Dog ears come in all shapes and sizes.
They can be large and floppy, small and erect, or anything in between!
Your dog’s ears can tell you a lot about how he’s feeling:
- If they’re set in a neutral position, he’s feeling relaxed.
- If they’re pricked forward, he’s alert and focused.
- If they’re pinned flat against his head, he’s nervous or afraid.
Your dog’s ears say a lot.
They can even give you clues about his health!
Many dog owners understand the importance of annual vaccinations, routine vet checkups, and heartworm prevention. Unfortunately, many dog owners fail to include their dog’s ears in their daily or weekly care regimen.
When is the last time you cleaned your dog’s ears?
Did you even know that you needed to?
Dog ear care is an important part of being a dog owner, so do your dog a favor and take the time to learn how to do it.
In this article, you’ll receive some basic information about your dog’s ears and how they work. You’ll also learn about the dangers of ear infections, how to spot them, and how to treat them. Finally, you’ll receive step-by-step instructions for cleaning your dog’s ears.
Let’s start with some background about your dog’s ears:
Intro to Canine Anatomy – Your Dog’s Ears
A dog’s ear is a complex structure.
Technically, the ear is an organ and it consists of three parts – the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear.
The outer ear is largely made up of the pinna and the ear canal. The pinna is simply the outward structure of the ear – cartilage covered by skin and fur.
This part of the ear is uniquely shaped to capture sound waves which are then funneled down into the ear canal to the eardrum. A dog’s ear is mobile – he can move them together or separately to capture sound. The size and shape of the pinna varies by breed.
You probably already know that your dog’s hearing is much stronger than yours.
But just how strong is it?
The average dog can hear higher frequencies than the human ear and their hearing ability is about 4 times stronger as a whole.
Next, the middle ear.
The middle ear is made up of the eardrum as well as a small chamber that is filled with air and has three tiny bones inside it: the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup. There are also two muscles in the inner ear as well as the eustachian tube.
The eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the back of the nose – this allows air to flow into the inner ear.
Finally, the inner ear.
The inner ear is the most complex of the three parts of the ear and it includes the cochlea and the vestibular system. The cochlea is the primary organ of hearing and the vestibular system is the organ of balance.
There you have it! Your dog’s ear anatomy.
Now that you have a better understanding of your dog’s ear anatomy, you are ready to learn about the various health problems that can affect his ears.
Let’s start with ear infections:
What Every Dog Owner Should Know About Ear Infections
Take a look at your dog’s ear.
I mean actually take it in your hand and look inside.
What do you see?
Hopefully, your dog’s ear is clean and dry inside – those are the signs of a healthy ear.
If your dog’s ear is moist, full of discharge, or has a foul odor, it could mean trouble.
These are the hallmarks of ear infection in dogs.
But what exactly is an ear infection?
Dog ear infections can be caused by a number of things but the most common culprits are bacteria and yeast. These microorganisms tend to thrive in moist, warm environments like your dog’s ear.
How does an infection start?
In most cases, a dog ear infection begins with the ear getting wet. Depending what type of ear your dog has, the inner portion of the ear might not get enough air flow to keep it dry. This tends to happen more often to dogs with large, floppy ears and to dogs that have longer hair inside their ears.
When the ear gets wet and fails to dry out, it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and yeast.
The microorganisms spread, causing inflammation and irritation to the middle ear. If left untreated, the infection could spread all the way to the inner ear. At that point, it becomes a serious problem.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms of ear infection in dogs:
- Scratching at the ears
- Shaking the head
- Rubbing the head, face, or ears
- Discharge in the ear
- Foul odor from the ear
- Waxy buildup in the ear canal
- Swollen or warm ear flaps
- Head tilting behavior
- Hair loss in or around the ears
- Loss of coordination
- Circling toward one side
You should check your dog’s ears at least once a week and keep an eye out for signs of infection at all times, just to be safe. If your dog seems to be developing an infection, talk to your vet.
Before we move on to other ear problems, let’s take a closer look at some of the dogs that are more likely to develop ear infections than others.
We’ve already talked about dogs with large, long, or floppy ears, but what breeds fit that description? Here are some examples:
- Cocker Spaniels
- Springer Spaniels
- Basset Hounds
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
Dogs with very hairy ears like Bichon Frise, Schnauzers, Shih Tzus, Maltese, and Poodles are also more prone to ear infections, as are dogs that have narrow ear canals like Chow Chows, Bulldogs, and Chinese Shar-Peis, to name a few.
Ear infections are one of the most common conditions to affect a dog’s ears, but there are others:
- Airborne allergies
- Food allergies
- Ear mites
Let’s take a quick look at each of these before moving on.
Airborne Allergies – Dogs can suffer from seasonal allergies just as much as humans. Some of the most common airborne allergies to affect dogs are pollen and grass, and they may increase your dog’s risk for ear infections during allergy season – typically April through September.
Food Allergies – When you think about food allergies, you probably imagine gastrointestinal symptoms like stomach upset or diarrhea. For dogs, however, many symptoms of food allergies are skin-related – frequent ear infections is one of them!
Ear Mites – Dog ear mites are microscopic insects that can be spread from one dog to another with close contact. Mites are a type of mild parasite infection, though they can become serious if left untreated.
So, now that you have a better understanding of the ear problems your dog might develop, how do you treat them?
It all depends on the cause of the problem – you’ll need to take your dog to the vet for a diagnosis. Once your vet has identified the root of the problem you can determine the best course of treatment.
For ear infections, the first step is to clean the ear thoroughly with a dog ear wash.
Next, your vet may prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medications, depending on the root cause of the infection – he may also recommend corticosteroids or a topical application to reduce pain and inflammation. You may need to keep cleaning your dog’s ears often throughout the treatment period.
Treatment options for the other ear problems mentioned may be different.
For airborne allergies, avoiding the allergen is the best thing you can do. It may also help to keep your dog and your home clean to limit his exposure. If these things aren’t enough, your veterinarian may recommend antihistamine medications.
If your dog is suffering from food allergies, put him on an elimination diet for at least 3 months until all signs of the allergy have disappeared. Then you can keep feeding him that food or switch him to a recipe that doesn’t contain the offending ingredient.
For dog ear mites, anti-parasitic medications may be the best course of action – there are also topical medications which may help.
Okay, so you’ve learned about ear infections and other ear problems. You’ve even learned a little bit about how to treat them!
But prevention is the best medicine.
So, how do you prevent dog ear infections and other ear problems in dogs?
It’s simple – just keep your dog’s ears nice and clean!
Here’s how to do it:
Step-by-Step Dog Ear Cleaning Guide
First, you’ll need to assemble some materials:
- Dog ear cleaning solution
- Clean cotton balls or pads
- Small, sharp scissors
Once you’ve assembled your materials, follow these steps:
- Squeeze a few drops of dog ear cleaning solution into your dog’s ear.
- Massage the base of the ear gently to distribute the dog ear wash.
- Use clean cotton balls or pads to wipe away any discharge or debris.
- Dry the ear well with another clean cotton pad.
- Use the scissors to trim any long fur in or around the ear to promote air flow.
Yes – it’s really that easy! And it should only take a few minutes of your time.
There you have it!
Everything you could ever hope to learn about your dog’s ears and how to care for them.
If you don’t have some already, your next step is to purchase some dog ear cleaning solution and to give your dog’s ears a good cleaning.
After that, all you need to do is check his ears daily and clean them once a week, as needed.
It’s really as simple as that!