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A Guide to Dog Hearing and Ear Care

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A Guide to Dog and Puppy Hearing and Ear Care

Who doesn't love to give their dog a good scratch behind the ears? And those ears come in all different shapes and sizes from long and floppy to short and upright. There's a lot to know about your dog's ears from common ear problems to tips for living with a deaf dog.

Fun Facts About Your Dog's Ears

Here are some fun facts about your dog's ears you may not have known:

  • Unlike people, dogs have muscles at the base of their ears, which they can use to enhance their hearing by angling them towards a sound.
  • A dog's ears also can help us understand how they're feeling. Raised ears can indicate a strong interest in something that's going on. Straight up ears that face forward can mean your dog is fearful and could become aggressive. Ears that are flattened against the head may mean your dog is uncertain, scared, or intimidated.
  • Dogs typically have better hearing than people and hear higher frequencies than we do. That's why they can hear the high pitch of a dog whistle, which won't register to our own ears.A dog's ear canal is shaped basically like an "L." It tracks down vertically and then angles towards the eardrum. This helps keep dirt and debris away from the inner structures of the ear. It can also make dogs susceptible to ear infections since it fosters a warm, moist environment where bacteria and yeast like to grow.

small dog playing in leaves

Signs of an Ear Issue

Ear issues aren't always easy to spot, but there are some noticeable symptoms such as:

  • Swelling or redness
  • Discharge
  • Bad odor

You may also see other behavioral signs, such as your dog tilting their head to the side or scratching at the ears a lot. If the ear problem has started to affect their hearing, you might detect signs of deafness as well. For instance, your dog may not respond when you call them, bark when there's a knock at the door, or come running at the sound of their leash.

If your dog or new puppy is having hearing issues, you should contact your veterinarian. They can perform a thorough physical examination and refer you to a specialist if necessary. Your dog's hearing can be checked using electrodes to sense electrical activity between the ear and the brain. This is called brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) testing. If your puppy is diagnosed with congenital deafness, it can't be reversed.

veterinarian checking a dogs ear

Common Ear Problems

Some of the most common ear problems for dogs include ear infections and mites. Dogs can also injure their ears if a foreign object gets lodged in them.

Ear Infections

Ear infections can happen to any dog, but they can be more prevalent in long-eared breeds, like Bloodhounds, Cocker Spaniels, Springer Spaniels, and Labrador Retrievers. Those long ears can provide a breeding ground for bacteria or yeast, which are the most common causes of ear infections. Ear infections can also occur more often in dogs who have a lot of hair growing in their ears, like Poodles.

Dogs with allergies are prone to chronic ear infections. Allergies can irritate the skin lining the ear canals resulting in inflammation. Excessive wax production occurs creating the perfect environment for naturally occurring yeast and bacteria to flourish. The ears become itchy, and as the dog scratches, paws, or rubs at the ears, they become more inflamed creating a vicious cycle of discomfort.

If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, you should take them to the veterinarian. The veterinarian can look inside the ears with an otoscope to see what’s going on. They may take a sample from the ear for testing to help confirm the diagnosis.

Your veterinarian will likely treat an ear infection by first gently cleaning the ear. After that, they'll use an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection or an anti-fungal medication to eliminate a yeast infection. Ear infections can also be a symptom of an underlying illness, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing's Disease, which your veterinarian can rule out.


Ear mites are tiny parasites that nourish themselves on the wax and oils found in your dog's ears. These small critters move around in the canal and make the ears feel itchy. As your dog scratches to satisfy the itch, the ears become irritated and inflamed, which can lead to an ear infection.

Ear mites are highly contagious and usually passed between dogs or from cats to dogs. They don't normally affect humans, which means you don't have to worry about catching them from your pup. Symptoms include head shaking, pawing at the ears, and brownish debris, which can build up and cause difficulty hearing.

If you suspect ear mites, you should visit the veterinarian, so they can relieve your dog's discomfort and get rid of the mites before they cause other problems. Mites are typically treated by cleaning the ear and applying a topical medication. Your veterinarian can also prescribe a topical or oral medication that will kill the mites.

Foreign Objects

Dogs can get foreign objects, such as grass seeds or foxtails, in their ears. If this happens to your dog, please avoid using a cotton swab, tweezers, or other things to try to pry them out. You could end up pushing them further into the ear potentially causing hearing loss. Consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible.

white and tan spaniel

Tips for Healthy Ears

Some dogs just seem prone to infections or other ear issues. That said, there are some things you can do to help keep your dog's ears healthy. For instance:

  • Check them at home – Take a close look at your dog's ears on a regular basis. If you notice signs like odor, discharge, redness, head shaking, or scratching the ears, call your veterinarian.
  • Clean the outer ear – If there is dirt or debris around the outside of your dog's outer ear, you can use a cotton ball or soft washcloth to clean it gently. Never use a cotton swab to clean the inside of your dog's ear. This will cause irritation and further inflammation of the ear canal increasing your dog's discomfort. Your veterinarian can recommend a general purpose ear flush to help keep ears clean.
  • Dry them off – Bacteria and yeast like to grow in damp and warm places, so be sure to dry your dog's ears off after they get wet. You can use a soft towel to gently pat them dry after your dog has a bath, splashes in puddles, or takes a swim in a pool or lake. If your dog is a frequent swimmer, ask your veterinarian about ear flushes that can be used after swimming to help prevent infections.
  • Trim excessive ear hair – Excessive ear hair can lead to ear infections. Don't pluck or trim those hairs with sharp scissors yourself or you could risk injuring your dog. Have your veterinarian or groomer take care of them when needed.
  • Schedule regular veterinary visits – Annual check-ups are a good time for your veterinarian to assess your dog's ear health and diagnose any issues early.

Living with a Deaf Dog

Dogs can lose their hearing due to chronic ear infections, injury, or old age. Some dogs like Dalmatians are susceptible to congenital deafness, which means they're born without the ability to hear in one or both ears. But just because a dog can't hear doesn't make them any less lovable!

Deaf dogs can be trained using hand signals rather than verbal commands. You can use American Sign Language (ASL) or develop your own system of signs, such as a motioning down with a flat open hand for "sit." The most important part is to be consistent, so your dog doesn't get confused. It's also helpful to teach a deaf dog to check in regularly by making eye contact with you.

back of a german shepherds ears

Deaf Dog Care

Deaf dogs need the same sort of basic care as hearing dogs, but there are some extra things you can do to help ensure they stay happy and safe.

It is a myth that deaf dogs are more aggressive than others. However, they can get startled and even nip at you if you wake them out of a deep sleep. One way to help avoid this situation is to wake them up with a treat in hand. This will help them associate waking up with something yummy.

If your dog is an anxious type, you may want to wake them up before you go anywhere, so they don't get stressed out looking all over the house for you. You should also remember that deaf dogs can be woken up by vibrations. You should try to avoid stomping around near them or bumping into the chair where they're slumbering.

Like hearing dogs, deaf dogs can get distracted by things around them, like squirrels scampering around the backyard or another dog in your path. If your dog doesn't look at you, you may need to touch them on the shoulder gently. You can also use a laser pointer or flashlight to help get their attention. Just be sure not to shine it in their eyes.

Like all dogs, deaf dogs should always wear a tag and collar. You can add the word "deaf" to your dog's collar, so anyone who finds them won’t expect them to answer to their vocal commands. You should also microchip your dog to help ensure they are returned safely to you.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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