Poor Zoe. :(
August 9, 2009 9:55 AM   Subscribe

I know you are not a vet. But is there any way to cure a dog's ear infections without antibiotics and a trip to the vet?

My poor pup has horrible allergies and has had at least five major ear infections in the last few years. She's on good food and stuff, but still gets them even though I take really good care of her. Unfortunately, I ran out of the ear medicine I had and the vet won't give me more without a full exam. Thing is, I really can't afford it... feels like every time I go to the vet I end up spending twice as much to get Zoe well as I expected and I just don't have it to spare right now. I haven't had the cash to take *myself* to the doctor in two years (mainly 'cuz I'm spending $400 a month on health insurance - sigh) but I keep finding myself needing to take my dog.

I still have plenty of the prescription ear cleaner and I've been cleaning her ear out since yesterday, but the poor thing is just *sooooo* miserable it's breaking my heart. She's trying so hard to be good but is clearly in pain.

Is there anything I can do to help her heal... or do I have to pull out my credit card? I'd rather not. I wish I had the cash, but I don't. And I know this ear problem is going to happen again within about six months too, which is frustrating. I don't want to be a bad puppy mom. Sad puppies suck. :(
posted by miss lynnster to Pets & Animals (39 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried calling your vet and explaining your situation over the phone? She may just give you the antibiotics since you say Zoe has the infections so regularly. Either that, or they might be willing to cut you a break on the vet visit.

Another trick that I've found is to get a written script for the rx and then buy the meds online. It's WAY cheaper than buying them from my vet. Unbelievably so, in fact. I've been using entirelypets.com for a while (you have to fax them the written script, not just call them), and have been really happy. With three dogs, I had to find a way to save money, kwim?

I hope Zoe feels better soon.
posted by dancinglamb at 10:05 AM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

It depends on the kind of infection. Is it a bacterial infection or a fungal infection?

If it is the latter, then yes ... my doc just let me in on the fact that, once I run out of these prescription eardrops, I should use half rubbing alcohol and half white vinegar as drops every time I go swimming. "What you have in this bottle is just 'medical grade' white vinegar and some alcohol. The citric acid is for the scent, I think."
posted by adipocere at 10:11 AM on August 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

When my mother was a child, before antibiotics were available to treat ear infections, her parents would put warmed olive oil into her ears with an eyedropper to relieve the pain. (Test the oil on your hand to make sure it's comfortably warm, not too hot.) Now the news stories are saying that antibiotics don't really work for children's ear infections, that it's often best to wait and see whether the ear infections gets better without antibiotics. I wonder if the same might be true for dogs.

Also note that a hot compress, such as a microwavable gel pack, has an almost immediate effect on ear pain, worth trying even if you are using antibiotics for the infection, because it works right away, while the antibiotics take some time. Note that I've tried this on myself, but never on a dog.
posted by Ery at 10:11 AM on August 9, 2009

Call the vet and talk to them. There's probably financial assistance available for your situation.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:12 AM on August 9, 2009

IAAV, but IANYV. Please take her to the vet. She is in pain, she needs pain relief and needs antibiotics.

You can also tell your vet that you are currently having money problems and would like to spend as little as possible to fix it - he or she should understand and should not think any less of you for it.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 10:14 AM on August 9, 2009

Response by poster: Is the vinegar water thing better than the prescription cleaner?

I explained it to the vet, they said it's "their policy" because it might be a different kind of infection, but they'd see and call me back. That was yesterday. They didn't call me back yet.

I seem to think it's a bacterial infection.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:16 AM on August 9, 2009

What you have in this bottle is just 'medical grade' white vinegar and some alcohol

Those sorts of drops are used to dry your ears out after swimming. If you have a full blown ear infection, bacterial or fungal, you need products that specifically kill the bugs you've got in there. Doggie ear drops generally contains one or several antibiotics, an antifugal, and a steroid.

news stories are saying that antibiotics don't really work for children's ear infections

Children's ear infections are middle ear infections. What dogs get are outer ear infections - much different.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 10:23 AM on August 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Miss Lynster, if you go here, it looks like you can get a free exam at any VCA Animal hospital. Maybe that would get you a scrip and then you could look online for lower prices for the medication, as suggested above?

