The symptoms of an ear infection in your dog are easy enough to identify: scratching, whining, head shaking, and redness in and around their ear canal. What’s not so easy is identifying the cause. Ear infections affect an estimated 20% of dogs, and while there are several different causes, such as moisture, foreign bodies entering the ear, and autoimmune disorders, diet is one of the most important factors.
Allergic reactions to food are one of the most common causes of ear infection, especially in dogs that have food sensitivities. Some estimates conclude that up to 80% of dogs with food sensitivities will develop some kind of ear infection at some point in their life. One of the best methods of preventing these infections and even possibly healing them is your pooch’s diet.
If your beloved pooch is suffering from recurring ear infections, it might be their diet that is the prime cause. We put together this list of in-depth reviews of the five best dog foods for ear infections to help you mitigate any possible allergic reactions that your pooch may be having.
A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites
|Best Overall||Hill's Prescription Diet z/d||
|Best Value||Natural Balance Vegetarian Formula||
|Best for Puppies||Royal Canin Hydrolyzed Protein HP||
|Forza10 Nutraceutic Sensitive Ear Plus||
|Nutro Limited Ingredient Diet||
The 5 Best Dog Foods for Ear Infections — Reviews 2021
1. Hill’s Prescription Sensitivities Dog Food — Best Overall
Hill’s Prescription Diet dry dog food is specially formulated for dogs with food allergies and is thus our top choice of food overall for dogs with ear infections. The food includes hydrolyzed chicken liver proteins for improved digestion, has essential fatty acids omega-3 and -6 for healthy skin and coat, and contains antioxidants to help prevent allergies and disease. There is only a single carbohydrate source in this food — cornstarch — to help minimize the risk of allergic reaction or sensitivity. The food also contains vitamins C and E for optimum immune support, and the special formula is shown to promote the reduction of risk of urinary tract infections too.
This food requires vet approval before purchase, so you’ll need to take your pooch for a vet visit first. While this food is likely to clear up any allergies, it is probably not a great long-term solution, as it is expensive and contains ingredients like cornstarch, soy, and the unnatural hydrolyzed protein.
2. Natural Balance Vegetarian Dry Dog Food — Best Value
The best dog food for ear infections for the money is the Natural Balance Vegetarian Formula dry dog food. It contains all the essential nutrients that your pooch needs to thrive, and all are obtained from plant-based sources. The essential protein that your dog needs is provided from potatoes and peas. It also contains brown rice for added vitamins and oat fiber and barley for healthy digestion. The included cranberries, spinach, and blueberries will provide your pooch with essential antioxidants, and the food has increased levels of B vitamins for a healthy immune system. The added DHA and EPA (omega fatty acids) will aid in healthy brain function and coat, and the zinc and manganese will help support hip and joint health.
The added grains and carbohydrates may cause gas and bloat in some dogs, and several customers report the food causing loose stool too. Although the food contains 18% protein, this is plant-sourced, and large, energetic dogs will do far better on meat-based proteins. Picky eaters may not enjoy the taste of this food, as several customers report, keeping it from the top position.
3. Royal Canin Hydrolyzed Dry Dog Food — Best for Puppies
This dry dog food from Royal Canin is specially designed for dogs with allergies and food sensitivities and is suitable for both adults and puppies. The hydrolyzed proteins break down easily, making them easily digestible, which is especially important in growing pooches, and they have less risk of triggering any immune reactions than traditional protein sources. The food contains B vitamins, amino acids, and essential omega-3 and -6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat, and the healthy fibers and prebiotics will aid in digestion. Added vitamins C and E will aid in a healthy immune system for a healthy, allergy-free pooch.
Bear in mind that this food needs veterinary authorization before purchase, which some vets may charge you for on top of the already expensive food. The food has a strong chemical odor, which may result in picky eaters not enjoying it, and some customers report diarrhea and bloat after switching to this food, keeping it from the top two positions.
