A cocker spaniel’s long, silky ears are cute and fun to play with, but a dog’s long floppy ears can also be prone to painful infections. A few simple preventative measures can help keep your floppy-eared friend healthy and happy.
Anatomy of the Floppy Ear
Dogs with long, heavy ears such as cocker spaniels, basset hounds, and poodles are more susceptible to ear infection than other dogs because the design of their ears does not allow for sufficient air circulation. The floppy external ear apparatus covers the ear canal entirely, blocking airflow. Without good ventilation, the ears harbor moisture that can allow for the growth of harmful bacteria.
Because of the quirks of their ear anatomy, floppy-eared dogs require some special attention to prevent ear infections. Your ear-care regimen for your floppy-eared friend should include a regular cleaning schedule, as well as clipping or shaving of the hair around the entrance to the ear.
One should not use water to clean a dog’s ears. Water can remain in the ear canal, causing discomfort and increasing the chance of infection. Instead, use a specially formulated ear cleaning solution, available from online pet pharmacies and most large pet supply stores. If you prefer, you can also make a mixture of 1 part water and 1 part vinegar, or 1 part rubbing alcohol and 1 part vinegar, to clean your dog’s ears.
A floppy-eared dog’s ears should be cleaned about once a week. To clean the ears, soak a cotton ball with your favorite cleaning solution and squeeze the fluid into the ear. Massage the base of the ear for about thirty seconds, and then allow your dog to shake its head to get rid of the excess liquid. You can use a dry cotton ball or swab to wipe the visible parts of the ear, but never stick a swab down into the ear canal.
When you give your dog a regular bath, put cotton balls into his or her ears to prevent bath water from entering. Always use ear-cleaning fluid after a bath to help get rid of any water that might have made its way in.
Not all experts agree that clipping the hair around a floppy-eared dog’s ears will actually help keep the ears healthy. The theory, of course, is that less hair will allow more air to flow into the ear, keeping it dry. Even with no hair, though, the ear flap will still cover the ear canal, and removing those hairs increases the chance that foreign matter will make its way into the ear. If clipping seems to help your dog, go for it, but otherwise don’t bother.
Diagnosing and Treating Infection
Your dog’s behavior will probably alert you to an ear infection problem. The dog will probably scratch at his or her ear, rub his or her head on your favorite carpet, and seem generally lethargic and grumpy. Upon inspection, the ear might appear reddish and there will probably be a foul smell. If this is the case, do not clean the ear, but take your pet to the vet.
Your veterinarian will probably give you antiseptic ear drops to clear up the infection. Make sure you follow the instructions and use the medicine for as long as directed. Otherwise, the infection might come back in a form more difficult to get rid of. Once the infection clears, go back to your regular cleaning schedule to prevent future problems.
Floppy ears can be a bit more work than non-floppy ears, but don’t let that deter you from accepting a floppy-eared dog into your home. Those ears might require weekly cleaning, but with a little imagination, they also give your dog the appearance that he or she might take to the sky Dumbo-style at any moment. Enjoy!