Listen Up! Canine Ear Care

| April 1, 2011 | 1 Comment
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Can You Hear Me Now?

Can You Hear Me Now?

Canine Ear

Canine Ear

Ear Anatomy

All parts of the ear including: the Ear Flap, Ear Canal, Eardrum, Middle Ear and Inner Ear all play important roles. These structures are complex and can become diseased, thus impairing their function.

Pinna: The Ear Flap or Pinna serves as a partial covering of the ear canal, while at the same time directing sound towards the Eardrum. The Ear Flap has an inner core of cartilage to give it strength. Both outer and inner surfaces of the skin are covered by hair, although hair follicles are much less prevalent on the inner surfaces.

Ear Canal: The Ear Canal also known as the Auditory Canal is a long, tube-like structure that travels diagonally down the side of the head then moves horizontally into the head. The total length of the ear canal is at least two inches, even in small breeds. It is about as wide as a pencil. As the ear canal passes into the head, it ends at a thin tissue called the Tympanic Membrane or Eardrum. The horizontal part of the Ear Canal is lined with special skin, glands and hair follicles that secrete cells and lipids that create ear wax. The purpose of the ear wax and hairs are to protect the Eardrum by trapping dirt and foreign bodies and keeping the canal moist.

Outer Ear: The Outer Ear includes all structures, such as the Ear Canal and Ear Flap, from the Eardrum outward.

Middle Ear: The area from the Eardrum inward is considered the Middle Ear which is connected to the throat by the Eustachian tube. This tube allows air to enter the Middle Ear to balance the pressure against the Eardrum.

Inner Ear: Farther in from the Middle Ear is the Inner Ear. One responsibility of the Inner Ear is to maintain the dog’s equilibrium or balance. This structure contains fluid-filled canals. As the fluid shifts, it tells the brain the body’s exact position. If a dog’s head is tilted the fluid shifts, and the brain detects the tilting.

Eardrum: The Eardrum picks up sound waves through air vibration. The Eardrum vibrates and stimulates the bones within the Middle Ear. The vibrating bones pass the sound vibrations to an area with tiny hairs. As the hairs move, sound waves are transformed to electrical impulses that pass to the Inner Ear. From the Inner Ear they are transmitted by the auditory nerve to the brain where they are detected as sound. This is how hearing is created.


Like humans, dogs use their ears for both hearing and balance. When dog’s experience an ear disorder it can be very painful, and if left untreated can ultimately affect a dog’s hearing and equilibrium. Having ears that are clean and free of infection is essential to a dog’s health and overall well-being.

Hearing: Dogs detect sounds as low as the 16 to 20 Hz frequency range (compared to 20 to 70 Hz for humans), and as high as 70,000 to 100,000 Hz (compared to 20,000 Hz for humans). They have a degree of ear mobility that helps them to rapidly pinpoint the exact location of a sound. Eighteen or more muscles tilt, rotate, raise or lower the ears and allow dogs to identify a sound’s location much faster, and four times the distance, than a human. Dogs with a more natural ear shape, like those of wild candid’s, such as a fox, generally have better hearing than dogs with a flap ear design.

Balance: The Vestibular System helps in maintaining both balance and control in dogs. These receptors are located near the inner ear adjacent to the hearing receptors. The Vestibular System senses the position of the head and body in space, and in relation to gravity and movement. This helps the animal maintain balance and coordinate their eye movement with their overall head movement. Any problem in this system can affect a dog’s balance.

Common Causes of Ear Problems

Unfortunately, the complex design of the dog’s ear makes it much harder to naturally keep clean. The downward diagonal angle of the ear canal where it turns at a rather sharp 90 degrees, and becomes horizontal is where dirt, wax and debris can collect in the outer ear. There is also frequently dirt and waxy build up in the inner surfaces of the Pinna.

