Ear treatment: gentian violet based remedies
Many people swear by gentian violet based homemade ear remedies -- as a preventative against ear infections or as a cure. I am not sure where this comes from but it does pick apart the ingredients and offer some context for when to use and when not to use, and a few caveats. If you are unsure of the ingredeints ** buy something pre-made** as you do not want to risk damaging your cavalier's sensitive ears!!
On a personal note: I've never had an ear infection in the two years-plus I've had my cavaliers and they swim regularly so often have damp ears. I'd be reluctant to be putting something in their ears all the time as a preventative.
Blue Power Ear Cleaner
The good, the bad and the ugly about this popular home made ear cleaner.
Blue Power Ear Cleaner (also known as Blue Voodoo Ear Cleaner and Gentian Violet Ear Cleaner) is a very popular home made remedy for keeping canine ears clean and infection free. Lots of Internet web sites tout its benefits, and it is frequently mentioned on dog-related chat groups. Most advocates of this treatment say its great, almost magic for treating ear infections, few if any mention how or why the preparation works and if it is safe for our canine friends. Being a natural skeptic of anything advertised as 'magic', I decided a little research was in order. Here is what I discovered:
There are several recipes for Gentian Violet based ear cleaners on the web. The following recipe seems to be the most popular and based on my research the safest and most effective formulation:
2 cups (1 pt.) 70% Isopropyl alcohol (donÂ¹t use the 91% solution, it is too
strong for use in an ear cleaner and can physically burn the delicate ear
4 Tablespoons boric acid powder
16 drops of 1% gentian violet solution or 8 drops of 2% gentian violet
solution. (Order from your local pharmacist)
For best results, place two cups of isopropyl alcohol in a glass measuring
cup and heat until luke-warm in the microwave. Heating the alcohol helps the boric acid powder dissolve in the liquid. This recipe calls for a very
saturated concentration of boric acid compared to the amount of alcohol.
If you donÂ¹t heat the alcohol first, then you tend to get boric acid crystals
settling out at the bottom of your bottle. Boric acid crystals in suspension
(particles floating in the liquid) are less effective for altering the pH of
the ear canal than boric acid in solution (particles dissolved in liquid).
After mixing the boric acid and alcohol, then add the gentian violet. Be
sure to place newspapers under the area where you are working. Gentian
violet is a strong aniline dye and permanently stains, especially in its
concentrated form. I have found that adding one drop of liquid dish soap to this warm purple mixture helps make this mixture work even better because the soap helps break down the surface tension of the earwax so the alcohol can dissolve it. Adding more than one drop of soap starts to change the pH of the solution and reduces its effectiveness.
It is recommended that this product be used once or twice a day for two
weeks to fight ear infections, then twice a month afterwards to prevent
overgrowth of the microbes that cause infection. If your dog produces a lot of earwax and needs more frequent ear cleaning, you might consider
alternating the use of this formula with a commercially available ear
cleaning formula so long as the commercial ear cleaner also acidifies the
The Good-Why it Works
In case you are wondering why this formula works, here is the scoop.
Gentian violet is a fairly powerful antiseptic. Antiseptics are agents that destroy or inhibit the growth and development of microorganisms in or on living tissue. Unlike antibiotics that act selectively on a specific target,
antiseptics have multiple targets and a broader spectrum of activity.
Gentian Violet was quite popular prior to World War II, especially in
veterinary use. It is particularly good at killing fungus like yeast and
Staphylococcus bacteria, both big culprits in ear infections. For it to
truly work, the solution needs to be in contact with the fungus or bacteria
for a minimum of sixty seconds. So filling the ear canal and massaging it
around for a minute is a good idea. I suggest you warm the solution slightly in the microwave or hot water bath to make it more comfortable for the dog and to help the alcohol (also an antiseptic) dissolves the wax build-up. Be sure to test the temperature on your own wrist before pouring it into the ear canal. The boric acid in the recipe helps to acidify the pH of the ear canal making it an inhospitable environment for nasty beasties to grow back.
The Bad-Some of the dangers
Now why, if this stuff is so great, donÂ¹t we see commercial preparations of
this formula? One reason is that Gentian Violet is a mild carcinogen (cancer causing agent) Studies at the National Center for Toxicological Research (and similar studies listed in the bibliography) have shown Gentian Violet to be a thyroid and liver carcinogen for laboratory animals like rats, mice and rabbits. Another reason is that Gentian Violet is toxic to the sensitive cilia cells of the inner ear. If some of the solution happens to seep through a perforated eardrum it can cause a debilitating and permanent dizziness or deafness. A third consideration is its reported effects on the fetus. Pregnant animals in the Gentian Violet studies showed fetal abnormalities including those to the musculoskeletal and urogenital systems.
Gentian violet also affected fertility and was deemed the cause of a high
rate of post-implantation mortality (either death or reabsorption of the
fetus). These factors make the product too big a potential liability for a
commercial production. The FDA has banned its use as a food preservative anddiscourages its use in human medical and veterinary preparations designed for chronic use (like ear cleaners) although the agency seems to have no problem with occasional use.
The Ugly-More is not better
Please donÂ¹t use more gentian violet than is recommended in the formula.
Antiseptics, like Gentian Violet, have been found to be toxic not only to
bacteria and fungus, but also to cells essential to the wound healing
process, such as fibroblasts, keratinocytes, and leukocytes. However, this
cell toxicity appears to be concentration dependent. In other words, in low
(recommended) concentrations, antiseptics like Gentian Violet retain their
antibacterial and anti fungal activity, but they donÂ¹t end up killing off
The Moral of the Story
When used properly this is a good ear cleaner/disinfectant. It has been
reported to stop some ear infections when all other treatments have failed.
Given the research studies, especially the cancer studies, it may not be
advisable to use this as your dogÂ¹s only ear cleaner, but it is a good
product to get ears back under control. The fetal death and abnormality
studies suggest that it is not advisable to use this product on a pregnant
or lactating bitch. The risks of fetal abnormality are just too high.
Colloidal silver preparations and non-staining iodine compounds work almost as well as Gentian violet preparations and have been shown to be very safe.
Many commercial preparations are also very good and very safe. Look for
those that do not contain chlorhexidine (also can cause birth defects) and
state that the product leaves the ear acidified to discourage re-growth of
bacteria and yeast.