Ears, I hear you say!

By Sue Ogden

The ears on our four-legged friends are often overlooked in the grooming/care process. Even though we can easily check all is well within the ear, we often neglect to do this.

Ears come in all shapes, sizes and appearance, but all ears are basically the same. The part of the ear we see when we look at our four-legged friends is the Pinna; or the other name for it, often used by groomers, is the ear leather. This part of the ear is the receptor. It receives air vibrations and transmits these vibrations down the ear canal to the ear drum.

The outside of the Pinna is covered with hair, the same as on the body of your dog. Inside the ear there will be hairs, but they will normally be more sparse and finer than the outside.

The inside of the Pinna should be a nice pale pink in colour unless, of course, the skin is heavily pigmented. Any bright pink or red skin could indicate a problem.

The skin visible should be fairly clean. You will get the normal accumulations that consist of small amounts of brown or blackish waxy discharges. Large amounts of discharge or waxy discharge, orange in colour, sticky or foul smelling, indicates that things are not normal within the inner ear.

A quick smell of your dog’s ears is an excellent way to detect problems in their early stages. It is something I have done for years. All my dogs and even my cats are used to me smelling their ears, and it has often saved me a lot of money by diagnosing problems before they become well seated.

The structure and function of our four-legged friends’ ears are in fact very similar to our own ears. Vibrations reaching the ear drum are then transmitted through the middle ear by small bones, the auditory ossicles, to the oval window. From the oval window the vibrations enter the inner ear where the cochlea converts these mechanical stimuli to nervous impulses which travel to the brain via the auditory nerve.

There are two other important parts to the inner ear – the semicircular canals and the utricle – these two organs are responsible for maintaining balance.

To keep your dog’s ears nice and clean, they need to be cleaned monthly. The best time to do this is usually after a bath as the dog should be relaxed and not mind this extra treatment at all.

If you are not bathing monthly, then the ears still need to be cleaned. The easiest way to clean the ears is to use a moistened towel or flannel, one that is kept just for your dog’s bath times.

Wrap the towel/flannel around your index finger then clean the underside of the Pinna and any excess wax that is in the ear canal. Just clean as far as the ear canal will allow, as it tapers and is bent at the end, protecting the ear drum.

I do know some people use items to clean deeper into the ear canal. Unless you are experienced, I do not recommend this as the last thing you want to do is to cause pain or damage.

You may notice that your dog has hairs growing out from the inside of the ear canal. This is normal but it does need to be kept to a minimum, and the only way to remove these hairs is to pull them.

There are different ideas about how to do this, but the best is to use your thumb and forefinger. Ideally you need to have some powder on your finger, to give a better grip. I use a commercial ear powder, but you can use fullers earth, or chalk if you have it. Cover your thumb and forefinger in the powder you have, and with your dog sitting comfortably, lift the Pinna. You will then see the hairs. You are only looking at the hairs that protrude from the ear canal, gently get a few hairs between your fingers and pull. The hair that is ready to come out will come out without any problem and your dog will be glad the hairs have been removed.

I have in the past seen so much hair inside the ear canal that the dog was stone deaf until I removed it. The dog was so happy and could hear his owners once again! Once the hairs are removed, air can again circulate in the ear. The plucking does help to keep the ears clear from wax and debris build-up.

I shall continue about ears next month, covering infections, mites etc.

As ever, if you are in any doubt as to whether you can do this task, it is always better to get a professional to show you, and you can try to do it yourself while under their supervision before having a go alone.

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Sue Ogden is a professional dog groomer living in the Algarve. In her regular column, she provides readers with information on how best to care for their pets. Trained in the UK, she studied nursing, breeding, grooming, nutrition and kennel management. 910 851 140