Ear Rinse

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As we mentioned, the design of a dog’s ear not only make them a challenge to keep clean, it is what makes them prone
to infections. The common causes of ear infections are: yeast, bacteria, mites, allergies, excessive moisture and other factors. Dogs with flap ears and/or longer ears are especially susceptible as their ears retain and trap more moisture. Below we address each cause in more detail:

  • Allergies: The most common cause of ear problems in dogs is an allergic reaction of some sort. Instead of getting the sniffles or irritated eyes, dogs may develop an ear infection, inflammation of the ear or chronically dirty ears as a result of allergies. Diet, the environment, and fleas can all cause allergic reactions in dogs. In this article we will be referring to two types of allergies; food allergies and environmental irritants. In my opinion, these can be and are interrelated. (We will briefly touch on this topic in this article and will address it more fully in a future article).
  • Food Allergies: Meaning the body reacts to a protein in a specific food or foods. The body thinks the protein source is a harmful invader so the immune system produces antibodies and histamine in response to the food. An example of this is someone who has a severe peanut allergy. When inadvertently exposed to peanuts this individual will become very sick, and without quick and proper medical treatment the exposure may even be fatal.
  • Environmental Irritants: These are things like pollen or dust. Like with food allergies, the body’s allergic reaction to these irritants can also be connected to the diet causing the body’s natural chemistry to be out of balance. For example, in humans it is very common for someone to have seasonal allergies to pollen in the spring. The body’s reaction to pollen can also be related to diet, e.g., someone may eat wheat. Their body has a hard time processing it so their body chemistry becomes out of balance. Due to their out of balance body chemistry, it causes the individual to have allergic reactions to one or more environmental irritants such as pollen. They choose to go on a detoxification diet, eliminate wheat from their diet, balance returns to the body chemistry, and in time the individual no longer experiences seasonal allergy symptoms, or needs to take allergy medication.

Dogs can and do have similar allergic reactions as humans as described in the examples above. Eliminating wheat, corn, soy, any type of by-products, and sometimes regular potato, which are common/known allergens from a dog’s “entire” diet can go a long way toward improving ear health problems associated with allergies.

  • Ear Infections: It is normal for dogs to have bacteria and yeast grow in their ears. If the balance of bacteria or yeast is disturbed, an ear infection can develop. In some flap-eared dogs ear infections may be an on-going problem. The warm, moist environment created by the fold in the ear flap is ideal for bacterial growth. Yeast and bacterial growth will cause odor in the ears. If the infection is confined to one ear, your dog may tilt its head in an attempt to equalize pressure. The ears may also feel warm to the touch.
  • Debris in Ears: Foxtails, plant awns and other debris can get inside a dog’s ear. Look inside your dog’s ear with a flashlight. Debris can wedge itself quite deeply. Do not insert anything inside your dog’s ear as you may cause further damage.
  • Parasites: Ear pain and itching associated with parasites can cause ear problems in your dog; tick bites, mites and fleas can cause swelling, hair loss and crusty skin.
  • Trauma: An ear injury can cause swelling or a hematoma. An animal bite or other trauma can allow blood and fluid to accumulate between the cartilage and the skin of the ear flap. Even vigorous scratching or head shaking can cause this condition. The ear will become swollen and disfigured. An ear hematoma should be drained and surgically corrected. If untreated, the ear will be permanently disfigured.
  • Hormone Disorders: Certain hormonal conditions such as hypothyroidism and adrenal malfunctions can cause ear problems. When there is a hormone imbalance, a dog’s immune system may be weakened. Thus a dog is more prone to ear infections. A blood sample can help a vet determine if a dog’s hormones need to be supplemented with medication. Signs of hormonal conditions are: poor coat quality, behavioral changes, hair loss in addition to itchy, reddened skin around the ears.
  • Other Causes: In rare cases, ear problems are the result of a hereditary disorder such as dermatomyositis, (a connective tissue disorder in Collies and Shelties), or seborrhea which causes hair loss and scaly skin. A cancerous condition such squamous cell carcinoma or malignant melanoma may also affect the ears; check for darkened or scaly patches of hairless skin.