4. Forza10 Nutraceutic Sensitive Ear Plus Dog Food
Sensitive Ear Plus from Forza10 is specially designed for dogs with ear issues, with its grain-free recipe and wild-caught anchovy. It is rich in omega-3 and -6 fatty acids sourced from the anchovy, which is sure to give your pooch a healthy and shiny coat. The food is made from mostly raw, uncontaminated ingredients, meaning you can easily switch to using it without an extended transition period. The food is high in animal-based protein (30%), sourced from anchovies, fish oil, pork, and hydrolyzed salmon protein, and it contains additional protein from peas and beans. It also has fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants and immune-boosting nutrients, including pomegranates and papaya.
The food has a pungent, fishy smell that may put off some picky eaters. The kibble is also large, not ideal for smaller breeds.
5. Nutro Limited Ingredient Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
This limited-ingredient dry dog food from Nutro contains salmon and salmon meal as the first two ingredients, for a healthy dose of amino acids from a natural source. The food is infused with optimum levels of omega fatty acids, zinc, and B vitamins to further enhance your dog’s coat’s natural shine. It is completely grain-free, with no fillers like corn, wheat, or soy, being made from 10 ingredients or fewer for optimum caloric nutrition ratios. The ingredients are all GMO-free and lack artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives to further reduce the chance of allergic reactions.
The included salmon give this food a strong fish odor, which may not please picky eaters. There was a recent recipe change in this food, and some customers report that their dogs did not enjoy the new flavor.
Your dog’s diet plays a pivotal role in their overall health, and the food you decide to feed them has a massive impact on their immune system, energy levels, and skin and dental health. That being said, food allergies and sensitivities are a major concern, and different foods affect dogs in different ways. When ear infections set in, the first aspect to explore is the foods that your dog is eating, as these are the most likely cause.
When it comes to ear infections in dogs, there are three distinct types: external infection (otitis externa), middle-ear infection (otitis media), and internal (otitis interna). Inner and middle ear infections can commonly result from external infection, so it is vitally important to keep your dog’s ears clean and dry, especially dogs with long, droopy ears, like Beagles and Spaniels.
Symptoms of Ear Infections
Any observant dog owner will quickly notice the visible signs of an ear infection in their pooch. While some of these symptoms can be attributed to other possible causes, like wax build-up, fleas, or dirt, most of them will be a glaringly obvious ear issue. Symptoms include:
- Scratching excessively
- Head shaking or tilting
- Discharge from the ear
- Hearing loss
- Scabs or crusting inside the ear canal
- Hair loss around the ear
- Constant walking around in circles
- Inability to settle
- Redness and swelling inside the ear canal
Other causes of ear infections
While many ear infections can be caused by allergic reactions to food, there are several other possible causes too. Dogs have a unique ear canal that is more vertical than a human’s, with an L-shape that can easily catch and hold moisture. No matter the food your dog is eating, ear infections are caused primarily by bacterial infections, yeast, or more rarely, ear mites. Other possible causes are:
- Yeast infections (found frequently in dogs with large ears that cut off the ear canal to the flow of air)
- Dust and dirt
- Excess moisture
- Ear injuries
- Excessive wax build-up
How do you diagnose a food allergy?
Food allergies in dogs are fairly rare, with some estimates below 1%. Sensitivity to foods is common, though, and can come from a variety of different foods. Diagnosing particular food allergies is a challenge, and the available tools that vets currently have to conduct tests are useful but somewhat unreliable. These tests include intradermal allergy testing, serology tests, and skin patch tests, all of which may identify an allergic reaction but cannot pinpoint the exact source. Multiple studies have failed to show that any of the currently available tests are accurate, making a diagnosis of an allergen extremely difficult.
