In the canine world there are all shapes and sizes of ears. German Shepherds have pricked ears. Dropped or pendulum ears hang down like those on Spaniels and Basset Hounds. Button ears have folds in them, and like dropped ears may need more care. Jack Russell Terriers have button ears. Hairy ears like Poodles and Schnauzers will sometimes grow hair down the ear canal. A dog’s ear is also a little wax factory which is why regularly scheduled ear inspection and cleaning needs to be on your grooming schedule. As with tooth and mouth cleaning, it is important to begin conditioning your dog as soon as possible. Some dogs are extremely resistant to touching their ears. Get your dog, hopefully still puppy, used to having his ears touched. A gentle ear scratch, flipping and holding their ears while snuggling next to you watching TV are effective ways to condition your dog to ear touch and make ear cleaning a breeze. Cleaning your dog’s ears on a regular basis will alert you to potential infections that could permanently damage your dog’s hearing. You should check your dog’s ears once a week and clean if needed.
First, let me break down the very basic anatomy of the ear. The External Ear consists of the ear flap or ‘pinna’ and the ear canal. The ear canal is made of cartilage covered by skin which forms an L-shaped tube which leads to the eardrum. The Middle Ear is the bony cavern within the skull. Tiny little bones of the middle ear ‘read’ vibrations of sound to pass along to the inner ear. The Inner Ear is the part of the brain that controls hearing and balance. The anatomy of the ear protects the actual organ of hearing from injury. However, the length of the ear canal combined with gravity lead to possible buildups of wax, debris and foreign materials. Never put foreign objects like Q-tips into your dogs ears.
There are a few things that will aide you towards protecting your dogs ears from infection. Keep the ears dry. Warm and moist conditions create the perfect environment for organisms that cause ear infections to grow. You can place cotton balls in your dog’s ears before bathing. Carefully dry your dogs ears after swimming. Drooped ears may need to be ‘pinned’ or ‘taped’ back a few hours each week. To allow air circulation and drying to occur. This is especially important in hot and humid climates. Clipping excess hair growing around the ear will also aid in ventilation and cleaning. Always check your dog’s ears after he has played or roamed in tall grass to look for grass seeds or any plant materials that could travel down the ear canal. Foreign objects lodged in the ear canal will cause blockage and increase the chances of an ear infection. For dog breeds with hairy ears, excess hair around the ears tend to snag burrs and grass seeds so clipping this hair will reduce the danger of foreign objects getting into the ear canal.
In addition to your routine of ear inspection, just observing your dog’s behavior can alert you to the early signs of an ear problem. Ear problems left unchecked can cause severe irritation, impaired balance, or deafness. Some early signs of ear problems:
- Head shaking or scratching one or both ears could be ear mites
- Unpleasant odors coming from the ears could be caused by ear mites or ear infections
- Yellow, brown, or mahogany colored ear discharge caused by ear mites or ear infections
- Inflammation of the ear flap or ear canal opening can be caused by ear mites, infection, foreign objects or allergies
- A yelp or pain response from your dog if touched around the ears can be caused by infection or foreign objects
- Your dogs head is tilted to one side could indicate a middle ear infections
- Loss of hearing may be cause by excessive ear wax buildup, injury, or brain damage
- Swelling on the ear flap in normally a hematoma
- Stumbling or circling to one side is an indicator of an inner ear infection or brain damage
- Blisters or abrasions are signs of injury or ear mites
- Crusty or red ears visible on the ear flap could be allergies
- Red or black waxy buildup is a tell-tell sign of ear mites
If any of these signs are not immediately cured through routine cleaning, it is imperative that your dog visits a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.
Routine cleaning of your dogs ears can be done with several different methods. The use of a ear wipe is the easiest way to rid your dog of wax and dirt from the external ear, ear flaps, and the opening of the ear canal. Mineral oil or baby oil can be placed in the ear via a dropper or a cloth or cotton ball soaked with these oils. After placing a few drops into the ear, gently massage the ear and leave in the ear to soften waxy buildup for a few hours. You will need to flush the ear after wards. A flush of white vinegar and distilled water works like a charm. If you want to buy options from a reliable pet store, a mild otic solution designed for ear cleaning or a proprietary wax removal made with dilute salicylic acid plus a flush are the best choices.
It is important to add that if your dog immediately shows signs of improvement from any treatment, but then gets worse, it usually points towards an allergic response to the medicine.
Remember to follow your grooming schedule to protect your dog from the most common health problems. Your dogs hearing is a remarkable thing. Dogs can hear a sound 4 times farther away than humans and can locate the source of a sound in six-hundredths of a second. They can also filter out all other background noise to distinguish the particular sounds of their owners…even from a sound sleep. Maintaining your dogs ears protects his hearing. This is reason enough to follow your grooming schedule, don’t you agree?