Saturday, June 30, 2012

Huh? Dogs and Ears

New owners ask a lot of great questions about their dogs when they first get them: contagious diseases, weight and dog food, and behavior and training.  In Colorado, I've had the distinct impression that more owners than not also take their dogs to the groomers.  There, someone else can address their coat, and the dreaded "nail trims".

I beg dog owners to not ignore the health of their dog's ears.  Nails and coat health may seem obvious, but as a Great Pyrenees owner, a dog prone to dirty ears, I beg new owners to take a hard look at ear health.

Some dogs have ears that are pink and pristine without any effort.  Other dogs, like our Pyrs, have floppy, hairy ears that trap a ton of moisture and dirt. Some other breeds, such as Poodles, can even have additional hair throughout their ear cavity which traps all kinds of cooties.  It's important to understand what kind of ears your dog has.

Dogs' ears are not like ours.  In humans, the eardrum, or "tympanic membrane", isn't as deep.  In our dogs, their ear canal is kind of like an "L" shape.  It goes deep and far, and what we see on the outside is far away from what is deeper into their anatomy.

In the rescue days, more often that not rescued Great Pyrenees had horrible ear infections.  We had several dogs come through that were diagnosed by the veterinarian with deafness, most likely caused by owners who ignored ear health.  Great Pyrenees ears, while not as floppy and fuzzy as some dog breeds, are still floppy and hairy.  All Pyr dog owners need to be educated about how to properly clean their dogs ears, how often, and with what.

Avoid over-the-counter ear cleaners.  While the temptation is great to purchase that cheap ear cleaner from the local pet store, many of those cleaners contain fragrance and ingredients not conducive to great ear health.  Purchase your ear cleaner from your vet clinic; it's only a few bucks and it's guaranteed to be gentle and effective, assuming your dog does not have a current infection.

If your dog is shaking their head or tilting it, do not assume that cleaning them is the solution.  By this point, the chances of yeast, bacteria, and/or infection being present is very likely.  I know they seem like "just ears", but before you try to clean and treat at home, it's important a vet looks at them.  They aren't just looking for dirt and infection, but rather to ensure that the eardrum is in tact.  Certain treatments and ear cleaners can be very detrimental to the ear drum if the condition of the ear drum isn't established first.  Damage to the ear drum doesn't need to happen through trauma, it can be the result of a number of things and it's important your vet does an assessment.

Not only our our dogs ears deep, they have many crevices in the external portion, the floppy part or "pinna" for dirt to become trapped and cause inflammation and irritation.  Owners should never use Q-tips to clean these portions, as your dog could move or jerk and you could cause trauma.  It's key to take your cleaner and a cotton ball and thoroughly clean those outer portions with care.

Every doctor will have a different recommendation, based specifically on your dog and their health, regarding frequency of ear cleanings.  The important thing to take away from this article, is that we must be proactive.  We do not clean our dogs ears after dirt has accumulated; we clean them proactively to prevent infection.  I have personally found that my Pyrs need their ears cleaned once a week to prevent nasty accumulation of dirt and debris.

They aren't going to like getting their ears cleaned, but we cannot rely on vet visits to address the ongoing health of our dogs ears.  Hearing is important, and it's key to not dismiss ear health the way owners are quick to dismiss a tangle or dread in their hair. 

Ask your veterinarian or their technicians to show you proper cleaning techniques.  Do not be shy; even if your dog isn't there for an ear problem, show the staff how much you love your animal by addressing any and all causes for health concerns.  Ask your vet about diet and allergies, as some of these things can contribute to persistent ear problems.

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