Ears and skin
Smelly ears and skin. If it is a bit gross for you to endure the sight and odour…imagine how your poor dog feels. Ear discomfort causes head shaking, irritated skin makes them scratch and lick – constantly.
What is my first priority?
A visit to your veterinarian is always the first thing to do to ensure there are no underlying nasties that need medical attention. Smelly ears are sometimes a sign of allergies – an early warning if you like. Micro-organisms such as yeasts and bacteria flourish in the ear canals of dogs, more frequently in breeds with floppy ears. Get to know your dog and all of his smells. Healthy ears have no odour or discharge, nor does a healthy mouth other than beautiful dog breath! Healthy skin should be pink with no crusty lesions, bald spots or odour. It shouldn’t be greasy or overly dry. Signs to look for when the balance is off are things such as scratching or pawing at the ear or ears or the endless licking and chewing of feet which results in the dark brown staining of the hair around the mouth and paws. These signs alone or in concert with others are a big warning to you that your dog needs attention.
Skin problems form a large part of vet practice and it can be a long process to heal. Diet and environment are areas to investigate after your vet has ruled out obvious things like foreign bodies in the ear, bacterial infection of the skin or parasites. Of course you should dose your dog with any medication as prescribed but there are definitely steps you can take to try to stop it flaring again.
Read the labels of any and all food fed to your pet and remove anything that is not Australian produced from Australian grown ingredients. I cannot stress this enough – there is a very real risk of compromising your dog’s overall health with seriously questionable food and treats imported from overseas, particularly Asia. Change the primary protein source to something such as kangaroo or lamb. Nature’s Gift brand, for example, distribute a canned kangaroo variety of wet food. It is in a 100g small square tin which costs around $1.10. Swap any dry food to one that is grain free. There are also grain free tinned foods available now.
What about Treats?
Treats should be things such as dried kangaroo. (I bought an inexpensive food dehydrator and make dried liver, beef and chicken for my dogs). Much, much cheaper than buying ready-made and I know the origin. I know it seems as though I am banging on endlessly about knowing the origin of the food but the fact is that chemicals, whatever the type, are probably causing the steep rise in the number of dogs with chronic skin and ear problems. It can become an extremely expensive exercise to stay on the merry-go-round of vet visits, ear drops, cortico-steroids, antibiotics, shampoos, expensive foods etc. A lot of people simply run out of energy and either banish the dog to the backyard because they can’t stand the smell or the licking and chewing, or they rehome it. NONE of this is the dog’s fault. Remember any dietary changes should take place over say, a seven day period to avoid gastric upset. Include a multi-strain-bacteria pro-biotic such as the one available through this website.
The immune system
This helps boost immunity which in turn allows your dog’s immune system the chance to fight allergens. Add a quality oil supplement such as an extra-virgin olive oil or flax seed oil. Oily fish such as sardines, if your dog will eat them, are fabulous. Raw eggs too. All of these have two major benefits…one, as an anti-inflammatory and two, they help keep the skin’s pH level normalised which in turn means their skin is not dry. Dry skin is usually extremely itchy and coats are thin and hard. This approach must become your daily regime and don’t bother evaluating results for at least six weeks. It can take the body some time to readjust and heal, but it should be given the chance to do so. And when things are looking great again, don’t stop there! Make this a daily thing. You will save money in the long run and have a much closer bond with your dog. Sometimes the condition of the ears becomes so unbearable for the dog I strongly advise my clients to book their dog with their vet for an ear lavage. This involves flushing the ears under either a heavy sedation or general anaesthetic for your dog but the results are usually fantastic. Certainly not something to be done at home!
Do some research and find the plants that are known to stimulate allergic responses in dogs and see if you have them in your garden. Rhoeo, or the Moses bush, is a common edging and garden-bed plant and they are a problem for some dogs. Some lawn grasses are irritating too. Do you use fertiliser or pesticides and herbicides? Inside the house – do you use carpet fresheners or air sprays? What washing powder do you use to wash the dog’s bedding? How frequently do you bathe your dog? Around once per fortnight is commonly recommended for dogs with healthy skin. Brushing is just as important as it removes accumulated dead hair and skin. Brush first, then comb to ensure there are no knots or matts forming before bathing your dog. What shampoo are you using to bathe your dog? It should ideally be soap free and specifically for dogs. Products formulated for humans have a different pH and should NOT be used on dogs, sensitive skin or not.
There are some great dog-specific shampoos on the market that do not cost a fortune. Soap-free will not interfere with topically applied parasite control products. Again, I know some of this may seem all too hard. I get it. But if your dog has a chronic problem, or is even constantly in a low-grade allergic response, trust me, they are miserable! Have you ever suffered from allergies? I flare up if I am bitten by a mosquito or midgie. People laugh at me because I run inside around 5pm in the warmer months to avoid being bitten! I scratch myself raw for about two weeks after a bite so don’t make the mistake of assuming that although you can’t see a flea right now on your dog there is no reason for them to scratch. And while not all scratching is due to fleas, that is an obvious place to start your investigation. Make the effort to simplify things for your dog which will save you time and money in the long run. And when you see your dog looking and feeling healthy you will feel a sense of pride and achievement that you were able to really provide everything your dog needed from you.