To Pluck or Not to Pluck? That is the Question.

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!

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22 Responses to “To Pluck or Not to Pluck? That is the Question.”

  1. Catherine Says:

    Is there any reason why using a rotary clipper, like men use in their ears, couldn’t be used because the aim is to remove the majority of the hair, right? My older rescue poodle has a lot of ear hair but is very sensitive so I’d think that would be easier on him. Thank you for any help with this, Catherine

    • themuttleycrew Says:

      The reason that I wouldn’t recommend this is because you need to go very deep inside of the ear to really make a difference. I imagine…if your clipper were sharp enough…that you could use it to get any hair that is outside of the canal, just don’t stick it down deep. Hold the clipper against the dogs face to get him used to the sound and vibration, otherwise you may end up traumatizing the pet.

  2. Kitty Says:

    I was just at my groomer’s and saw a groomer using hemostats on a schnauzer’s ears. She had gotten the ear hair in the hemostats and then twisted them around and around until the hair came out. The dog was screaming and I was horrified. I am pretty sure this it not common or accepted practice – but would appreciate some feedback. I saw her do this 2 times to each of the dog’s ears. I was tempted to wait for the dog’s owner to return and tell them what I had seen- but I did not feel knowledgeable enough to intervene. I just knew the dog was in pain – and I spoke out about it to the manager. I will not be taking my dog back there – and am glad I never had them do his ears. It just seems like “plucking” a few hairs at a time would be much less painful. I appreciate your feedback. Sincerely, Kitty

    • themuttleycrew Says:

      Kitty,
      Unfortunately,that’s the correct way to pluck ears. It is very painful for the dog. Just plucking a few at a time is just as painful and you run the risk of not being able to get all of the hair out of the canal. Dogs ear canals are much longer/deeper than ours. As I said before, it’s become a topic for debate. Sometimes it makes an ear infection even worse, and in other cases…it just HAS to done or the dog will end up not being able to hear as well or the ear will get infected. It’s such a double edged sword. The way you saw the groomer do it is exactly how a vet does…you just don’t see or hear it. Hopefully this will shed just a little light on the subject.

      • Kitty Says:

        Thank you for your quick response. I just cannot imagine twisting the hair rather than a quick yank being a better way (like when I tweeze my eyebrows, for instance)- and it opened my eyes as to why my dog is so sensitive when groomers touch his ears. I will have to evaluate my thoughts on this process before selecting a new groomer. I believe, in the future, ear “grooming” will only be done in my presence.

      • Lynn Says:

        There is no reason for pain when plucking ears. That groomer used a method favored by vets. And yes, done that way, it hurts and dog screeches. I use my fingers, a bit at a time with powder and dogs never react. No fuss, no screams. Then flush with ear cleaner. No way in hell should pain be a part of ear plucking or any of the grooming process

  3. cygnusweatherwax Says:

    I was at the dog park the other day and ran into a nice man with a rescue schnauzer. He said he was doing weekly cleaning on his dog’s ears but there was a lot of discharge. He was also considering getting his dog’s ears cropped b/c it would improve air flow.

    As we chatted it became clear, his dog’s ears were not plucked. Now he had been both to a chain store vet and to a national chain store for grooming. This dog’s ears were CHOCK FULL of hair, like indistinguishable. They had simply been shaving it across but you couldn’t see the ear canal at all. I have never seen anything like it. I was horrified.

    I explained ear plucking, showed him my poodle/schnauzer mixes ears and demonstrated with my fingers. I told him I would tear the groomer a new one for not suggesting that this dog’s ears need to be plucked for proper health. I came across your article and a couple others like it. I just have trouble believing that having an ear canal stuffed with hair is ok. But I also wanted to be sure I had given him correct advice. I would love any feedback.

    • themuttleycrew Says:

      This is the big controversy. Should a groomer be the one who plucks the ears? In my opinion,yes. However,some vets and other groomers disagree. It’s a tough choice. A groomer doing it can make an ear infection worse, or the dog will have a reaction to having it done. Pet owners can be very understanding…or can be very unhappy and not understand that a groomer really has no control over what can transpire as a result of plunking the ears. On the other hand,if the dog has a severe infection and the groomer refuses to perform the plucking…well, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I believe that most groomers will make the correct decision. Some large chain stores forbid the groomer from doing it to avoid complications with the owner. The same thing goes for anal glands. In the past, the groomer always did it. What a double edged sword these topics are. Again, this is just my personal opinion…the ears should be plucked at least every other time. I’ve just seen too many problems from not doing it. Good luck out there with this issue!

      • Evelyn kelley Says:

        I don’t know if I’m posting this in right place. But we have young Std Poodle who had first professional groom 2 days ago with ear hair pl ucked. Now he’s shaking his head. Looked at it this morning and there is a bit of drainage like the is wounds from plucking that have gotten infected. I don’t know what to do.