Hereditary issues may also play a factor in the frequency of ear infections in certain breeds of dogs. For example, many Labrador Retrievers are genetically predisposed to have ear problems.

Excess water in a dog’s ear can also cause a disturbance if the ears are not dried properly after bathing or swimming.

Signs a Dog Has an Ear Infection, is in Need of an Ear Cleaning, or Both:

  • Mild to strong odor that may be associated with waxy build up
  • Excessive dark waxy build up in the Pinna
  • Black and chunky, or yellow and pasty discharge from the ear
  • Scratching or rubbing of the ears
  • Frequent head shaking
  • Redness or swelling of the inner flap of the ear and the ear canal
  • Touching the ear causes the dog pain
  • The dog is irritable
  • Loss of balance in dogs

Regular use of natural ear remedies can treat and prevent ear infections, without the adverse side effects to immune function that antibiotics may cause.

Too often ear washes or rinses for dogs contain large amounts of alcohol with the idea that the alcohol will kill bacteria, mites and yeasts. The problem is, even if it does, there can be secondary damage caused by the alcohol. When alcohol is poured over an open wound or sore it can cause a great amount of pain and stinging, leading to drying and flaking of the inner ear and extreme discomfort for your dog. We prefer products that are alcohol free and vinegar based to avoid drying and stinging.

With a commitment to your dog and dedication to proper ear care, even chronic ear problems can be managed by regular cleaning, proper diet and without the use of antibiotics, or frequent and expensive trips to the vet.

Sources: Ear of the Dog –, 7 Common Dog Ear Problems & Ear Infection Systems and Treatment –, Natural Ear Health –

“Featured Tip” – Proper Canine Ear Care

The idea of cleaning your dog’s ears isn’t appealing to most dog owners. Unfortunately, keeping your dog’s ears clean and free of debris is an import part of any good grooming regime. Here are a few tips to make the process as easy, quick and stress free as possible for both you and your dog.

General Guidelines

Make The Time: It is important to be relaxed while cleaning your dog’s ears. Don’t try to do it if you’re busy with other things, in a hurrying, or in a negative frame of mind. Having their ears cleaned can be very stressful for some dogs. It is important to make the experience as pleasant as possible for both of you.

Depending on how chronic your dog’s ear problems are, schedule a time once or twice a week to clean your dog’s ears and stick to it. Good planning and ensuring ear cleaning is part of your regular schedule, will help to make it just another routine event.

Be Prepared: Have all your supplies at the ready including: ear rinse, ear wipes or baby wipes, soft tissues, and a clean dry towel. If your dog is the type that will try to run away, you may want to attach a leash for control. We like to end the ear cleaning session on a positive note so we always have treats on hand.

We recommend using natural ear rinses and cleaners that contain no alcohol to avoid stinging and drying of ear tissue. The ear rinse should not to be too cold or too hot if warmed. Ideally the ear rinse should be at room temperate or slightly above, to avoid shocking or injuring your dog during an already uncomfortable procedure. Shake ear rinse well before applying to ensure all ingredients are sufficiently mixed.

Avoid the Spread of Infection: Don’t forget to wash your hands before beginning. If you are cleaning more than one dog’s ears in a session, be sure to wash your hands after each dog. Clean the tip of the ear rinse bottle with a clean baby wipe or by running it under hot water before using rinse on another dog. This will avoid the possible spread of infection.

Location, Location, Location: As with most things in life, location is important. You’ll want to clean your dog’s ears in a clean, comfortable area, where it is okay for things to get a little wet.

During ear cleaning dogs shake their head vigorously in order to remove the ear rinse from their ears. It may get on you, the carpet, the walls, etc. so choose a location where you don’t mind this happening.
Dogs also frequently flop around and rub the sides of their head and ears on the ground, carpet floor, etc. Ensure your dog has a comfortable place to do this so he won’t get dirty or injured, such as a soft towel, a carpet or throw rug or a cool grassy part of the lawn.

