==> "Healthy dogs navigate the world maybe 40% by hearing, 30% by scent, 20% by vision, and 10% by memory"
Keep your dog's hearing intact means: Keep your dog's ears clean - the right way
GSD Ear Care
When it comes to Dog Ear Care some GSD owners have literally ruined their dog's ears in the past, and many vets can tell sad stories about this seemingly 'negligible' area of 'dog care'...!
With this week's MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL we aim to ensure that we all can advise our friends with GSDs how to best care for their dog's ears! - When having a GSD with its upright ears, this is of course all the more important.
Fundamentals about Hearing
Contrary to common wisdom, the sound sensitivity of dogs in general is not that much greater than that of humans as generally thought (see for example this hearing range study from the Louisiana State University).
To understand this you need to know that sound is vibrations of air, and the hearing range is determined by the sound sensitivity (loudness intensity of a sound) and the sound receptability (tone frequency), and both are interdependent.
Dogs in general show a sound receptability with an approximate range of 67-45,000 Hz, compared to 64-23,000 Hz for humans.
One of the greatest frequency ranges of the dog breeds analyzed has the Poodle: 40-46,ooo Hz. The Poodle also can hear the faintest noises: A 4 kHz tone at -4 dB! (yes, minus because dB is a logarithmic scale, hence -4 dB is a much fainter sound than the standard intensity on which the scale is based).
I could not yet find a scientific study examining specifically the hearing range of the German Shepherd, however the German Shepherd can be expected to have a hearing range greater than the average range shown above.
By the way, if you are worried about your pup's or dog's hearing(?), you can consult a veterinary clinic to have your puppy or dog BAER-tested. The most comprehensive list of BAER test sites I found here.
How the Hearing Works
When sound (vibrations of air) is collected by the ear flap (pinna), the shape of and the hair on the inside of the pinna direct these sound waves into the comparatively large ear canal to end at the eardrum (tympanic membrane). The movements of the eardrum are then transmitted through a chain of small bones to the cochlea of the inner ear. From there, nerve axons are the receptors for signals to be sent to the brain.
Explained Anatomy of the Dog Ear and Ear Cleansing as explained in the text
The ear canal of GSD puppies is not physically open until about 2 weeks of age, which is why all young puppies are virtually deaf until then. The ear canal will open by itself at that time (through the growth of the ear), so don't worry in case you get to know such a young pup - and certainly NEVER move any object down the ear canal, as explained further below!
The ear canal descends first vertically and then horizontally to the eardrum, and exactly this crude L-shape is the cause of many dog ear problems since debris and moisture can hardly get back out.
Dog Hearing Protection
To ensure your dog's hearing works for as long as possible, you may want to consider some dog hearing protection. This is essential if you take your German Shepherd to firework displays, to concerts, on hunting trips, in an airplane or heli, and the like!
Personally I swear on these human earplugs (material, shape, noise cancelling, and wearing comfort make them simply amazing!), but this exact model is not available at amazon.com (the closest US match are these, but the material is different and they are corded).
However, don't use such earplugs on dogs, see further below why. And certainly I am against the widespread recommendation to simply put cotton wadding into the dog's ears!
The safest canine hearing protection are muffs. Note though that all muffs have much weaker noice cancelling properties than human earplugs - nonetheless much better noice cancelling than cotton wadding. The bestselling dog muffs are mutt muffs. They are pricey, but widely used in aviation and amongst hunters because they are the best of what's available.
Note though that we humans have ears all at the same place: conveniently about mid-way on the sides of the head, thus we can fix muffs via the holder on the top of the head. But: Dogs have their ears all over the place (well, almost!), depending on breed. And no dog breed has its ears conveniently mid-way on the sides of the head, thus why standard muffs with the holder on the top of the head don't stay fixed when the dog shakes the head!
So: You need to train your dog, you need to gently accommodate your dog to the muffs, and you need a bit of practice fitting them. Then they stay on, and your dog will appreciate the MUCH reduced noise level. The dog owners who complain don't realize/understand the above (and likely are the easily-give-up type of person anyway).
I do indeed have an idea how to make dog ear muffs that stay fit on most dog breeds, but no money to develop it: Maintaining this website is a drain!
Importance of Dog Ear Care
Since the hearing of dogs is so acute, dogs rely much more on their hearing than on their vision to navigate the world (although, the percentages mentioned at the top are made up to demonstrate probable weightings; no one knows the exact weightings).
Also, your German Shepherd's health, behavior, and overall activity level is much dependant on its EARS: Your GSD relies on its hearing a lot more than we humans can ever imagine - since we rely more on our vision, and even that most people only realize when they go blind.
So, keeping your dog's ears clean and well-functioning can:
- keep your dog's health in order
- keep its activity levels high
- thus keeping the dog calm during the rest of the day
- keep its behavior under control
- relieve you of much of the pet-health-related stress
- and relieve you of many high vet bills too!
This basically explains the importance of dog ear care.
