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Many of my clients want to know if it’s OK to use coconut oil for dogs’ ears with infections. But most of what they’ve heard about how coconut oil cures everything from the common cold to cancer is greatly exaggerated. Buried somewhere under all the hype are some nuggets of truth about the benefits of coconut oil in dogs.
Coconut oil applied topically is soothing and may help prevent the recurrence of chronic ear infections (otitis externa) in dogs. This oil is a gentle, natural substance that is well-tolerated by most dogs. When applied to a dog’s skin, coconut oil has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and moisturizing effects.
Let’s talk about how you can use coconut oil for dogs’ ears to clean them and prevent infection.
Why Dogs Get Ear Infections
Environmental allergies and food hypersensitivity are the most common causes of otitis externa in dogs. It can be difficult to definitively diagnose either of these problems without spending a lot of time and money. Vets often make a presumptive diagnosis of allergy based on response to oral or topical steroids.
Diagnosing food hypersensitivity requires a several-month food allergy trial followed by a challenge with the suspected allergy food.
Parasites like ear mites are another primary cause seen more often in young dogs who spend time around other animals.
Bacteria and yeast infections cause secondary otitis externa, usually as a result of allergies or foreign objects (grass seeds, hair, etc.) in the ear.
Coconut Oil Kills Bacteria and Yeast on Skin
Multiple studies have found that components of coconut oil reduce populations of bacteria on contact, including Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococcus aureus is a common ear bacteria that overgrows in allergic and infected dog ears.
Research also shows coconut oil also stops yeast. Most of the studies examined coconut oil’s effect on Candida species which is not the main type of yeast infection present in canine ears. Still, it’s possible coconut oil would have a similar effect on Malassezia yeast overgrowth which affects dogs.
Coconut Oil Lubricates Allergic Skin
The moisture level of allergic skin is abnormal and allows for increased growth of bacteria. A study on humans with allergic skin disease found that coconut oil worked better than olive oil at reducing bacterial infection and overgrowth when used topically on allergic dry skin.
Coconut Oil for Ear Mites
Ear mites (Otodectes cyanotis) are parasites that inhabit the ear canal of dogs and cats. They eat the wax and oil produced by ear skin. They cause a lot of inflammation and itchiness and sometimes even lead to secondary bacterial and yeast infections.
Many different kinds of culinary oils can be used to clear the infestation by “smothering” the ear mites. Coconut oil has the added benefit of being a mild antibiotic agent.
Should Dogs Eat Coconut Oil?
Scientists have found coconut oil has anti-inflammatory effects when fed to rats. Although it provided some relief from experimentally-induced inflammation, it was much less effective than ibuprofen.
The nutritional value of coconut oil for humans revolves mainly around its medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). In people, MCT oil may promote satiety and prevent fat storage (1). We don’t know exactly what coconut oil does nutritionally for dogs.
It’s important to note the antibiotic factors in coconut oil are inactivated in the presence of starch and protein in food. Proteins in the blood also inactivate the active components of coconut oil.
That’s why including coconut oil in a dog’s diet is unlikely to be effective in treating ear infection and inflammation. Besides, many dogs are very sensitive to dietary fat and adding even a teaspoon could set off pancreatitis in some.
I recommend my clients skip feeding their pets coconut oil. You’ll get a bigger bang for your buck by applying coconut oil directly to the inflamed ear skin.
What Kind of Coconut Oil to Use for Your Dog
In general, there are two kinds of coconut oil available in the mass market. Refined coconut oil is processed to remove some of the coconut solids after it’s pressed. Unrefined, or virgin coconut oil is not processed as much and retains more of the therapeutic compounds that treat infections and inflammation.
Look for virgin coconut oil and if you can find an organic one, all the better for the environment. You can find virgin coconut oil in most grocery stores as well as ordering it online. I like Raw Paws Organic Virgin Coconut Oil for Dogs & Cats, 16-oz -… which is both unrefined and organic.
How to Apply Coconut Oil to Dogs’ Ears
If your dog has an ear problem for the first time, it’s best to see your vet for a proper diagnosis. For dogs with a chronic, low-grade ear infection, you can do home care consisting of regular cleaning followed by applying coconut oil.
1. Clean Out Debris
I recommend Virbac Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleaner, 8 oz as an ear wash. It is gentle and effective at removing waxy goo from inflamed dog ears. It has a mild aroma and doesn’t sting inflamed skin the way apple cider vinegar or hydrogen peroxide does.
Depending on how inflamed the ears are, I have my clients use dog ear cleaner daily for a week, or for less severe cases once or twice a week.
Make sure to literally flood the ear canal with the liquid, wiping out the excess with a soft cotton ball. If you see blood, stop the procedure as wiping more can make inflammation worse.
After cleaning with Epi-Otic Advanced, allow at least 30 minutes for the ears to dry.
2. Wipe Ear Flap With Coconut Oil
Next, apply warm, high-quality coconut oil directly to the ear flap to moisten the skin. You can wipe away excess oil, but don’t rub as that can irritate the skin more.
3. Apply Oil Into Ear Canal
Finally, use a dropper or teaspoon to dribble a few drops of melted (but not hot) coconut oil into the ear canal. Gently massage the base of the ear to distribute the oil.
There is no need to rinse coconut oil off your dog unless you notice increased redness.
Side Effects of Coconut Oil
Despite its gentleness, coconut oil can cause skin irritation for some dogs. If you notice the skin in your dog’s ear looks redder or develops bumps or sores, discontinue the use of coconut oil and seek help from your veterinarian.
In the event of an allergic reaction, wash the ear flap with mild soap then rinse the coconut oil off your dog with lots of lukewarm water.
Use warm saline solution several times to rinse the coconut oil from the ear canal.
Scientific studies show that coconut oil has antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. But these effects are not as strong as those of pharmaceutical medications, so don’t rely on coconut oil to cure a moderate to severe ear infection on its own.
We don’t have any studies that prove coconut oil’s effectiveness in dogs for any ailment including an ear infection.
In general, coconut oil is a natural remedy that’s safe to use topically for ear infections in most dogs. Watch for uncommon adverse skin reactions to coconut oil application and discontinue use if this occurs.
- Coconut Oil. (2020, July 14). Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/coconut-oil/
- Intahphuak, S., Khonsung, P., & Panthong, A. (2010). Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic activities of virgin coconut oil . Pharmaceutical biology, 48(2), 151-157.
- Kitahara, T. et al. Antimicrobial activity of saturated fatty acids and fatty amines against methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus . Biol. Pharm. Bull. 27, 1321-1326 (2004).
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- Verallo-Rowell, V. M., Dillague, K. M., & Syah-Tjundawan, B. S. (2008). Novel antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut and virgin olive oils in adult atopic dermatitis . Dermatitis, 19(6), 308-315.
- Wille, J. J., & Kydonieus, A. (2003). Palmitoleic acid isomer (C16: 1Δ6) in human skin sebum is effective against gram-positive bacteria . Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 16(3), 176-187.
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