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Spaniel ears – what a new owner needs to know

Those floppy ears are appealing but need looking after. Here's what to do (and what not to do) advises Tony Buckwell

cocker spaniel

Tips on training cocker spaniels

Q: I’ve acquired a spaniel, a breed I believe that is prone to ear infection. Should I clean his ears regularly or how else can I best prevent problems with his ears?

A: The opening to a dog’s ear is unlike ours and the anatomy of the ear canal tends to make the dog more prone to ear problems. The canine ear canal descends vertically before turning in at right angles and continuing horizontally before ending at the eardrum. This anatomical configuration tends to make the dog prone to foreign bodies, notably grass awns, entering the vertical canal, where they cause irritation. This arrangement also impedes drainage, so that wax and other detritus can build up and become infected.

In addition, dogs that have pendulous ears covered in hair, such as the spaniel breeds, tend to be more prone to problems, especially if the ear canal is narrow and poorly ventilated, as a warm, moist, waxy environment encourages infection. For this reason, many people trim excess hair from over and around the ears.

Don’t clean spaniel ears yourself

I tend to advise against regular spaniel ear cleaning unless there is a particular need. Check the ears regularly. If they are dirty, wipe the skin of the outer ear using a little olive oil or a proprietary ear cleanser. Never attempt to clean further down the vertical canal than the part that you can easily see, or you risk poking foreign material further down. Never try to treat your dog’s ears. If you suspect your dog has an ear problem — if he’s scratching his ears excessively or you detect any obnoxious odour or discharge — consult a vet.

More on spaniel ears

  • Problems usually start because of an irritation, which could be: ear mites, allergy, foreign body (grass seed), swimming.
  • Spaniels are predisposed to ear problems because their ear flaps prevent air circulation, providing breeding grounds for bacteria.
  • Gently brush burrs and seeds from the outside of your spaniels ears whenever necessary
  • One feature common to every breed of gundog is floppy ears