Poor Zoe -- good luck to both of you!
posted by trip and a half at 10:29 AM on August 9, 2009

peanut butter milkshake, no, not for a fungal infection. Your basic ear fungus cannot survive in an acidic environment, which is why this is marked "Acetic Acid Otic Solution." I'm looking at the bottle right now:

2% acetic acid, that's your white vinegar.

0.015% Sodium acetate, I'm going to guess to buffer the pH.

3% propylene glycol diacetate, that's your alcohol — this particular one is hygroscopic, so it would be a bit better than standard rubbing alcohol in "drying out" the area.

Unknown amount of benzethonium chloride, which is an ammonia salt. It makes the skin feel slippery and has some broad spectrum antimicrobial properties. It's found in mouthwash.

There are specific anti-fungal drugs which exist, but they are much more "second and third lines of defense" for ear infections. After struggling for six months of ear infection, when I got to the right doctor and received a correct diagnosis, that's all that was needed, just to change the pH of my ear. After I told my ENT how much hassle I had finding this at a pharmacy (this stuff is too cheap to make any money off of) he said, "If I had known, I'd just have had you mix it up yourself."

This really depends on what kind of ear infections the dog has been getting, bacterial or fungal. miss lynnster, do you have any of the bottles of the old stuff, or treatment sheets? They probably don't run ear cultures on dogs, but apparently fungal infections are Very Obvious once you know what they look like.
posted by adipocere at 10:57 AM on August 9, 2009

They probably don't run ear cultures on dogs

Generally a swab of the inner ear is taken, a smear is made on a slide and stained, and then examined under the microscope to see what sort of bugs in there - yeast, Gram positive bacteria, or Gram negative bacteria (or various combinations!). Yes, they do run ear cultures on dogs - this is generally reserved for difficult/problem cases.

That's likely why miss linster's vet wants to see Zoe - last time she may have had your run-of-the-mill Gram positive bacterial infection and gave her drop x. This time, she could have yeast, or a nasty Gram negative hard-to-treat-so-get-out-the-big-guns infection, and may need drop y or drop z.

I would be careful extrapolating human medicine knowledge to veterinary medicine. Would some sort of vinegar solution help? Maybe. But this dogs ears hurt and are likely very very inflammed. She likely needs pain relief and at the very least needs some type of local anti-inflammatory - that's why there are steroids in the ear drops. Humans know not to scratch/rub/batter our own ears when we have an ear infection. Dogs don't know this, so end up scratching/shaking constantly - ouch! Dog ear canals are also longer and a different shape to human ear canals. Zoe's ear canals may be so swollen that anything you dump down there may not even reach.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 11:23 AM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry no. Your vet needs to do a cytology to see what the organism is (even recurrent infections can be caused by different organisms), and you do not want to treat with the wrong meds. Chronic ear issues should not be left without treatment, and you should not treat without knowing what the organism is.

And yes, they most definitely DO run cultures on dogs, but it's not that often needed, more usually they can do an in-house cytology to see what the organism is.
posted by biscotti at 11:24 AM on August 9, 2009

Do you have a SPCA near you? Our SPCA shelter has clinic hours for low income pet owners. They do not ask for verification of income.

Maybe this is an option for you and Zoe until your cash flow improves. You can make a cash donation in Zoe's name at a later date.
posted by JujuB at 11:32 AM on August 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I deeply sympathize on the amount of unaffordable money spent on pets - I have several cats with difficult chronic conditions that require lots more medication and visits than are really in my budget. But please, please find a way to make this work. Maybe the vet can do a payment plan, or maybe it's time to look into a different vet who can. But you need to do something if she's in pain.

My mother has a rescued dog whose ears are permanently extremely lumpy and misshapen, because his former owner let chronic ear infections go untreated, so he developed multiple hematomas from constantly shaking his head because of the pain. It's sort of the dog equivalent of cauliflower ear. He's still prone to ear infections but now it's harder than ever to catch and treat them, because of how hard it is to examine or treat his lumpy painful ears. This is really not something you want to let go untreated for long.

It sounds like it's the treatment more than the meds that are a problem, but as far as the cost of meds, do you have AAA? Their prescription discount covers pet medication too, and at least with my cat's meds, I more than make back my membership fee every year with the savings on his meds.
posted by Stacey at 11:36 AM on August 9, 2009

I'd be hesitant to do anything to/for the dog without the vet's input, but if your current vet is aware of both Zoe's chronic ear infections and your financial situation and is unwilling to work with you, I'd recommend shopping around for a new vet or taking Zoe to a low-income/low-cost vet clinic.

