Don’t forget to clean your ears!: The importance of hearing health in dogs
It seems that all those years your mother told you, "Be sure to clean your ears!"-- she was right. Clean ears are the key to good hearing health, not just in humans, but in canines as well. Keeping your furry friend's ears clean is just as vital is brushing his teeth or his yearly veterinary check-up. Under normal circumstances, your dog's ears shouldn't have any problems as long as they are kept clean. And, cleaning is, in most cases, quick and easy. True, some dogs resist their weekly ear cleaning. But, in most cases, their reaction is to the stinging that comes from alcohol based cleansers.
Before I started using MalOctic ear wash, cleaning Lady's floppy ears weekly was a trial. If she ear caught a sideways glance of the ear wash bottle, she'd bolt and hide under the pool table. Once, I had inserted the ear wash, she'd roll and rub her head on the floor. Every time I'd pass her, she'd give me a sad big-eyed glance, and I'd feel like a monster for the rest of the day. After I explained my predicament to my vet, he recommended an alcohol-free cleaner. There are several good cleansers on the market that don't use alcohol as the drying agent—such as MalOctic ear wash or some herbal cleansers. All of them are available at your local pet store, as well as at most veterinary offices.
You should also check your dogs' ears weekly for waxy buildup, matted hair, redness, and foreign objects. Most dogs enjoy a check-up—especially if you start with a little play and a good brushing. Dogs that spend a lot of time outside often pick up burrs. And, in the summer months, ticks can be a problem. There's also the dreaded ear whose presence is usually signaled by a dark waxy substance and a foul smell, as well as scratching and headshaking. If your dog does get ear mites, your vet can prescribe medication that will rid him of them in about 3 weeks.
As for general cleaning, you can use mineral oil or just plain water to wipe the external surface of the ear. Be sure to trim out any excess hair. In cocker spaniels, like Lady, floppy ears with fuzzy interiors can be a real problem. Dogs with floppy ears, like spaniels and beagles, are more prone to ear infections since their ears have less air circulation than other breeds.
However, most ear infections can be prevented with good hygiene. Simply flush your dogs' ears weekly with a cleaner (non-alcohol based preferred) and then massage their ears. The cleaner will clean the ear canal and dry it, as well as stabilizing the acidity in the ear canals. Afterwards, it is always good to trim any stray hairs and to remove any excess cleaner that may be on the outside of your dogs' ears. Be sure never to insert anything in your dogs' ear. Again, your Mom was right when she told you never to stick anything smaller than your elbow in your ear! And, that goes double for your dog.
Unlike the human ear, your dogs' ears actually have two compartments. And, most breeds have a much longer ear canal than a human that make ear infections in dogs more common than in you and me. Proper maintenance will help your dog avoid ear infections and parasites and help in his overall hearing health. And, good hearing is important. True, as dogs (and people) get a bit older, they often experience a bit of hearing loss. I've noticed that Lady, aged eighteen, does have the same sharpness of hearing that she did as a young dog. But, she still hears very well. Your vet will usually perform hearing and vision tests on your dog during his annual check-up. And, they are a very important part of a geriatric examination.
Although you can help forestall hearing problems with good ear maintenance, a few breeds are prone to hearing loss. Your vet can let you know if your pet's breed has any predisposition to hearing problems, as well as other health problems. If you notice that your pet doesn't respond to their name or yelps or barks suddenly for no reason, his hearing might be lessening. Loud noises, ear infections, age, and even general anesthesia can cause hearing loss. If your pet has lost a bit of hearing (especially with age,) be careful when you approach him from behind or when sleeping. You can easily wake your dog by using smell or vibration. Most dogs pick up a new routine very quickly.
When Lady first came to live with us as a scrappy two-year old spaniel, we also had a very elderly daschund, Samson. Samson's fur was scattered with grey. He walked a little stiffly and his hearing was very poor. Lady, when she heard the can opener would jump up and run to her bowl. And, Samson, seeing Lady's response, would follow right behind and be waiting by his bowl for dinner. Somedays, he even beat her to the dishes.
Hearing health, like all other facets of health, depends on prevention. Weekly ear cleanings, regular visits to the vet, and your vigilance should help your furry friend keep his hearing in the flush. As I sit here typing, Lady is half-asleep. But, each time, I shift in my chair, I can see her ears move. "Lady," I say, and she tilts her head, but doesn't look at me. It's good to know that she hears me, even if she isn't listening.