If I had three dollars for every time someone asked. . . Do Your Ears Hang Low?

There are a lot of things I am asked on a fairly regular basis. Some questions are especially common in and away from work – people call and ask at the clinic, and people who find out I’m a vet ask me in everyday life. Sometimes it’s a common question because it’s a common problem, sometimes it’s a common question because it’s a common occurrence that nobody understands. . . Either way, I’m keeping track! And I’ll be sharing some of the questions, and my answers, here.


Today’s question is inspired by a question I was asked by someone who reads this blog (hi, Kate! *waves*)… my dog has a dirty ear, and it bothers him, what should I do?

I get many variations on this question – my dog won’t stop scratching his ear, my dog’s ears are dirty but I don’t think he minds, my groomer says he has an infection, blah blah blah. . .  Ears are one of the most common reasons for a dog to come in for an exam, especially during the summer. Ears are also one of the most common things to be brought up during an annual vaccination appointment. Usually because the owner has noticed scratching, but sometimes because when I look at the ears I see signs of infection.

Dog’s have pretty intricate ears, with lots of nooks and crannies and a significant turn in the canal before you get to the end, where the tympanic membrane is. Some dogs have floppy ears that cover up the inside from the air. Some dogs have lots of hair in the canal. Some dogs like to stick their head in water and therefore get water in their ears.  All of these things combined make for a moist, warm environment where yeast and/or bacteria like to grow. Which makes the ear itchy, so the dog scratches it, and then the ear gets inflamed, which makes it even warmer inside, so the yeast/bacteria grows even more. . . vicious cycle!

Some dogs never have problems with their ears. Some dogs have such severe problems with their ears they end up needing their ear canals removed. And then there’s everything in between.  My dog likes to swim, and has floppy ears, so I clean his ears every so often to prevent an ear infection from setting in. If you think your dog’s ears need cleaning, the important thing to remember is: Do Not Clean With Water (see previous paragraph about moist environment!). Get an ear cleaning that says “Drying” on its label – it will dry out the ear quickly, so you don’t have wet ear canals. Your vet’s office probably sells some good ones. The other thing is not to stick cotton swabs in the ear – you could irritate or damage the canal. I like to soak a cotton ball, stick it in the ear, then massage the ear base to squish the liquid around. Whatever works for you, short of sticking a cotton swab down in there. Some people squirt the liquid right in, and let the dog shake out the dirt, or cover their finger with a tissue to wipe out the crud.

What if you think your dog’s ears are infected? You should see your vet, and get some medicated drops to clear it up as quickly as possible. Chronic inflammation of the ear canal can cause it to narrow and be even more prone to infections that are even more difficult to treat. The other risk of untreated ear infections is if the dog shakes his or her head a lot, they may rupture blood vessels in the ear flap, and then blood fills up the ear and causes it to swell. This is called an aural hematoma, and it’s pretty uncomfortable for the dog and usually requires some surgical intervention. Which, you may imagine, is more expensive than a simple exam and some drops early in the infection!

So, the bottom line? If your dog is scratching at its ears, or shaking its head, or the ears seem red and smelly. . . make an appointment with your vet! Think the ear is just dirty but you’re not sure? See your vet! We don’t mind examining healthy dogs with dirty ears, promise. Fairly positive the ears are just dirty? Get some cleaner and try cleaning it, and if it doesn’t seem to help, SEE YOUR VET!


About dottiemaggie

A veterinarian living and working in St John's, Newfoundland. I love my job, and I love my home. Professionally I am passionate about critical care and client education. Away from work I am passionate about enjoying life, spending time with friends, enjoying hobbies of all sorts, and exploring this wonderful province I call home.
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17 Responses to If I had three dollars for every time someone asked. . . Do Your Ears Hang Low?

  1. Laura says:

    I’ve found that the easiest way to keep my cats’ ears clean is to have two cats. I’m pretty sure they do a better job at keeping each other’s ears clean than I ever could.

    • dottiemaggie says:

      haha, I have yet to catch any of my cats cleaning each others ears. I do know someone who has a great dane and a cat, and the cat gets right in that dog’s ears to clean them up ;D

  2. Amy says:

    When we first got our Doodle Gordon, it was starting to look like his super hairy ears were going to be a constant issue. We have a WONDERFUL mobile groomer lady who trims the hair and pulls some to keep it from getting crazy and cleans his ears about every 5-6 weeks. Haven’t had any issues since. Granted, we sort of HAVE to get him groomed because otherwise he turns into a big tangled Rastafarian, but my point is, if you do have your dog groomed,REMIND the groomer to do the ears! Not all dogs like having their ears messed with (none, as far as I’ve seen…) and our last groomer tried to get away without doing it, which didn’t do anyone any favors.

    • dottiemaggie says:

      Definitely solid advice! I’ve had dogs come in who were freshly groomed, and I peak in their ears and they are chuckabuck full of hair. Tsk tsk!
      I only pluck hair out of ears under anesthesia. . . because by the time they need ME to pluck the hair, the ears are some sore! Good groomer will keep that under control before it’s a problem 🙂

  3. Susan says:

    The dog’s ears are good, my 15 year old’s ears are DIRTY.

  4. bschooled says:

    This is the reason why I don’t have pets. Or kids. I love them both (pets first, then kids), but I’m not astute enough to pick up on things like ear infections/dirty ears.

    Knowing me, I would assume that the ear scratching was just his way of letting me know he was thinking of me.

    • dottiemaggie says:

      haha, to be perfectly honest, I would be an awful client. . . I know what a good dog owner should do, but I’m not so great at doing what I should do!

      (I have a puppy for the weekend, and it is driving me INSANE! so much work. holy jesus. i wouldn’t even know if her ears were dirty, she never sits still.)

  5. linlah says:

    I love to read your vet posts, I learn so darn much it’s scary. Also, I hope you’re feeling better.

    • dottiemaggie says:

      thank you 🙂 And I’m feeling heaps and tonnes better. Except that I stabbed my finger with a needle, and burnt the crap out of another finger. . . but I’m still able to do surgery, so it’s all good 😉

  6. i mean.

    what’s wrong with people. if they had a red itchy irritated smelly ear,wouldn’t they book an appt to the doc?

    • dottiemaggie says:

      I can’t even tell you how many times my colleagues and I sit out back and wonder that very same thing, or similar things. . . such as:
      “if you didn’t eat for 3 days and couldn’t stop vomitting, wouldn’t you go to the ER?!”

      It’s amazing what some people think is ‘normal’ for their pets. . . or what they get in a tizzy about. . . I guess it’s the same with parents with babies.. some freak out more easily than others. . .

  7. frigginloon says:

    I’m assuming if I have a red itchy irritated smelly ear I should follow the same advice?

  8. Kate says:

    *waves back* I’m so excited to be famous!! And you didn’t even include the idiotic Josh & I who were washing out our poor dog’s ears with water (and therefore making it worse). I still am so grateful you took your time to help my poor dog with incompetent owners. It was AWESOME of you (but then I shouldn’t be surprised because you’re just awesome). I’m so glad you didn’t take it as I was trying to get free advice. Since I know your plan is not having kids…I can’t offer my services as a tutor. However, if you want some tip son teaching your dogs and cats to read…I’ll give it my best shot! I’m just an email/FB away!

    • dottiemaggie says:

      No worries 🙂 I’m always willing to give advice, though more often than not that advice will be “go see your vet” 😉

      And I don’t think I want my cats to be able to read. They get in enough trouble as it is.

  9. I am actually happy to read this weblog posts which consists of tons of useful information, thanks
    foor providing these kinds of statistics.

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