My parents' dog has had a couple of non-life-threatening but serious health conditions come up and their vet has worked with them to find affordable ways to continue treatment. I'm not saying that the vet owes you free treatment for any recurring health problem, but if the puppy is getting ear infections every six months, it seems to me they should be able to offer something better than "Come in now, pay full price for an exam and full price for the meds; then come in six months from now and pay full price for an exam and full price for the meds; then come in six months after that..."
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:40 AM on August 9, 2009

I'm sorry to hear about your dog. Maybe you could look into CareCredit. I know one or two people who have used it. It says they give you "no-interest financing" on vet bills.
posted by trillian at 11:59 AM on August 9, 2009

I know it doesn't help now, but my vet recommends GlenHaven F2/O Ear Cleanser with 1% hydrocortisone for relief during the infection and to prevent future infections. I think it was $25 for an 8 oz bottle from the vet. A squirt in each ear a couple times a week will keep the infections from coming back; at least it has in my floppy ear boy.

Also, I nth calling your vet and explaining your financial situation. My vet dropped the visit charges and the overnight observation charges when my roommate's dog had heartworms and could barely afford the treatment. Good luck to both of you.
posted by mandapanda at 12:32 PM on August 9, 2009

I know this isn't really your question, but some prevention advice: my dog used to get chronic ear infections, and changing her diet to Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet (and no treats) 100% cleared all her health problems up. I've also heard that letting your dog stick her head out of the car window while driving can encourage the development of ear infections.
posted by emilyd22222 at 12:38 PM on August 9, 2009

Also you should consider rotating your dog's food from time to time if your dog has allergies. Ideally, you would be feeding your dog a single protein food and you can hop from protein to protein (eg from fish to bison) as necessary. Avoid chicken, some dogs have issues with that. My dog is eating Taste of the Wild mostly because it is single protein and you can switch between flavours if need be.
posted by crazycanuck at 12:58 PM on August 9, 2009

My vet also recommended adipocere's suggestion as a preventative measure. Any ear infection my dog gets while on that solution, I would consider serious enough to get to the vet but it sure cuts down on the trips.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:06 PM on August 9, 2009

What food, specifically, are you giving her? Even with "good stuff", Dogs with allergies to specific ingredients can have ear infections worsened by foods that contain the ingredient they're allergic to. Does your dog have any other signs of allergies, like pink, irritated looking skin on their belly or nethers?

What everyone else said above is absolutely correct about why you want to see the vet, with the addition of another risk: Your pup could have a perforated eardrum or another physical problem deep down in the ear that you can't see that's a source of the irritation and other immune reactions that cause ear goop. If you were to clean your dog's ears in the way they need to be cleaned right now, you could cause further damage.
posted by SpecialK at 1:25 PM on August 9, 2009

Response by poster: Okay, I think I know what I'll do. My vet is a VCA vet and now that I think about it, I remember the first visit was free. Since there are two other VCA locations that are actually closer to where I live now, maybe what I'll do is try going to one of them as a new patient tomorrow. I just hope they don't all have the same database.

The compress worked to mellow her out a little so she's not shaking her head all over the place right now. She's been so good I'm giving her a little treat of fresh salmon. She's never had it before so she's not quite sure what to make of it, though... she appears highly confused, but at least she's distracted and not focused on her ear for the moment. :)
posted by miss lynnster at 1:34 PM on August 9, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, and the food I settled on (she threw up most other stuff) is Evo Red Meat. I tried various things over the years and even tried raw for about five minutes (she HATED it. absolutely REFUSED to eat it), and Evo seemed to keep her relatively happy.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:38 PM on August 9, 2009

I use this


I have a cocker spaniel and this is the only thing that works. Be sure to follow the list of ingredients exactly.

I only feed him Purina One dry kibble. It's very important to stick with a diet that does not seem to contribute to the problem.
posted by andreap at 2:37 PM on August 9, 2009

It doesn't help with your immediate need, but pet health insurance is super cheap. I pay $17 a month for my cat. Maybe that can help mitigate future costs? Poor Zoe!
posted by Space Kitty at 3:02 PM on August 9, 2009

Poor Zoe - my new puppy (Tuna) just went through kennel cough for 3 weeks, and she was miserable. It's like having a sick kid and you can't even explain why they feel bad.

