My dogs hate having their ears cleaned.
They scarper at the first sound of the dog medicine cabinet being opened.
Don’t worry, I haven’t really got a medicine cabinet but there is a cupboard where we keep all our dog grooming supplies.
And the dogs really do try and melt into the floor as the cupboard opens.
Everyone knows how sensitive a dog’s hearing can be so it is no surprise that they hate us squirting liquids in there…
How effective is tea tree oil in not only cleaning a dog’s ears but also in treating an ear infection.
How common are ear infections in dogs?
Apparently up to 20% of all dogs are thought to have ear infections.
This to me seems like a staggeringly high number.
Some breeds of dogs are more prone to infections than other breeds of dogs.
And when you look at certain breeds, you can see why.
You know the breeds- where there seems to be more ear than dog.
Breeds like the Cocker Spaniel, Poodle, Basset Hounds or Afghan Hounds.
Not only do breeds such as these have comparatively bigger ears but the actual ear is hotter because it is covered in all that hair!
And heat is a great friend of ear infections, helping things like yeast take hold and spread.
Other causes of ear infections
When it comes to ear infections in dogs, I think we need to think more widely than just breeds with long, floppy ears.
I own two Golden Retrievers and I think that the environment that we “live in” can make them more susceptible to ear infections.
And the first environment that I’m talking about is that my dogs spend quite a bit of their time in water.
There is a river close by and we also are 11 miles from the coast and so we regularly take them to the beach.
Or at least we did before lockdown!
Wet dog ears are another cause of ear infections- or at least they are another factor.
It is not often that you think about drying inside their ear because it takes so long to dry the rest of their bodies with a towel.
And combined with the heat from being enclosed, damp inner ears can be a great breeding ground for infections.
But there is a second environmental factor that makes my dogs more vulnerable to ear infections than other dogs, I think.
When my dogs aren’t in water they are walking on muddy paths and across muddy fields.
And as the temperature in the UK gets warmer and our winters morph into wet seasons, we will spend longer and longer seeped in mud.
It only takes a filthy muddy paw to literally scratch the inside of an ear for an infection to begin.
What types of ear infections do dogs get?
Ear infections can be as painful for dogs as they are for us- and as you might know from personal experience that can be blasted painful!
Ear infections within dogs are mainly caused by a buildup of bacteria or yeast in the ear.
This build up is caused by an existing problem such as ear mites, excessive wax, excessive cleaning or a foreign body of one sort or another.
Ear mites normally only affect puppies.
There are a few giveaway signs that your dog might have an ear infection.
Most of these are fairly obvious and include head shaking, excessive scratching, strong odour and possibly a discharge.
What is tea tree oil?
Tea tree oil comes from the plant Melaleuca Alternifolia.
It is the oil produced from crushing the leaves of the plant.
Some oral histories told by Aboriginals in Australia about the healing powers of these leaves stretch back hundreds of years.
Leaves first started to be crushed for the oil in the early part of the Twentieth century after reports started to circulate that the oil had good antiseptic and anti inflammatory properties.
How might tea tree oil help a dog’s ear infection?
The main active ingredient within tea tree oil is terpinen-4-ol.
And there are scientific studies (such as here and here), that prove that it has some antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Other studies have shown that tea tree oil is effective at fighting Malassezia which is a type of yeast found in ear infections in dogs.
And stuff like this is hugely exciting.
We live in a world where antibacterial resistance is on the increase and so for a natural product to demonstrate some of these qualities is encouraging.
On the surface, this seems great.
We have just learned that most ear infections in our dogs are caused by either yeast (a fungus) or by bacteria.
But these studies have been very small, there haven’t been many of them and to my knowledge they have all been trialled on humans not dogs.
Scientists feel that many more trials need to be done to explore exactly how effective tea tree oil is.
What are the possible dangers of using tea tree oil?
As I see it, there are three dangers of using tea tree oil to treat your dog’s ear infection.
Firstly, and it is something that I haven’t really mentioned, is that if an ear infection is not caught quickly enough, it can travel from the dog’s outer ear to their middle ear and into their inner ear.
Middle and inner ear infections are very serious conditions, which can only be treated by a vet.
Forget trying to treat the ear with tea tree oil or any other essential oil at this point.
So how do we know as owners that the infection hasn’t already spread?
Secondly, no one really knows what concentration of oil you need to fight an ear infection.
And I know this because clinical trials have yet to work out the best concentration of the oil to use!
Thirdly, there is a possibility that using tea tree oil will cause your dog to have an allergic reaction.
It was thought that the ingredient responsible for this is thought to be 1,8 cineole.
But some studies show that 1,8 cineole isn’t responsible for allergic reactions.
How do I dilute tea tree oil for my dog’s ear infection?
This might seem a strange section for me to include when I have just spent time explaining some of the uncertainties that there are in using tea tree oil.
To reinforce my point, you must never use 100% tea tree oil on your dog.
This report tells a shocking tale of the effect that using pure tea tree oil has on many cats and dogs.
The symptoms include hypersalivation and trembling.
But some of you will want to give it a go and so I want to give you the best advice that there is.
The best advice seems to be to dilute tea tree oil to about 1% or even less.
And the way to do this is to dilute it with another carrier oil such as olive oil or sunflower oil.
To do it properly you will need at least two “eye” droppers (one for the tea tree oil, the other for the carrier oil.)
And you will need a lot of patience
Get a shallow pot, or a small plastic container- much like the one that your take out food comes in.
So place one drop of tea tree oil into your container and then place 100 drops of your carrier oil into the same container.
Take your time with this as it is very important to be accurate.
Once you have finished “dropping”, you can quickly stir the oil with a clean spoon and then you are ready to go.
How do I treat my dog’s ears with tea tree oil?
In terms of how to physically clean the ear, watch this video