Typically, the best way to diagnose a food allergy is dietary elimination. This process requires that you eliminate all the foods that your dog is currently eating and feed them a limited-ingredient food that typically consists of one protein and one carbohydrate source (plus all the necessary vitamins and minerals) to which they have never been exposed before. On top of that, you’ll need to keep this up for at least 8 weeks to get a precise evaluation. As all dog lovers know, it can be especially difficult to make 100% sure that your dog is not getting bits of other food here and there, especially if you have children. You’ll then need to slowly reintroduce ingredients from your dog’s old diet and isolate the one that is causing issues.
The biggest problem is that there is no panacea when it comes to a dog’s diet, and dogs can and have been shown to be sensitive to a wide array of different proteins and vegetables. The closest thing that we have to a hypoallergenic food source are foods that contain hydrolyzed proteins, which can only be purchased through a vet. These proteins are designed to be small and easily digestible, with less of a chance of an allergic reaction.
Most common food allergies in dogs
While the percentage of dogs with food allergies is low (partly due to diagnosis issues), there are common ingredients that are most associated with confirmed cases. These include but are not limited to:
But what about grains?
Dog food with grains included in the recipe has a bad reputation, especially corn, wheat, and soy, but the most common allergic reactions are caused by meat! This is because one of the most common allergies in dogs is protein, which is found in large quantities in chicken, beef, pork, lamb, and egg.
Some dogs are allergic to some grains, like wheat and corn, or even vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, but this is exceedingly rare. Proteins are the biggest culprit, and grain-free food is by no means an allergy-free food. While there is a great deal of debate among dog owners about feeding dogs grains, for dogs with allergies, grain-free foods will contain a high amount of meat-based protein, which may cause further issues. Grains may cause gas, bloating, and other minor issues in dogs, but dogs are rarely allergic to them.
How to prevent ear infections
So, with food allergies and sensitivities being the most common source of ear infections, the best way to treat and prevent ear infections is in giving your dog the healthiest diet possible. With so few dogs being allergic to commonly found dog food ingredients, finding the right food through trial and error may be the best course.
Some foods will assist when your dog already has an ear infection, although they may not be the ideal choice long term. We recommended a diet consisting of high amounts of animal-based proteins, with as few carbohydrates as possible. Of course, if your dog has an allergy to meat proteins, this can be a challenge, and hydrolyzed proteins may be the best option. Reducing the potential allergens on your dog’s food is the first and foremost method to prevent ear infections, as a healthy immune system is the first line of defense in any type of infection.
Secondly, making sure your dog’s ears are dry and clean is essential. Trapped moisture can quickly lead to a yeast infection and dirty ears to a bacterial infection. A dirty, infected outer ear can swiftly spread inward, in which case the problem becomes far more difficult to treat.
The best food for ear infections according to our tests is Hill’s Prescription Diet dry dog food. It is specially formulated for dogs with food allergies, with hydrolyzed chicken liver proteins for improved digestion, essential fatty acids omega-3 and -6 for healthy skin and coat, and vital antioxidants to help prevent allergies and disease. There is only a single carbohydrate source in this food, further lessening the risk of allergies and infection.
The best dog food for ear infections for the money is the Natural Balance Vegetarian Formula dry dog food. This food contains the proteins that your pooch needs but is meat-free — all the proteins are obtained from plant-based sources. The food includes cranberries, spinach, and blueberries for essential antioxidants, brown rice for added vitamins, and oat fiber and barley for healthy digestion.
It can be difficult to try and decide what to feed your dog at the best of times, let alone when they are suffering from an ear infection. Hopefully, our in-depth reviews and buyers guide have helped you understand the large part that diet has to play, so you can find the right dog food to help your beloved pooch on their road to recovery.
Featured Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock
- A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites
- The 5 Best Dog Foods for Ear Infections — Reviews 2021
- Buyers Guide
- Symptoms of Ear Infections
- Other causes of ear infections
- How do you diagnose a food allergy?
- Most common food allergies in dogs
- But what about grains?
- How to prevent ear infections