Dog and cat ears are nothing short of amazing. Did you know they could hear in the 45KHz range, while we are limited to 23KHz? That’s why you can shake a bag of treats and your dog will come running from the other end of the property. Human ears have three measly muscles as compared to 18 in dogs and 32 in cats. Dog and cat ears are so expressive that they can act as behavioral cues. Depending on their placement, a groomer can tell if a dog or cat may be aggressive, fearful, or calm.
The anatomy of dog and cat ears is similar. The ear canal is L-shaped. It goes straight down and then turns into a right angle toward the brain. Past that turn is the eardrum. There are three parts: the external, middle and inner ear.
Clean only the visible surface of the pet’s interior ear with damp, not wet, cotton ball. If you are properly trained, you can flush a dog’s ear, but not a cat. Cat’s inner ears are more sensitive than a dog. The external ear is the visible part on the outside of the head and the canal.
There is not much variation in the set and shape of cat’s ears. They are triangular and sit on top of the head. But that is the only minimalist feature of their ears. The fluid in their semi-circular canal rotates and equalizes in alignment with the head. It is why cats almost always land on their feet. And because each ear has 32 muscles, they move independently of each other. A cat can look at you and listen to something to the right or left without turning their heads. Human mothers have a similar ability in which their eyes can rotate to the back of their heads and see what is going on behind them.
Each ear position has different behavioral cues:
• Upright means the cat is alert and friendly.
• Tilted at a right angle means the cat is afraid.
• Flat against the head is an anxious cat. He is more just scared.
• Level with head and sticking straight out is a cat about to attack or flee.
• Ears back indicates that the cat is extremely stressed.
On the other hand, dogs have a variety of sets and shapes and are classified into four groups:
Close: The ears are near each other
Wide: The ears are further apart
High: The ears are above the eyes
Low: The ears are below the eyes
And six different shapes:
Bat: The ears are blunt shaped with rounded tips. Boston Terriers have bat-shaped ears.
Rose: The ears fold back from the head. Bulldogs have rose-shaped ears.
Tulip: The ears are upright and the edge curves forward. Shelties have tulip-shaped ears.
Heart: The ears are wider at the base than at the tip. Poodles have heart-shaped ears.
V: The ears are long and triangular. Basset Hounds have V-shaped ears.
Triangular: The ears are pointed and upright. German Shepherds have triangular-shaped ears.
When the dog’s ears fall naturally, it indicates relaxation. Belligerent or aggressive dogs will attempt to make themselves as large as possible. Ears will sit higher and may point either forward or back. On the flip side, if the dog is frightened, they will try to appear as small as possible with ears flat against the head or out to the side. Either scenario is a bite risk.
Most chronic ear conditions are found in the external ear. The middle ear is filled with air. It contains the eardrum, mallet, anvil and stirrup. They transmit sounds to the inner ear. Problems here can affect balance.
The inner ear is filled with fluid. Sound changes from airwaves to the nerve impulses, then onward to the brain. It contains the temporal bone, Organ of Corti and the Eight Cranial Nerve. Problems here can result in deafness, facial paralysis, and balance issues.
A healthy ear is pink on the inside with no odor or discharge and no exterior hair loss. Like any fine-tuned instrument, there are a host of issues that affect its precision.
• Allergy Otitis is the most common cause of recurrent ear infections. The usual culprits are food, environmental, mold or dust allergens. The ears are itchy and inflamed and are usually accompanied by itchy paws. Additionally, there may be an odor or black, gunky discharge.
• Tick, flea, fly, mosquito bites, as well as mites and demodex can cause ear pain, itching, swelling, hair loss and crusty skin.
• Foreign bodies, such as foxtails, cotton balls, ingrown hairs, cysts and resin powder (used to pull ear hair) can cause irritation and infection. You may see the obstruction with a flashlight, but do not probe. You will only make the problem worse.
• Due to the warm moist environment, floppy-eared dogs are prone to staph, yeast and bacterial infections. I shave the inside of the ear of those dogs that are prone to recurrent ear infections. The ears may feel warm to the touch; the dog’s head may tilt, in addition to a discharge and odor. While rare, an ear infection can spread internally or cause peripheral vestibular syndrome.
• Water in the ears can set up the environment for a yeast or bacterial infection. Water can enter the ear canal from bathing or swimming. You should clean out wet ears with a good quality ear cleaner.
• Externally, cancer may appear as dark, scaly or hairless patches.
• Hormonal disorders such as diabetes, thyroid or Cushings disease can cause hair loss and itchy red skin.
• Psoriasis-like crusting along the ear margins, while in itself is not bad, but may point to an underlying medical condition. Possibilities include skin calcifications due to Cushings, sarcoptic mange, seborrheic ear margin dermatitis, vascular and other hormonal disorders.
• When informing a pet owner of possible ear conditions, it is important not to offer a diagnosis. Write down a description of your findings such as: red, inflamed, black discharge, and so forth. Suggest they may wish to discuss this with their veterinarian. I always preface the conversation with, “If this was my pet……”
• The high velocity dryer can blow out an eardrum. It is best to protect the ears with a Happy Hoodie when using this dryer.
• Ears are often injured when pets play rough or fight, as well as by grooming equipment. Puncture wounds need treatment BEFORE they close up. If allowed to close, the trapped bacteria will cause an infection or sepsis (blood infection). Cuts along the ear margins have a harder time healing.
• Hematomas are caused by trauma, vigorous head shaking or immune-related disorders. The dog will have swollen, squishy-feeling ear flaps. They can burst open during the grooming process.
Both hematomas and wounds can bleed profusely. I don’t recommend styptic powder as it stings on contact, makes a mess, and slows healing. All groomers should be trained in pet first aid to effectively clean and wrap an injury that occurs while in your care before going to the veterinarian. This training may reduce the severity of the injury, as well as speed healing. There is so much we can learn about the pets in our care, by simply observing and learning about their amazing ears.