Dirty Hairy: What to Do About Your Dog’s Ears

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One of the wonderful things about dogs is how different all the breeds are: tall, wide, burly, petite, smooth-haired, longhaired, curly, wiry, square-ish, roundish, rectangular… you get the point. And then there are de ears: long floppy ears, feathery fringed ears, short prick ears, ears up, ears down, ears curled like a rose, folded and buttoned, batlike, or practically dragging on the ground.

Ears can be a major part of your breed’s unique look, but they also require your attention. Ears can get dirty, flea-bitten, or filled with yeast and bacteria. They can itch, or even smell bad. And some are practically packed with t hair. Have you lifted your dog’s ear leather and taken a good look inside lately?

Ear care isn’t as straightforward as you might think, especially when it comes to hair. What do you do with it? Pluck it? Trim it? Shave it? Leave it alone? Some people (including professional groomers and veterinarians) think ear hair especially when it’s growing down into the ear canal-should be plucked out by the roots to keep the ear canal dean. They do this using either their fingers, dusted with a little ear powder for a good grip, or with a tool called a hemostat, a small surgical tool that looks a little bit like a scissors with tweezers on the end for gripping or pinching.

If you’re thinking “Ouch!” you aren’t the only one. Many other groomers and veterinarians don’t advocate plucking because they believe it causes Lam and rumor injury to the dog. Some veterinarians say that pulling ear hair opens the follicles, creating micro injuries and providing a pathway for bacteria, which could lead to infection. Some also believe that ear hair actually encourages dirt and debris to work its way out of the ear.

The ear-plucking disagreement also begs the question: What should you do? Should you deal with your dog’s ears yourself, or leave them to a professional? To help find the answer, I turned to professional groomers. As T expected, they didn’t all agree, but their advice might help you make the right decision for your dog.


Talk to a room full of groomers about ear plucking, and you’re likely to get an earful (so to speak). Some grooiners graphically describe the amount of dirt that’s removed with the hair they pluck. Good riddance! But others recall squeals of discomfort, and insist that plucking causes more infections than it prevents.

Leah Shirokoff falls in the “no plucking” camp. The owner of The Plush Pup, a house-call grooming service in the hills above California’s San Fernando Valley, Shirokoff has groomed dogs for almost 50 years. “I’ve seen so many dogs with pulled ear hair that had some degree of infection, or at least redness. Add in the pain and screeching, and I decided that plucking can’t be good,” Shirokoff says. “Since I stopped plucking, every single one of my customers has a dog with healthy ears.”

Helen Miller, a professional groomer at Indian Creek Kennel in Carbondale, Illinois, used to pluck ears but stopped most plucking three years ago. “The dogs hated it, and I saw a lot of red, irritated ears. Sometimes you could see themoozing serum, even specks of blood. Some dogs would come back with hot, swollen, infected ears,” she says. One client’s veteririan instructed Miller not to pluck the ears on two standard Poodle clients. “They’d both had chronic ear infections until they’d stopped having their ears plucked. Mind you, these two boys didn’t just have a carpet down there, they had the whole carpet store. But I followed orders, didn’t pluck, just shaved the area around the ear-canal opening. No more ear infections.”

But many other groomerbelieve that plucking can be helpful. Merah Hill, a professional groomer in Owasso, Oklahoma, and the owner of Merah ‘s Vanity Fur, believes in plucking the hairy-eared breeds but only very gently, with her fingers. “Poodles, Shih Tzu, Bichons, and Schnauzers are some of the common breeds that need to have their ears plucked, as well as some other breed you don’t see every day, like the Coton de Tulear and the Bouvier de Flandres [and Kerries],” says Hill, who also shaves around the inside of her clients’ ears. “I see a lot of Golden Retrievers with car problems, and trimming has really helped those dogs that had a bush growing right in front of the ear canal and had constant ear infectious.”

The point, says Mary Dowell, owner of Linda’s Pet Grooming in San Antonio, is to allow airflow into the ear canal. Like Hill, she plucks when she can see the dog needs it. “I’ve found it’s not so much that the ears are plucked, as how it’s done,” she says. ”It is possible to pluck ears completely without hurting the dog and without even causing redness,” She advises gently pulling out only those hairs inside the ear canal, not those growing outside it that are rooted more firmly. “Please be sure your nails are short and smooth,” she advises other groomers. “It’s so easy to make nicks and cuts, and that makes the dog jumpy the next time.”


The simple fact is that some dogs have ear hair, and some don’t; some have chronic ear infections, and others do not; and the two conditions don’t always correlate neatly. Whether or not should he plucked depends on a number of factors, including the breed and the individual dog’s ear, says Miller. While some breeds are more likely to have car hair than others, the amount of ear hair and the propensity for infection can vary within a breed. The decision must be based on your individual dog.

For those who want to try plucking, Miller suggests using your fingers rather than a hemostat, and using ear powder. ”Ear powder conyains rosin, which helps you grip the hair better. Dip your fingers in the ear powder, grasp a few, hairs, and pull with a quick plucking motion-not a steady pull, and not a hard jerk. Pluck enough hair to allow air into the ear canal, but don’t think you have to pull out every single hair.” When in doubt, seek out competent instruction. “I’d suggest calling a groomer and asking if be or she would be willing to show you how it’s done,” Miller says. “Offer to pay for their time. Bring cookies,”

Miller also encourages extremely nervous net owners not to try to do it themselves, but to call a groomer instead. “Also call a groomner if your pet objects to the point of biting, or if there is a tremendous amount of hair in the ear,” Miller advises. And if your dog’s ear is infected-red, swollen, particularly full of debris, or if the dog is scratching his ears a lot-then don’t pluck: See a vet.

You can clean your dog’s ears at home, too, although a professional groomer can take care of this task also, if you don’t want to try it. Many companies make easy-to-use ear washes, which can help keep ears clean and bacteria free. But groomers urge common sense: Never stick anything into your dog’s ear farther than you can see, and dry your dog’s ears well after washing because moisture encourages bacterial growth.

Finally, although some groomers tend to be rather vivid in their descriptions of plucking deeply rooted hair from particularly hirsute dogs, don’t worry: You won’t pull out the eardrum, in case you’re concerned about that. “That’s not even remotely possible,” Miller smiles. “Ear hair is not attached to the eardrum.”

So lift up that ear leather and look down in there. Go ahead. If you see a dirty, hairy, totally blocked ear canal, then you probably need to do something about it. But if you see an ear canal that’s clean, shiny, and healthy, whether hairy or not, then step away from the ears. Nature is working, and not messing with your pup’s ears just might make his day.

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