Caveat emptor, but I used to babysit a black lab who had ear infections all the time - her owner gave me hydrogen peroxide to pour in his ear. It really helped: he'd lie down on his good side as soon as he saw the bottle, I'd pour a little bit in, squish it around, and then use a paper towel to clean it out. It was gross, but it usually cleared it up in a few days.

Good luck...
posted by nometa at 6:08 PM on August 9, 2009

Response by poster: Yeah, she had kennel cough when I got her too... she's had more trips to the vet than any dog I've ever had. Poor thing. This infection isn't super super bad yet – I know how bad it could be in comparison because the first ones she ever got actually made both her ears bleed. Her ears get so inflamed I know how painful it must be, though. Poor thing.

Anyhow, I'll call the vet tomorrow. I took her for a long hike all around Franklin Canyon Lake this afternoon (ie, Andy Griffith's fishing hole) and she's passed out now, so she's doing better. An exhausted dog is a calm dog. :)

Thanks for all of the advice, everyone!
posted by miss lynnster at 6:46 PM on August 9, 2009

I'm not saying that the vet owes you free treatment for any recurring health problem, but if the puppy is getting ear infections every six months, it seems to me they should be able to offer something better than "Come in now, pay full price for an exam and full price for the meds; then come in six months from now and pay full price for an exam and full price for the meds; then come in six months after that..."

Except that it costs the vet exactly the same amount each time, to pay staff, to run tests, to take time to examine the pet, review results, write charts, write prescriptions. There is a fee for services rendered, same as anywhere else. There is no guarantee that each infection will be the same, there is no guarantee that this time there isn't a perforated eardrum, or generalized infection, or MRSA infection, and it's not cheaper for the vet just because it's a recurrent problem (and most states have laws regarding examinations being required before prescribing medications). It would be really nice if it didn't cost money to keep the doors of vet clinics open, but it does.

By all means let your vet know that there is a financial concern, that you are limited as to what you can authorize, and that you need an estimate before giving the go-ahead, most vets will work within what you can afford (within reason), as long as you tell them ahead of time. But it is simply not reasonable to expect not to pay full price for the services you get.
posted by biscotti at 8:08 PM on August 9, 2009

Try pouring peroxide in the ear. Alcohol can hurt the ear. As stated, pour the peroxide in the air and massage the ear, when wipe it out. But if this does not help, you have to get a prescription. The ear infection can lead to deafness. I had dogs with recurrent ear infections. The peroxide helps, but sometimes you have go to the vet. I couldn't really afford it either. My vet would usually give me the prescription without having to see the dog after the first evaluation and prescription.
posted by fifilaru at 10:17 PM on August 9, 2009

JEEBUS! DO NOT POUR PEROXIDE IN THE EAR!!! Peroxide is extremely harsh and can cause permanent damage! miss lynnster is trying to REDUCE her vet bills!
posted by biscotti at 4:57 AM on August 10, 2009

I don't have a lot of time to answer, but I feel for you and desperately want to chime in that the ear infections are probably a symptom, and most likely have a larger cause -- many food allergies show up as ear infections. Treating the ear infections is only temporary if you don't find what's making her so susceptible.

Google "Blue Power Dog Ear Cleaner" - this worked on my dog to clear up the yeast infections. Have your vet make sure her ear drum isn't ruptured before you put anything in there.

What worked beyond that was an elimination diet to find out what her allergies were. The good food you're feeding her may still have triggers in it (our old dog was allergic to chicken and corn among other environmental allergies like grass !!); and while you're doing it and if she's getting treats or handouts that have what she's allergic to in them, all your good work is undone. So, Google "dog allergy elimination diet", check with the vet for their best recommendation (which will hopefully not be just to sell you the "allergy formula" expensive dog food brand they sometimes sell) find the protein she's never been exposed to (ours was rabbit) and try it. Then, after the twelve weeks, you can use a jar of baby food, like chicken, to reintroduce common proteins in dog food to her and find out what's bothering her. It's actually an inexpensive way to help her, since budget is a concern.
posted by peagood at 8:15 AM on August 10, 2009

Response by poster: Good news! Well, maybe!

