Holistic Support for Your Dog or Cat's Eyes & Ears
Written by: Dr. Jean Hofve, Holistic Veterinarian, DVM
Eye Disorders in Dogs & Cats
The eyes have been called "a window to the soul." You know when your cat is giving you "the look" by the way they hold their head and seem to glare. Your dog can melt your heart with their adoring big brown eyes that assure you they love you from the tip of her wet nose to the end of her wagging tail.
Our companions find many ways to communicate with us without words, and their eyes can be a fascinating and important communication tool for them. Eye health is important for more than just vision, but vision is of course our primary focus.
The following are the most common eye problems veterinarians see. Any time you suspect a vision problem due to a change in behavior, or you notice your companion squinting or showing signs of eye discomfort, it is important to seek veterinary advice promptly.
A cataract is a clouding of the eye's natural lens. The lens is made up of mostly water and protein. A cataract is formed when protein begins to clump together in an abnormal way and clouds a small area of the lens.
Cataracts may require surgery, though the timing of the surgery may or may not be urgent. When a younger dog develops cataracts it is typically due to congenital reasons. In this circumstance, the cataracts may progress more rapidly requiring surgery sooner rather than later. This is also true for cataracts caused by diabetes.
For an older animal, however, you may be able to support your pet's eye health and thereby lessen the need for surgery, depending on the extent of vision impairment at the time of diagnosis and the age of the animal.
Support begins with the basics – a high quality diet supplemented with additional vitamins and minerals. Diet can help maintain the general health of all ages and breeds, making it one of the most important things you can do for your companion. Some chronic degenerative diseases such as cataracts develop over time as a result of inadequate nutrition and exposure to toxins in the food and environment. Please see "What You Need to Know About Your Pet's Food" and "All About Raw Food" in our Holistic Healthcare Library section. Some people are not comfortable with feeding raw food. If this is the case for you, consider dehydrated or freeze-dried food to supplement the diet, or a very high quality canned food – or even better yet, home-made food or healthy leftovers. Basically, the fresher the diet, the better equipped you are to support the physical and mental well-being of your animal.
Herbal supplements: I recommend the herb Bilberry. Bilberry can help maintain and support normal visual functions. Bilberry is believed to help support circulation and thus promote long-term ocular health. The dosage for cats is approximately 20 mg. per day, and for dogs 40-280 mg. per day depending on the size of the dog. In addition, a high quality antioxidant supplement, such as Genesis Resources Canine Antioxidant Formula or Feline Antioxidant Formula or Vetri-Science Cell Advance can help support eye function.
Homeopathy may be another helpful approach to support your pet's ocular health. The choice of formula, however, is very specific for each animal and needs to be guided by a veterinarian trained in homeopathy. For a referral see: The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy.
Eye inflammation, or conjunctivitis, generally occurs more often in animals with pre-existing immune or allergy-related symptoms. When your dog or cat shows symptoms of sore, red eyes with a discharge, the first thing to do is determine the cause. This may be as simple as a minor scratch or irritating foreign matter, a result of environmental toxin exposure or airborne allergies, or more serious matters such as feline herpes or glaucoma. A trip to the veterinarian is crucial when you see signs of eye irritation.
Eyebright is a very common herb used to maintain ocular health. Eyebright eye washes can sometimes be helpful to remove foreign debris and encrustaion, which helps maintain your pet's healthy eyes: Ark Naturals Eyes So Bright contains eyebright to help support eye function. Chinese herbal formulas, like Nature's Herbs Clear Vision may also be helpful to support the immune system which in turn allows your pet's healthy immune system to fight minor eye infections.
If allergies are suspected as the cause of conjunctivitis, it may help to change to a hypoallergenic diet. Nutraceutical allergy formulas can also be quite helpful in maintaining normal histamine levels and healthy immune responses. A great product to have on hand to gently clean or remove foreign debris, like pollen, is Only Natural Pet Eye Care.
"Eye inflammation, or conjunctivitis, generally occurs more often in animals with pre-existing immune or allergy-related symptoms."
