The plucking of a dog’s ears has become a topic of some controversy as of late. While it used to be and still is, to an extent, a common dog grooming practice, in more recent years the practice has lost some of its following due to questions regarding whether or not it really helps a dog maintain the health of his ears. Let’s take a closer look.
Ear plucking is the practice of using fingers, hemostats or other tools to remove excessive amounts of hair from a dog’s ear canal. Drop-eared and/or very hairy breeds like the poodle, schnauzer, maltese and bichon frise, among others, are prone to hair buildup in the ear canal, which can prevent air flow and trap moisture in the skin folds, leading to increased growth of bacteria or fungi and causing irritation and infection. Removing the hair little by little, rather than in large chunks which can further irritate the delicate skin of the ear canal, and following up with a good ear cleaning can help prevent the buildup of “gunk” in the ear canal and keep the dog’s ears healthier. Untreated and/or chronic ear infections in dogs can lead to conditions like aural hematomas or even neurological issues, so in breeds and individual dogs prone to ear problems, keeping the ears clean is vital.
Lately, however, some veterinarians and groomers have been speaking out against ear plucking on the grounds that it can further irritate an ear canal already prone to irritation and lead to ear problems that may not have occurred otherwise. They point out that plucking the hair from a dog’s ear canal leaves minute openings–essentially, tiny wounds–in the skin where bacteria can simply settle more easily. Additionally, because (a) dogs generally don’t like the feeling of hair being plucked out of their ears and (b) plucking can leave the skin irritated, a dog may be more likely to scratch and worry at his ears, which will only make any ear problem worse.
The solution, the anti-ear-plucking camp says, is to keep the hair under the ear flap and on the side of the head trimmed a little more closely, to continue with thorough ear cleanings AND dryings, and to make sure to keep your dog’s ear flaps clean and dry as much as you can at home, since wet ear flaps will make it easier for moisture and bacteria to settle into the ear canal itself.
Some dogs do just fine with ear plucking, particularly if they are started young to allow them lots of time to get used to the sensation, and it continues regularly throughout their lives so the hair never has a chance to build up enough to cause problems. Other dogs, however, have ears too sensitive to withstand regular pluckings, and may suffer chronic ear problems as the result of plucking, instead of the plucking being a benefit. Additionally, a dog with already-irritated or -infected ears should not undergo a plucking except under direct supervision of a veterinarian, as it could worsen the condition of the dog’s ears.
Bottom line? Ear plucking may work very well for your dog. If it does, and does not cause your dog much discomfort, then perhaps you have no reason to seek alternative ear maintenance methods. But if your dog undergoes regular ear pluckings and still suffers from chronic ear problems, then it could be time to explore other options. Don’t hesitate to discuss ear plucking and its alternatives with your vet and your friendly Muttley Crew groomer!