By Dr Felicia Tam, PAW By Blackmores Veterinarian
Pendulous, bat-like, rose-shaped… all words used to describe desired ear shapes for our four-legged friends. Is it any wonder that a one size fits all ear cleaning regime is not going to work for all the different kind of ears that are affixed to the hounds we love? How did wild dogs ever survive without ever getting their ears diligently cleaned by their two legged friends on a regular basis?
First of all, the reason why some dogs need ear cleaning is to do with the huge conformational and genetic changes that dogs have undergone since domestication. The reason why we need to clean dog’s ears now is that not many dogs have ears like wolves, and so the self-cleaning mechanism that worked for them isn’t necessarily working in dogs with wide array of ear shapes and sizes we see today.
The self-cleaning mechanism works like this – the ear canal produces wax, which catches debris (bacteria, dust) which gets introduced into the ear and then the skin cells migrate from the bottom of the ear canal out to the top in order to dispel the wax and debris in an orderly fashion. When this doesn’t work, debris and wax remain in the ear and encourage overgrowth of bacteria and yeast, leading to ear infections, pain and inflammation.
So how do we decide whether using an ear cleaner is worthwhile, suitable and appropriate for your dog specifically? Here are some things I think we need to consider.
Some breeds are more prone to ear problems than others. This may be related to the ear shape in and of itself, but can also be a genetic predisposition to other allergic skin diseases such as atopic dermatitis which can also involve the ears. If your dog is prone to skin problems elsewhere, then ear cleaning may be a good idea.
This simply means the shape of your dog’s ear, on the outside and on the inside. On the outside, pendulous, floppy ears mean that the ear canals aren’t well aerated. Hairy ear canals can also be problematic as it may obstruct the self-cleaning mechanism, and helping these ears along by cleaning them can be a big help. On the inside (your vet can look further inside your dog’s ear with an otoscope) some dogs have narrow ear canals which again affect the self-cleaning mechanism.
Does your dog have any sort of endocrine problem such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease? Endocrine diseases generally affect older dogs and can result in poor skin and coat health, which can predispose them to developing infections all over their bodies, including the ears.
For owners of dogs with allergic skin disease it is important to be vigilant to avoid triggers that set off your pet’s itch. Triggers for allergic pets include fleas, food or infections and warmer weather can begin the vicious cycle of itch and inflammation.
Some dogs just love water, and others love rolling around and rubbing their faces everywhere… and all of these activities run the risk of introducing foreign objects such as water, grasses and dirt into the ear, or simply irritating the skin in the ear, which can lead to inflammation and pain. Some ear cleaners have drying properties as prolonged wetting of the ear can damage the skin and make it easier for infections to develop.
Okay, so your dog needs an ear cleaner? Which one should you choose?
Katrina Warren will show you how!
When to see your vet
If your dog is showing signs of pain when the ear is touched, persistently scratching their ears or shaking their head, visit your vet. Your dog may require medication for an ear infection, or may have a foreign body trapped in their ear that requires removal.
Check back with us next month for top tips for staying on top of your dog’s allergies this spring, naturally.