If a cat's eyes are watering and producing a thick whitish discharge, feline herpes may be the cause. The inside lining of the eyelids become inflamed, and shallow, painful ulcers develop. The eyewashes containing eyebright mentioned above can assist in cleansing the eye.
Feline Herpes is generally a result of a weakened immune system, so diet and immune support need attention. To help support immune system function, the amino acid L-lysine may be helpful. L-lysine can be found at any natural food store. The dosage for cats is 500 mg. twice a day. Several products contain L-lysine along with other vitamins and herbs to help support the immune system. Supplements for bacterial conditions, like Nature's Herbs Berbal Biotic, a Chinese herbal blend can help support the proper balance of normal intestinal flora, as well as the immune system.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy
This condition involves a shrinking or degeneration of the retina of the eye. Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is more common in dogs. PRA may develop slowly – initially resulting in night blindness. If you notice your companion hesitating to go outside at night or down a darkened hall or stairway, suspect vision difficulties and see a veterinarian.
In cats this disease is most commonly related to Taurine deficiency, which is now less troublesome than previously, as all commercially available cat foods are now formulated with added Taurine. Raw diets that include organ meats provide the most natural source of Taurine. For those feeding a home-prepared diet, Taurine supplementation can be important. Taurine is readily available at health food and vitamin stores. Cats can receive up to 500 mg. or more per day.
Diet is the place to begin to help support your pet's health. Please refer to the article section linked above in the discussion about cataracts for information regarding proper diet and nutrition.
Bilberry is useful for PRA for the same reasons it may help with cataracts – it can help maintain ocular integrity and structure, as well as support normal circulatory function.
Many animals may also benefit from additional vitamins, antioxidants, and fatty acids, such as zinc and/or vitamin E. These can not only help support eye function, but also help maintain the general health of animals.
Ear Disorders in Dogs & Cats
Chronic ear infections and yeast difficulties are frequently a sign of allergies. Allergies are becoming more and more common and troublesome in both dogs and cats. Diet, as well as enzyme and probiotic supplementation, is a great way to ensure good health.
Many animals with food sensitivities and allergies may benefit from raw, freeze dried, or dehydrated food. Once again, please see "What You Need to Know About Your Pet's Food," and "All About Raw Food," in our Holistic Healthcare Library section. As discussed previously, the fresher the diet, the better it is for your companion's health & immune system. Dry food may not be a good option for cats, especially those with allergies. Dry kibble can be part of a healthy diet for dogs; however dogs with chronic ear symptoms or allergies require hypo-allergenic food – which means no wheat, corn or soy. Sometimes it may mean no beef or chicken too, due to a protein sensitivity. This usually can be accomplished with grain free foods.
Some animals with food allergies have gastrointestinal systems that are not able to digest food properly. Leaky gut develops and then molecules that are too large for the body to process are allowed through the gut wall, setting off allergic reactions and creating the optimal conditions for yeast infections. The symptoms may appear in the ears, but it is important to help support proper digestion and bowel health. Digestive enzymes can help support normal digestive function, probiotics can help maintain proper gut flora, and fatty acids help support a normal inflammatory response and promote healthy skin.
Supplementing every meal with digestive enzymes may assist with the assimilation of the nutrients in processed foods. Digestive enzymes generally do not remain in an animal's system beyond digestion of the food immediately present in the digestive tract. A raw diet, however, does not necessarily need digestive enzyme supplementation once an animal has been fully transitioned to raw food, although the addition of enzymes can still support proper digestion.
Probiotics are especially important for an animal that has been on steroids or antibiotics to help maintain gut flora in the digestive tract. In general, probiotics may help promote overall intestinal well-being.
Essential fatty acids, preferably fish oil, can help provide support for a healthy coat. Omega-3 fatty acids can also help maintain normal inflammatory pathways. Allergies involve inflammation of the gut and often can affect the joints as well. If you see loose stools, then reduce the dosage of supplemental fatty acids a bit until stool consistency normalizes.
A supplement, like Only Natural Pet Immune Balance, is another good option because it contains plant sterols and sterolins that help support to balance the immune system.
For a topical ear wash, try Only Natural Pet Ear Wash Cleaner for Dogs and Cats which contains Echinacea and Tea Tree Oil to disinfect and clean the ear canal.