This morning her ear is much less red, and where yesterday I couldn't touch it without her whimpering, today I can and she seems okay with it. So the crisis may be averted.

I'll let you know, but I'm canceling the idea of going to the vet for the moment. She may not need it after all. This may actually be the first time her ear infection healed on its own! YAY! And it's probably due to all of your good energy/wishes. Thanks! :)
posted by miss lynnster at 9:37 AM on August 10, 2009

Response by poster: BTW, trust me... I went through a year of trying to figure out her allergies. It was time consuming and expensive to test all of these things out. Evo was the only thing she *liked* that didn't seem to give her huge reactions and she didn't barf up. An ear infection every six months is actually GOOD in comparison to what other foods gave her.

If Zoe could have her way, I would cook rice and grilled chicken with vegetables for her every night. I did that for a while when she was particularly sick. She was eating better than I was. Oh, and for dessert she'd want peanut butter. Yep, that would be her favorite diet EVER.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:41 AM on August 10, 2009

We had the same thing with our Lab - constant ear infections. Finally the vet had us go on an elimination diet, like others have suggested. In her case, she's allergic to lamb. Since she switched, we've gone from an infection monthly to none at all.
posted by Addlepated at 9:45 AM on August 10, 2009

If Zoe could have her way, I would cook rice and grilled chicken with vegetables for her every night.

You don't have to do this every night- you can make batches of dog food and refrigerate part and freeze the rest. Warm up the stuff from the fridge with some boiling water so it is room temp or slightly warmer. If you pay over two bucks per pound of dog food, chances are making it at home is cheaper.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:18 PM on August 10, 2009

Evo is good stuff. Most of my family's pets are on it. My two dogs happen to be on Wellness Simple Solutions, though, and that's worked wonderfully for them. The Evo had too much protien in it for my two. Just watch out so that Zoe doesn't become a chubby little lump: The caloric content of Evo is much higher than most other foods.

Thank you for helping out a sick doggy! However, you might think about looking into pet insurance if you can't afford veterinary bills. I understand that times are hard, she's a happy part of your life, and that the area you live in is expensive, but dogs DO need regular veterinary care (for heartworm and flea meds if nothing else). They need it for the same reason that people should see a doctor every year or two: Veterinarians are trained to spot the things that you are not.

In this case, if she keeps having ear infections on a good diet, she might have one of any number of deeper problems from mites to different sort of bacteria or yeast infections. Some of these things are zoonotic -- which means that they can infect you too. If the ear infection reoccurs, please go see a veterinarian!
posted by SpecialK at 5:01 PM on August 10, 2009

Response by poster: Hoooookay. So, it was wishful thinking. Yesterday Zoe's ear nearly exploded so I took her to the vet this morning. She had two different types of infections and even with VCA's "Free" first visit it ended up costing around $200 in tests, treatments, and medicines.

Soooo, oh well.

I put a little donation box on my site for anyone who wants to help chip in to heal my puppy just for the hell of it, but I know pretty much everyone is suffering from lack of funds right now. So it is what it is. At least she'll stop being miserable soon.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:50 PM on August 13, 2009

Response by poster: Okay, there's some good news. Zoe's feeling better and people donated $95 to help pay for her vet bills! So that makes life easier. PLUS I got work for a month so that helps too.

All is well. :)
posted by miss lynnster at 11:43 AM on August 15, 2009

Response by poster: AAAAGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!

Epilogue to the story. Today, August 22, I get a phone call from the first vet... all mad at me, saying "When are you coming to pick up this medication? It's been sitting here." I was gobsmacked. I replied that they told me they wouldn't fill it and never called me to tell me they changed their mind and would.

They said, "Well, it doesn't work that way. You should've called US."

"Ummmm, but you told me you WOULDN'T fill it. WHY WOULD I CALL TO SEE IF IT WAS READY!!!??????" WTF?

Agh. So her ear ended up costing me like $200 when it didn't even have to because I could've gotten the medicine after all. How totally frustrating. Sigh. Well, at least my dog is out of pain.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:22 AM on August 22, 2009

Aw. Sorry, miss lynnster! At least Zoe's feeling better. But yeah, kind of jerky of them to change their minds and not tell you.
posted by trip and a half at 9:01 AM on August 23, 2009

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