Canine Ear Health – Healthy Habits

By: Dr. Al Townsend

The average dog can hear about 4 times better than the average person.

The ears are also an essential part of maintaining proper balance.

The canine ear is divided into three parts;

  • The outer ear includes the pinna (the part you see that is made of cartilage and covered by skin, fur, or hair) and the ear canal. The pinna is shaped to capture sound waves and funnel them through the ear canal to the eardrum.
  • The middle ear includes the eardrum and a small, air-filled chamber that contains 3 tiny bones: the hammer, anvil, and stirrup. It also includes 2 muscles, the oval window, and the eustachian tube (a small tube that connects the middle ear with the back of the nose, allowing air to enter the middle ear).
  • The inner ear is a complex structure that includes the cochlea (the organ of hearing) and the vestibular system (the organ of balance).

For the purpose of this article, we will limit the discussion to the outer ear or pinna.

Checking the ears at home on a regular basis between veterinary visits is important. The most common problem that occurs in the dog’s ear is infection.

Certain breeds have an increased risk of infection. Dogs with drooping ears, especially those with a thick hair coat on the ears, and those with hair that naturally grows in the ears are at greater risk.

Symptoms of a problem and possible infection include:

  • head shaking
  • odors
  • scaly skin
  • whining and pawing at the affected ear
  • dark, smelly discharge
  • redness and swelling
  • itchiness
  • pain when touched

There are a variety of causes of an ear infection. Because the ear canal is a long, warm, dark and moist environment, bacteria yeasts, viruses and even mites have the potential to infect.

In addition, wax buildup, foreign bodies like grass awns, allergies, thyroid disorders, autoimmune disorders and injuries also have the potential to start an infection.

Prevention involves checking the ears and cleaning when necessary. Breeds like the poodle that naturally can have hair growing in the ear canal may need to go to the groomer or veterinarian to remove the hair when necessary. There are many descriptions of how to clean the ears but my suggestion is that you have your veterinarian or a veterinary Technician show you just how to clean the ears and suggest the tools needed.

For a printed instruction, the veterinary school at Washington State University Vet Med has a good pictorial.

Additional Resources:

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