Why Dogs Ear Health Is So Important And How To Keep On Top Of It
Updated: Feb 7
Ear cleaning is an important part of your dog’s grooming routine which can sometimes get overlooked by owners, similarly with dental health. Some breeds of dogs such as Cocker Spaniels and Bassett Hounds can be prone to ear infections due to the long, floppy shape of their ears. Although all dogs have a vertical ear canal that often retains fluid, Cocker Spaniels’ long, heavier ears trap even more moisture with their lack of airflow.
Pet parents need to know the essentials behind dogs picking up various types of ear infections and need to understand why they happen, how to prevent them, and the signs and symptoms to be aware of.
As you can see, a dog’s ear is quite different compared to human ears. They come in many shapes and sizes, long and short, floppy and stiff, and a variety of variations in between. More than 18 muscles control the pinna (or earflap) alone, which allows the nuanced movements that make dogs’ ears so expressive and so good at picking up sounds of different pitches and frequencies.
It’s common knowledge that dogs have better hearing than humans, but it is quite astounding that their sense of hearing is at least four times as sensitive as ours, so what we can hear at 20 feet, a dog can hear at about 80 feet. They hear things we simply can’t because of their high-frequency radar detectors we call ears!
Their ear canals form a shape that resembles an upside down horn. The ear canal of the dog is much deeper than that of people and creates a better funnel to carry sound to the eardrum. This makes it far more difficult for debris to get out as it must work its way upward up the ear canal.
Different Types Of Ear Problems:
Bacterial Ear Infections:
This is probably one of the most ear common problems your four-legged friend will face. Some ear problems in dogs are caused by a bacterial infection, also known as otitis externa. Bacterial dog ear infections are generally easy to spot, so if your dog is suffering from this; you might notice:
• Excessive shaking of the head
• Excessive scratching of the ears and around the head/neck
• An unpleasant smell from the ears and occasional discharge
• Reluctance to let you near its head, or around that area
• Aggressiveness if the affected area is touched
• A loss of balance (rare)
If your dog enjoys swimming in water, you may need to read this. Dogs that like to swim will also require regular ear cleaning as the extra moisture can predispose them to ear infections from the waters. Additionally, you should always be on the lookout for ear mites on your dog as they are also a potential cause of ear infections and can also be transmitted to other pets.
Next up on the list are pesky ear mites also known as Otodectes cynotis. If your dog is suffering from ear mites, you may notice some or all of the following symptoms:
• Shaking of the head
• Excessive scratching at ears and around head/neck
• Brownish looking particles which look like coffee grains just inside your dog’s ear
• Black or brown waxy secretion
• Inflammation of the ear, including redness and the ear becoming hot to the touch.
This condition can easily be treated with ear drops which are used in addition to an dog ear cleaner, but it’s important that the problem is professionally diagnosed by a vet before the relevant course of treatment can be decided upon.
Grass seeds (or other foreign objects):
One of the most common foreign objects that cause ear problems in dogs are grass seeds.
This is usually a seasonal problem occurring during the summer months when they have been playing in long grass. The sharp tip of the seeds can sometimes pierce the skin getting lodged and causing irritation. The symptoms of this problem include:
• Vigorous scratching of the ears
• Shaking of the head
• A cluster of seeds in or around the ear
• Inflammation in or around the ear
If the seed has caused the outer ear to become inflamed, you may also notice a small amount of blood in your dog’s ear.
A build-up of dog ear wax can create the perfect eco-system for bacteria and yeast to grow. This is often worse in breeds with narrow ear canals where the wax can easily become trapped.
Symptoms can include:
• Black, dark brown, or grey earwax discoloration
• A red, swollen ear
• Excessive scratching of the ear(s)
• Rubbing the ear(s) on furniture such as chair leg, sofa etc
• Wincing or uncharacteristic behavioral change
Different Ear Treatment Options:
A dog ear cleaner solution would be our top pick and favourite option for dog owners. One of the main reasons being, a dogs’ ear canal is quite long and narrow so the solution is able travel down the ear canal and soothing the targeted infected area.
Dog wipes for example, would not be able to achieve this, but are effective for general upkeep of the ear and you’ll be able to maintain good overall hygiene standards.
In addition, dog ear cleaning solution products offer a wide range of benefits, including helping dogs who have bacterial infections, wax build ups and ear mites issues.
In the coming weeks we are launching our own ear cleaning product called Ear Buddy. Ear Buddy is a natural ear cleaner for dogs derived from natural, cruelty free ingredients. Sign up for updates to hear the latest news and upcoming release date.
Ear wipes can be great addition to your pet supplies collection if you have a nervous dog. They are good for maintaining general ear hygiene and can remove odours but does not tackle the underlined issue.
Eardrops can contain antibiotics, antifungals (to kill yeasts) and anti-inflammatories help to clear swelling and pain. Its important to ensure you finish the whole course of drops (even if your dog’s ears seem better after a couple of days). Similarly, to ear cleaners, they can reach far down the ear canal and target the infected area.
How To Clean Dogs’ Ears Correctly:
Here's the best way to clean your dogs ears
1. Ensure you have all your supplies ready for the job and your dog is calm. This will make the experience far more enjoyable and easier; trust me! Don’t be afraid to use treats to sweeten the deal.
2. Shake your dog ear cleaning solution before use. Apply application directly to the ear canal until liquid is visible and massage the base of the ear. Your pet may shake their head to dislodge wax and dirt (this is completely normal).
3. Use a cotton pad to clear away excess dirt. Using extreme caution gently wipe an ear bud around the ear to remove any dirt still visible. Do not insert the ear bud into the ear canal. If your dog appears to be in pain during the cleaning process, stop and consult your veterinarian immediately.
Now that you know and understand how to clean dog ears and signs/symptoms to look out for, here are the basics one more time:
• Understand what a healthy, clean ear looks and smells like.
• Check your dog’s ears regularly after bath time or after swimming in open waters.
• Cleaning ears too often can cause excessive irritation or swelling
• Ensure you don’t insert cotton pad directly into ear canal or avoid probing around
Taking care of your dog’s ears helps prevent infections and unwanted stresses. Regular ear examinations will also catch any other problems, such as ear mites, before they get worse, and will desensitize your dog to ear handling.
How can I tell if something is wrong with my dogs ears?
They would usually look inflamed with redness or crusting of skin of the ear flap, or there could be a buildup of black or brown wax. In any case, we would recommend consulting with a vet if the ear infection does not clear after a couple of days.
What are common ear problems in dogs?
Bacterial infections are probably the most common ear issues dogs face. Wax build up is another common issue.
How often should I clean my dog’s ears?
It's actually possible to over-clean your dogs ears, so we would recommend using an ear wash for dogs once or twice a month. Breeds with long, floppy ears or dogs who swim on open waters frequently may need to have their ears cleaned every week.
Why does my dog have so much earwax?
A common cause of excessive wax build-up could be your dog suffering from certain allergies. Do you notice a certain time of year where your pup's wax build-up worsens? Ear mites and ear infections can possibly lead to excessive wax buildup too.
Why does my dog have smelly ears?
Your dog may have smelly ears due to an yeast infections, caused by Malassezia, a type of yeast. The smell can often be described similar to bread baking or beer. Ear infections cause irritation and excessive scratching.
Article written by Hayden Lloyd, Founder of HWL Pet Supplies