While dogs have ears, just like you and I, they are different than a humans in a couple of distinct ways. First, (depending on the breed) dog ears have flaps the cover the opening to the ear. Second, they have an elongated ear canal. Because of these two distinctions, dog ears require routine care, unlike a human’s, to keep them healthy and infection free.
The Anatomy of a Canine Ear
More distinctly, a dog’s ear is made of of three primary components – the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The outer ear functions to direct sound into the ear… think of the big ears on a bunny rabbit perking up and alerting the animal to sound. On a dog, this part of the ear is the flap that varies widely in size from some cones to big droopy flaps. The middle ear is responsible for processing the sound waves that have been guided into it. This is done by the traditional components we think of inside an ear – the eardrum and associated auditory bones. Behind the middle ear is the inner ear. The inner ear is responsible for the dog’s sense of balance. Just like a human, movement and orientation is detected in the ear by tiny hairs reacting to the movement of fluid.
Big Ears May Cause Big Infections
The oversized outer ear of a dog combined with the nice, warm, moist environment that lies beneath it can, unfortunately, be a breeding ground for ear infections. It is normal for ears to contain yeast and bacteria, however, they must be kept below an infection threshold. Excess moisture, dust, dirt, mites, allergies or other foreign objects may cause yeast and bacteria in the ear to grow, resulting in an infection.
Signs of an ear infection in a dog include scratching of the ears, a foul smell (often times like yeast), redness or discharge. More severe signs may present as hearing loss, swollen ear flaps, loss of balance and lethargy.
Once a dog has an ear infection, or you suspect an ear infection in your dog, it is best to visit a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment. Typical treatment consists of an antibacterial or antifungal topical medication that is applied to the ears.
Preventing Ear Infections
Of course, the best thing to do is to prevent an ear infection in the first place. The ears should be inspected weekly for signs of ear infection.
Talk with your veterinarian about a good ear cleaner for your breed and your dogs skin sensitivities. The best option is a liquid ear flush. If the pet does not tolerate the flush well, ear cleansing pads are also available. The ears should be cleaned every week to two weeks (more often if exposed to water) or as directed by your veterinarian. Over Cleaning the ears may cause sensitivity and pain for the animal as well. When using cleaning solutions, squirt the solution directly into the ear canal, massage the ear and allow the animal to “shake” the excess out. The shaking process helps to clean any foreign objects out of the ear and is how the otic cleaners are designed to work.
Trim Excess Hair
Dogs with hair in there ears should have it trimmed or pulled every one to three months – we recommend having your groomer do so at each visit. If your dog is not groomed regularly, you can take them to a vet and have ear hair removed for a small fee. The less hair in the ears the better for limiting infections.
The bottom line is that regular preventative activities, such as cleaning the ears and removing excess hair, are the best way to keep your dog feeling good!