Be Patient & Positive: Be patient and kind to your dog while cleaning it’s ears. Don’t yell at or harshly discipline your dog during ear cleaning as it will only add to the negative experience. If you have never cleaned your dog’s ears or if your dog is extremely fearful of the process, begin slowly. Gently handle your dog’s ears until it becomes familiar. Make it enjoyable. Initially, focus on cleaning the Pinna (outer ear) and Ear Flap with an ear wipe or baby wipe and tissue, then work your way up to using the ear rinse.

Ask a friend or family member to help you. If you need help holding your dog’s head while you apply the rinse ask someone. Or, if you have multiple dogs, share the load. Have one person administer the rinse while one person does the wiping. Split the cookie distribution so both people get to spread the love and praise.

Steps for Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears:

  • For flap-eared dogs fold ear flap back and gently, yet liberally apply rinse in to the ear canal.
  • For non-flap eared dogs apply rinse gently/directly in to ear canal.
  • Return ear flap to normal position and “gently” massage base of ear to help break up internal wax and crust. Try to avoid having the dog immediately shake it’s head in order to keep the rinse in the ear canal.
  • For non-flap eared dogs, just massage base of ear as described.
  • Repeat same process for other ear.
  • Allow dog to shake it’s head as necessary. This will help to break up any debris, wax or dirt in the ears and assist with removing rinse from the ear canal.
  • Some dogs do feel the need to rub their head and ears on the carpet, lawn or a clean towel. This too helps them remove some of the ear rinse and loosens debris. Allow them to do so safely. If you would rather not, then a leash is a good idea for more control.
  • Use baby wipes or ear wipes to gently and thoroughly clean the Ear Flap and Pinna removing any dirt and waxy build up.
  • Depending on how dirty your dogs ears are, you may need several so have plenty available.
  • Use an absorbent material such as a soft tissue to remove excess solution and debris, and to dry the ears
  • Use a towel to gently dry your dogs head, chest, legs, etc. that may be wet from the solution.
  • Give your dog a treat and lots of praise!
  • Safely dispose of all used wipes and tissues and wash your hands.
  • For Dogs with Excessively Dirty Ears: If your dog’s ears are very dirty, for best results, you may want to start by using baby wipes or ear wipes to gently and thoroughly clean the Ear Flap and Pinna removing heavy dirt and waxy build up first before applying the rinse. You may need to clean their ears at least twice weekly for a couple weeks to get them under control.

    If your dog continues to have ear problems after implementing a regular cleaning routine you may want to consider making dietary changes, and/or check with your vet to have your dog tested for a possible hormone imbalance.

    Show your dog how much you love, care and appreciate him or her by taking the time to maintain their ears. It will ensure their ears remain healthy and infection free and your pup will be happier for it.

    Steady Companion Launches Line of All Natural Ear Rinses for Dogs: We are pleased to announce our new line of Steady Companion All Natural Ear Rinses for Dogs.

    Our all natural Ear Rinses for Dogs come in 14 ounce bottles is gentle, alcohol-free and formulated with a combination of organic herbs and essential oils. Available in three formulas: Every Day, Soothing & Medicated.

    • Every Day Ear Rinse – Softens, deodorizes and removes ear wax while providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits and healing properties.
    • Soothing Ear Rinse – Soothes and deodorizes while providing anti-itch, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits and healing properties.
    • Medicated Ear Rinse – Heals inflamed, itchy and irritated ears, while providing anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory benefits and healing properties.

    Steady Companion Ear Rinses for Dogs are sold exclusively through our on-line store.

    We hope after using this new line of products you will be as excited as we are to offer them!

    Category : Health

About the Author ()

I am one of the founders and editor of Retriever Life. My passion is Labradors of all sizes and shapes but I am a big fan of all the retriever breeds.

Comments (1)

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  1. Margie says:

    We’ve found that along with regular cleaning-adding unflavored yogurt to our dogs diets helps keep yeast under control.

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