ JESSE’S TLC | HOME-COOKING FOR CANINES » Nutrition Tip #1: Allergies Due to Dietary Overexposure says:

    […] There’s a great post on Itchmo today: Your Dog’s Ear Infections May Be Linked To Food […]

  7. sandi says:

    Regarding yogurt during antibiotic therapy, it is not adivsed in humans or animals. The usual protocol is after the meds are completed in the therapy. To use the antibiotic and yogurt or pills while on the antiobiotic lessens the effect of said antiobiotic. Same with using Vit C during the therapy.


  8. Nikki says:

    Sandi, thanks for the input but I would welcome some links to studies that corroborate your assertion that yogurt is deleterious to the effects of antibiotics. The consensus, from what I have researched, seems to state just the opposite: that yogurt during antibiotic treatment is effective in lessening the diarrhea, gastric discomfort and bloating caused by antibiotics. Here are a couple of links from credible, respected sources:

    From the American Academy of Family Physicans medical journal:

    From the respected Bastyr Center for Natural Health:

    Googling the search terms “yogurt” + “antibiotics” yields results which are 99% supportive of administering yogurt during antibiotic treatment. My own experience supports this treatment course as well; in one case, I tended a 3-month-old kitten that was being treated with antibiotics which caused such severe diarrhea, he was passing blood in his projectile diarrhea. The blood was due to the complete destruction by the antibiotics of the gut flora; thus this kitten’s intestinal wall was so stripped and irritated it was leaking blood. The kitten was also severely dehydrated due to the excessive diarrhea and subsequent loss of fluids. I advised feeding the kitten yogurt with live culture concurrent with the remainder of the antibiotics. The kitten’s diarrhea improved overnight and the antibiotics efficacy gave no indication of compromise. Had the kitten been allowed to continue another 10 days (on 14-day-course of antibiotics) without intervention, his dehydration and intestinal bleeding would likely have killed him. At some point, you have to have the common sense to assess risk vs. benefits, and in the case of this kitten, to have continued the antibiotics without the yogurt would have resulted in severe consequences, possibly death, for this young patient.

    A recent (July 2007) Australian study yielded yet more surprising results regarding the benefits of yogurt (probiotics): The study, albeit small, found that yogurt with live culture actually INCREASED the efficacy of one antibiotic (vancomycin). Link:

    So, while there may some conflicting schools of thought regarding yogurt’s benefits to the intestinal flora before, during and after antibiotic treatment, one must apply a risk vs. benefit analysis on a patient-by-patient basis in order to determine the necessity of intervention via the administration of a probiotic such as yogurt. To make a blanket statement that yogurt should never be given in conjunction with antibiotics is an over-simplification and, quite possibly, an arguably incorrect response.

  9. Michael says:

    Yogurt has essentially NO lactose left in it. Lactose is a mildly sweet sugar which the bacteria that make yogurt of milk sour rather than sweet.
    Lactose intolerant have no response to yogurt.
    The article is inaccurate on this.

  10. Mary Hufford says:

    Michael, the article is not inaccurate. Not all lactose intolerant individuals can eat yogurt.

    There’s a good article at the Stonyfield website about lactose intolerance:

    Yogurt does contain varying amounts of lactose: see the chart on the web page. Yogurt actually contains more lactose than lactose-reduced milk. But yogurt also contains the enzyme lactase, which is what the body needs to process the lactose. Because yogurt contains lactase, *some* lactose intolerant individuals can handle eating yogurt. But again, not all.

  11. Eve says:

    Thank you for this post. We just adopted a lab that has all of your dogs symptoms! His “labra-gas” is beyond anything we have experienced! I went and got him some Purina one Sensitive system today BEFORE reading this, I also got him some enzyme chews.., the poor guy has been on a loq quality food most of his life. I was pleased when I opened the bag of purina you could actually smell the fish, he gobbled u his food much more eagerly tonight that he has since we brought him home (with a portion of this added) I know Purina is not the best choice, but it is probably 85% better than what he has been used too. It gave me some confidence we can get his “labra gas” at least a bit less noxious!! ;)

    I am picking up some Oust tomorrow! LOL

  12. allergy dog ear infections says:

    […] for cats and dogs - Your Dog’s ear infections May Be Linked To Food&lt/a&gt “RE: Dog gland question” at Cats and Other Animals Forum… lol Never thought of allergies… […]

  13. Linda says:

    My 6 year old chocolate lab Lucy had terrible ear problems when I adopted her
    three months ago. I took her to my regular vet, and after one month of pouring
    mild acidic washes in her ear twice a day, he said the only solution was to
    sedate her and deep clean her ears. I had pointed out to him the poster in
    his office that looked like what Lucy had “XXXX (something) with food allergies) I said “That’s what Lucy has, right?” He agreed. I went home and decided
    to get another opinion. I took her to a holistic vet who took one look at her
    ears and said “these ears are soo bad, it makes me want to give her a pain medication” (a holistic vet said this!). I agreed to food allergy testing and
    found her to be allergice to rice, wheat, corn, brewer’s yeast, flaxseed and
    pork. Lucy never had a food whose first ingredient wasn’t rice…The vet
    suggested a diet of duck and
    sweet potatoes, a weekly mild ear wash, and probiotics/enzymes with each meal,
    an antibiotic/antifungal drop EOD. Within weeks, she declared her ears to be
    3000% better! Still bad, but much better. So, I’m a believer. The “harsh”
    Western approach didn’t work, and worse yet, wasn’t even interested in solving
    the cause of the problem….!!! We have a ways to go still, but
    I know we’re on the right track!!!

  14. Linda says:

    forgot to mention the wild salmon oil capsules 2x a day….

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