      • themuttleycrew Says:

        This is basically why I named that post “to pluck or not to pluck”. Poodles, terriers, Bichons and many mixed breed dogs need to have the ear canals cleaned by plucking out the hair. Herein lies the problem…some dogs have just this sort of reaction or worse. Some do just fine. As a groomer, you’re always hesitant to do it. Maybe the dog have an underlying ear infection or maybe the trauma of plucking just set off a chain reaction. You just don’t know.
        This being said. There should NOT be wounds in the ear. Were these caused by the groomer…or by the dog scratching it’s ears with freshly clipped and sharp nails? Check with your vet if it continues. Also, a little Witch Hazel on a cotton ball can really relieve the tenderness.

  4. Shirley Says:

    I have a miniature Australian Labradoodle who is 3 and a half years old.
    He has suffered from ear infections from very young.
    Unfortunately i wasnt told to make a claim on his insurance and now everytime he has one it costs me a fortune.
    I would really love to be able to get this under control and would like any advice you can offer.
    I hate to see him suffer and he constantly shakes his head.
    I have him grommed every 4-6 weeks and have his ears plucked each time. I also clean his ears out on a regular basis but to no avail,
    When i rub his ear i can hear it squelching like there is fluid in there.
    It only seems to be in one ear.
    If you could give me any adive i would be most grateful. He is my baby and i love him so much just want to get this sorted out for him.

    Kind Regards

    Shirley

    • themuttleycrew Says:

      If you’re hearing liquid in the canal…I would assume that’s an infection. Has your vet looked into the canal? I would NOT have the ears plucked for a few times, just to see if that clears it up. Also, there is a drying powder that you can purchase at most pet websites. It helps dry the ear out. The other thing I would recommend is to have the ears cut very short for a few months. If you’re leaving long, dangling ears…which is usual on this breed..this only helps trap moisture. Just taking that weight off so that the canal can breathe will help immensely. Using witch hazel as a cleaner is a good choice too. It’s an astringent and helps as well. Good luck! Unfortunately…you have one of those breeds that are very prone to infections.

      • Evelyn Kelley Says:

        We have had great success using Blue Power Treatment. Google it. It is a mixture if isopropyl alcohol, gentian violet solution, and boric acid powder.

      • Evelyn Says:

        Consider Blue Power Treatment. It is a ear wash we have used repeatedly with our poodles. I swear by it way over Commerciless medicationa. Google it

  5. Evelyn Kelley Says:

    We found a recipe for an ear wash that has worked time and again for our standard poodle. You can google it. It is called Blue Power Treatment. Here is a link to the recipe and instructions. http://www.itsfortheanimals.com/Adobe/Blue%20Power%20Ear%20Treatment.pdf. Our Standard Poodle used to get an infection every time he got water in his ears. We would use this if that happened. And, we used it on a more or less regular basis as a general cleaner.

  6. Sandra thorburn Says:

    My vet has been plucking my bichon’s ears every five months but it costs a lot of money. She doesn’t seem to be bothered by her ears but when she goes to the vet they have to sedate her and she is a bit dopey afterwards
    Is it necessary to put her through this and what can I do to save this being done?

    • themuttleycrew Says:

      Sandra- Your groomer should be able to do this without the expense or sedation…that is… IF the dog will allow it. Us old time groomers always check to see if it needs to be done, however as I said in my post, some vets don’t recommend the groomer does it. Ask your groomer is he/she does this or if they are not allowed by the shop they work in. You need someone with experience, as not to cause pain or head shaking resulting in hematomas at the bottoms of the ear.
      Bichons are one of those dogs, unfortunately that HAS to have it done on a regular basis. look around for someone who has the skill and experience to do it properly.

  7. Trina Says:

    There should be something like Nair you could use in there instead of plucking. Has anyone used Nair hair remover very carefully on the ear?

    • themuttleycrew Says:

      This would definitely NOT work and I would caution people to never even try it. The inside of a dogs ear is extremely sensitive. Not only that, but if a product like that somehow works it’s way deep into the canal to the ear drum, it would probably cause deafness. Please do not even try this!

  8. Kyle Says:

    Hi I took my dog to the dog groomer and she did a terrible job to shave my dog in the winter she said that he might have an ear infections so that night then shaking his head he hasn’t shaken his head ever like that hi I took my dog to the dog groomer and she did a terrible job she said that he might have an ear infection so that night get some shaking his head he hasn’t shaking his head ever like that took him to the vet the vet said no ear infection so what’s causing this

    • themuttleycrew Says:

      Kyle- There could be several reasons for the head shaking. One possible thing is that when he was shaved down, the ears could be irriatated. The other thing, if he is a long earred dog and has never felt the weight of his own ears, that makes them shake because they are not used to feeling the weight. The same thing will happen with their tails. They are not used to feeling it tickle their backs, so it kind of freaks them out.
      I don’t want to judge another groomer. Sometimes there is no other choice but to shave the dog. People don’t always understand just how painful and difficult it is to demat a pet. Good luck with the ears…it will get better over time!

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