General considerations

Quite unlike the eye, which we have already established is not the dog’s most important organ, the ear is of great value. The sense of hearing in dogs is very well developed, especially compared to humans. Dogs can hear sounds which we humans can’t. In fact, it is this acute sense of hearing (detecting noises at higher frequencies) that causes dogs to go berserk when squibs/firecrackers explode in their immediate environment. The noise, in addition to being frightening, is actually painful to their ear drums. Dogs tend to run and hide in a walled room (eg bathroom or a cupboard) to escape the terrifying loudness.

pet cornerThere are those who believe that dogs chase cars, with great ferocity and anger, because of the aggravating noise the tyres make on the asphalt. Of course, this well-developed sense of hearing serves the dog in good stead vis-à-vis his surroundings, especially in times of danger.


How do pets hear?

The Great Designer was at his/her best in developing the anatomy that is associated with hearing. It begins with the ear flap (external ear structure called the Pinna). The air vibrates – that’s what sound/ noise is. The air vibration bounces off the air flap and enters into the aural orifice (the external ear opening). The vibrations continue their inward trek along the external auditory (ear) canal and hit the ear drum (tympanic membrane). The ear drum (membrane) begins to vibrate, and these movements are transmitted to three tiny bones (called, because of their shapes, the hammer, the stirrup and the anvil) and thence to a fluid-filled canal in the inner ear. The vibrations continue along the fluid in spiral canals (shaped like a snail’s shell), the Cochlea, and become impulses which then travel along nerves (the auditory nerve) to that brain centre which deals with hearing.

Interesting, yes? More than interesting, ingenious! The mammalian body never ceases to create great awe, wonderment, reverence and humility in me.

And then, look how many types and forms and shapes of ears there are. Yet, the sense of hearing functions the same way in each case. Ears are pointed, floppy, erect, half-erect, hairy, bald etc. Sometimes, ears begin hanging down when the dog is a puppy, but by the time it reaches adulthood, the ears are standing erect (eg German Shepherd). And for the uninitiated, the Doberman’s ears are not naturally erect. We veterinarians (or in some cruel cases, ‘butchers’ cut the ears) perform surgery to accommodate the vanity of owners who insist that ears must stand erect. The dog itself couldn’t care less. The theory is that the Doberman looks more vicious if his ears are standing erect. For the same reason, the tail is cut off (docked) at birth. The tail is the barometer which reflects the dog’s good nature and happiness when it wags. Therefore, we cut it off so that the dog can exhibit a serious attitude. It is quite amazing how we mutilate our wards (and ourselves) in the name of beauty, and defend our actions by (spurious) argument.


Bathing animals can lead to ear ailments

Over the years, I have tried to explain why it is unnecessary, even unhealthy, to subject a dog to constant daily or weekly baths. One reason not to bathe a dog (never a cat) too often is that, more likely than not, the soapy water gets into the ears. That can precipitate several problems, not lastly ulcerations, because of the chemicals in the soap or medicated shampoo. If you must bathe the dog, please ensure that a wad of cotton wool is stuck in the pooch’s ears before the bath. Remember to take the wad out afterwards.

Ear cleansing

The next problem arising from your good nature and willingness to be “helpful” to the pet is the fact that many owners like to clean their pets’ ears. They irrigate or swab out the animals’ ears with either alcohol or methylated spirits or some chemical that supposedly dissolves wax. Well, please stop this practice. If you feel the compulsion to titivate (I like that word) in the dog’s ear, then moisten a Q-tip (a match stick, on which some cotton wool is rolled, serves just as well) with some mineral oil and clean the ear flap (pinna) and the entrance to the ear canal. Don’t go inserting the cotton swab into the ear canal. Right there at the entrance to the ear canal is where you will find any accumulation of excess wax or general dirt and debris.

When you come down to it, dogs and cats usually do not need to have their ears cleaned. If fact, a certain amount of wax is needed to ensure the well-being of the ear tissues. If there is a massive build-up of wax/dirt, or if there is a slimy or pussy discharge (especially if it is foul smelling), then the dog/cat is having a more fundamental and serious problem. Veterinary intervention is indicated.

Of course (in addition to soap water which is a very prevalent cause of inner ear ailments), foreign objects can get lodged in the ear canals. These can be very irritating if not removed, and can lead to severe and painful infections. These foreign objects can be grass seeds, sand, small stones, even dead ticks.

For whatever reason, I seem to be seeing more lacerations which originate from dog/cat fights. You can be sure that if dogs/cats have physical confrontations, the ears invariably get injured. After every fight, look at the ears for lesions – ranging from bruises to deep cuts to haematomas (ear flaps swollen and filled with blood).

Enough for today.

Enjoy the coming week.

 Please implement disease preventative measures (vaccinations, routine dewormings, monthly anti-Heartworm medication, etc) and adopt-a-pet from the GSPCA’s Animal Clinic and Shelter at Robb Street and Orange Walk, if you have the wherewithal to care well for the animals.  Do not stray your unwanted pets, take them to the GSPCA’s Clinic and Shelter instead.  If you see anyone being cruel to an animal, or if you need any technical information, please get in touch with the Clinic and Shelter by calling 226-4237.


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