Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ask Billy: How Do I Keep My Dog's Ears Heathy?

Recently, Billy's clients have been asking about ear health and we thought we should share his answers. After all, Billy has been caring for canine ears (and other parts) for over 25 years. Moreover, he has earned several impressive certifications after completing rigorous coursework and testing on a wide area of subjects including grooming, canine anatomy, topical conditioning, first aid and dog care. He also frequently attends continuing education seminars and lectures on dog topics.

And now to the ears...

Dogs have an L-shaped ear canal, which is an ideal breeding ground for dirt, fungus, yeast and bacteria. In addition, water, whether from bathing, swimming or a walk in the rain, can get trapped inside the canal and cause nasty infections. This is why I always place cotton balls inside a dog's ears before bathing as a water barrier. Don't stuff the balls in too far. They should be inside just far enough to stay. Once the bath is finished, be sure to take out both balls. Remember, what goes in the ears, must come out.

The shape of a dog's ear flaps plays a role in ear health too.

Cocker Spaniel Arthur has "Drop" or "Long" ears.

Bella the Bulldog has "Semi-drop" ears.

Yorkies Louis and Lily have "Erect" ears.

If Fido has long ("Drop") ears, like on a Cocker Spaniel, Poodle or Labrador Retriever, the flap prevents air from circulating inside and traps debris, heat and moisture. This means that the ear canal on long-eared dogs can easily become infected. All canine ears, however, are at risk so nobody can be lax in the ear-care department. Genetics, allergies and parasites can also affect ear health. Whether Fido's ears stick straight up ("Erect"), fold over at the top ("Semi-drop") or are long ("Drop"), you must care for them at home. Here's a quick lesson.

Check Fido's ears at least once a week.

Start on the outside. Peruse and feel around the entire area. Parasites, mats and debris like to hide behind the ears. Clean and brush away any mats or dirt. If you find fleas or other parasites, call the vet.

Regardless of the shape of Fido's ears, you'll clean the inside in the same fashion. If, however, your pooch has Drop ears, gently flip the flap back (try to say that five times fast) so it's inside out and hold it out of the way so you can see and work inside. Check inside the canal for excess wax, debris, parasites or infections. If you notice a strong smell, see anything moving or notice dark brown/black crumbles, take Fido for an immediate vet appointment -- something is amiss. Likewise, if your dog is rubbing his ears on the ground, scratching them or shaking his head, he needs veterinary attention. Don't wait and see what happens, ear infections can quickly become serious, painful and costly. Moreover, the constant scratching can lead to a hot spot, which means an additional unpleasant infection.

If Fido's ears look and smell clear and you see only a small amount of wax (reddish-brown on dogs), don't do anything. Over cleaning the ear can cause problems too. Over cleaning can disrupt the natural balance of the inner ear environment (the good bacteria can be overcome by the bad bacteria).

If you see excess wax or dirt inside, clean the ears. You'll need these tools:
  • natural cotton balls (Avoid synthetic balls because they leave behind irritating fibers.)
  • unexpired canine ear wash (Feel free to ask your groomer or vet for brand recommendations.)
Read the product's directions carefully. For most products, you'll be instructed to squirt the product inside the ears and rub the base to disperse the liquid. Then, take a cotton ball and gently rub around the outermost part of the ear canal. DO NOT ram anything inside Fido's ears--whether it's a cotton ball, your finger or a q-tip. Use multiple cotton balls. Once a cotton ball has touched the ear, throw it away. Do not economize by using the ball until it's a brown mess. Most importantly, NEVER use the same ball in both ears. This is a sure way to spread infection. Many times a dog will have only one problematic ear.

Be diligent about keeping Fido's ears clean. Don't let wax build up. It can travel down the ear canal and cause a wide variety of painful and chronic infections, which sometimes require corrective surgery. If you are diligent about cleaning Fido's ears but he nonetheless continues to suffer from infections, talk to your vet about testing Fido for allergies. Often times, the first place an allergy rears its ugly head is inside a dog's ears.

Some dogs grow hair inside their ear canal. As you might expect, the ear hair traps moisture, wax and debris, which can cause infections and other undesirable problems. Professionals disagree as to whether this hair should be routinely removed. Suffice it to say that it’s difficult to remove ear hair safely and painlessly. This procedure is best left to professionals.

Remember, home ear care supplements, but never replaces, yearly or semi-annual veterinary exams.

Arthur's photo by Sheri Berliner, Bella, Louis and Lily's photos by Michael Vistia, Vistia Designs

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