By Michelle Knowles
O Glorious ear! How lovely it is to pet and touch the velvety ears of our animals. Such a beautiful and loving gesture it is to touch the ear of a loved one. There are so many nerve endings and blood vessels, touching them communicates love and friendship and calms the giver and receiver of these caresses.
Caring for the ears of the pets in our care and the techniques and products used can be controversial as many different schools of thought exist within our industry. I hope to shed some light on the facts and science so that you can make an informed decision on how you care for the ears in your salon.
The canine ear is an exquisite organ that performs many different functions. While hearing things is at the top of the list, sensory perception and mood communication are also important functions of the ear. Each ear can be moved independently of one another and is controlled by 18 or so muscles for each ear. The Pinna, or outer ear flap, comes in many different shapes and is folded with ridges on the inside to help funnel sound to the inner ear. The ear canal itself is shaped like an L and ends at the Tympanic Membrane. This membrane protects the inner ear.
For the most part, the ear is a self–cleaning mechanism and in the case of a healthy ear, no cleaning is required! Using commercial ear cleaners on a healthy pink ear may change the pH of the ear by removing the thin wax coating, resulting in the beginnings of irritation and possibly an ear infection.
Cleaning the dirty ear is very simple by making sure there is no debris, such as seeds, dirt or food (I have seen this) stuck to the inside of the pinna, and you are finished. There are many ear cleaners on the market and most of them are quite gentle and do an efficient job of breaking down the dirt and wax buildup that you see in the folds of the ear. When cleaning the ear with these preparations, one must remember that the inside of the ear is skin and needs to be kept hydrated and protected with a wax or oil after we clean it.
The best oils to use for this are olive oil, avocado oil and jojoba oil. These oils are also available in ozonated versions making them anti–bacterial, anti–fungal and anti–viral. Simply take 1 or 2 drops on your finger or cotton swab and lightly spread the oil inside the ear flap. Never clean or oil further than you can see with the naked eye.
Yes, I am going there. After consultation with a large number of veterinarians, the consensus is if the ear is healthy and you can see that the ear canal is not obstructed, then no plucking is necessary. If the ear is so hairy that you cannot see the ear canal, you need only pluck enough hair so that the canal is unobstructed and has room for air to move throughout the opening.
Plucking exposes the follicles and blood vessels in the surface of this delicate area and needs to be protected afterwards. If the ear is infected, the pet should be seen by a veterinarian without you having cleaned them at all. The vet needs to see the ear in its dirty state in order to make a correct diagnosis and ear cleaners remove the evidence and change the chemical makeup of the ear making cytology and diagnosis impossible.
Ear powder is currently mislabeled and therefore, misused. Powder should never be puffed into the ear to aid in plucking. Over time, the powder that is put into the ear migrates down into the bottom of the canal and forms a cement like plug that can cause all kinds of issues later. Put a “puff” of powder on your table and dip your fingers or hemostats in the powder to get the grip needed to grab the hair.
I understand there are some of us that enjoy a cleanly plucked ear for appearance sake and some require it for a dog that is shown. Pluck away my friends! Simply remember to apply a thin layer of clean oil afterwards to protect the ear skin.
Flushing the ear is a service that many salons still offer. This is a dangerous practice as it involves putting water, shampoo or other substances into the section of the ear canal that we cannot see. The tympanic membrane at the bottom of the ear canal is meant to protect the inner ear from being injured as well as pick up vibrations to send to the ossicles, or the tiny bones, inside the ear. If this membrane is torn or damaged, flushing will simply push debris past this membrane and into the inner ear where it can’t be removed and condemns the animal to lifelong ear problems and possibly surgery.
In this case, it is we who are causing chronic ear problems and we should consider this to be an unsafe practice. Veterinarians have the training and equipment to do ear flushes and this procedure should be handled by them exclusively.
Hopefully this will shed some light on the care of the ears in your care. Let me hear your thoughts! ✂