Relevance of GSD Ear Care
The crucial point for the German Shepherd dog owner is that its upright ears offer various benefits:
- amplifying sound reception
- good air circulation, thus reduced build-up of moisture
- reduced bacteria growth and infections
- intimidating head shape better deterrent for offenders
- easier cleaning, etc
But the upright ears also involve disadvantages:
- extremely high exposure to catch and accumulate grass seeds, insects and parasites
- high risk of injuries caused during play, dog fights, or adventurous dog sports
- increased risk of ailments relating to the impact of weather (eg frostbite, burned ears, draft-induced Otitis Media), etc
So, the benefit of reduced moisture build-up (as the primary source of infections) is somewhat outweighed by the risk of collecting all kinds of debris in the ears of your German Shepherd. This we need to address with our German Shepherd Ear Care.
Risks to Avoid/Address
Running through tall grass, bushes or the woods
After such exercise, always have a quick grooming session and, regarding our topic here (ears), carefully brush away all debris from the inner side of the pinna - without letting it fall into the ear canal.
Pay particular attention when you groom the hair that typically grows just before the base of the ears (as highlighted with red circles in the top image on this page). These are the areas that collect most of the debris that would later fall into the ear canal!
Plucking hair from inner Pinna
Do not allow professional dog groomers (or a family member or yourself) to pluck hair from the inside of the pinna or the ear canal. This is commonly done in grooming parlors, but it really shouldn't: The plucking leads to tiny, invisible amounts of skin serum oozing from the hair pores, and this skin serum then makes an excellent medium for bacteria growth - the seed stage for ear infections!
As part of the grooming session, do remove mats of hair around the ear opening - without letting it fall into the ear canal.
But individual hairs or wads of hair that are actually in the ear canal should only ever be removed by a qualified veterinarian. Thankfully, the ears of most GSDs are not particularly hairy on the inside anyway.
Bathing and Swimming
Try to avoid that water (particularly dirty water) is getting into your dog's ears. Normally, this risk is higher when you bathe your dog than when it is jumping into a lake or river to swim (because then your GSD will spontaneously flap its ears the way needed to prevent just this).
I am not particularly a fan of the wide-spread recommendation to insert cotton wadding into the ear canals to prevent water inflow. Reasons:
- The ear flaps are supported by 18 muscles that allow the ear to move and tilt into any position - they are in constant movement. This constant movement has the side effect that it moves any object in front of the ear canal either in or out. All too often, the too-small cotton ball ends up so deep in the ear canal that only a vet can remove it safely!
- Cotton wadding absorbs only very limited amounts of fluid, and then what? - Due to gravity any excess drips downwards into the ear canal!
Much better is to use a tight-fitting earband to prevent water inflow. This size of the human version may work just fine. The canine version is wider though (see aquabandit; not on Amazon yet). It will cover more of the ears, but because it's so wide it may be more uncomfortable for your dog. Try out both if you want.
IF your dog's eardrums are intact (this must first be confirmed by a veterinary exam using an otoscope!), you may instill an ear solution with a drying agent (like Vedco Swimmers Ear Astringent). This also is soothing for your dog when there's water in the ears.
I am against the widespread recommendation to go for the cheap alternative and instill vinegar into the dog's ears (IF anything, then just one drop of clear white vinegar, not the concentrated one!). Reason: Commercial vinegar has a pH between 2 and 3.5 - which means it is very acidic. But dog skin is alkaline (see Bath or Shower). So, putting vinegar on your dog's skin (even worse, into your dog's ears!) is outright crazy!
If the eardrums are perforated, most ear preparations will cause middle and inner ear damage and labyrinthitis (dizziness to the extent of total loss of balance and coordination), and in addition some ear preparations may cause middle ear infections (Otitis Media), which are extremely painful and can make your dog very aggressive too.
By all means, try to avoid dog fights altogether (will be a future Periodical). For German Shepherds, with their erect ears, dog fights typically end with lacerations of the pinna (which basically is a sheet of cartilage covered on both sides by a layer of skin and hair), and the cartilage with muscles does not grow back!
Also, lacerations of the pinna - even without considering the typical subsequent scratching by your dog - can easily lead to ear infections that spread into the ear canal and all the way to the eardrum, and possibly even to the middle ear.
Dog Ear Cleaning
Now on to the ear cleansing process itself.
Note that routine cleaning of the ear canal is not required. Quite the contrary: When dog owners do this, they regularly do it wrong and damage their dog's outer ear (which actually is a part inside the ear, see the illustration above), and possibly even the eardrum, which separates the outer ear from the middle ear.
Even if you see a small amount of yellow-brown waxy secretion inside the ear canal, do not worry. This is entirely normal: A bit of ear wax is necessary for the health of the ears.
However, the inside of the ear flap and the hairy area in front should be cleaned whenever there is an accumulation of debris like weeds, insects, or whatever. With a German Shepherd, this happens easily and all the time - if you subject your GSD to proper outdoor exercise as you should:
Therefore, gently wipe the skin of the inside of the pinna with a clean cloth that you have dampened with an ear cleansing solution such as Pfizer's Oti-Clens or Zymox' Ear Cleanser - twice-weekly as the absolute minimum, plus after each outdoor exercise. Never use alcohol, ether, or other irritating solvents though, as they can cause intense pain on the delicate skin of the pinna and inflame your dog's ear tissues.
Dangerous Ear Canal Cleansing
Only consider cleansing the ear canal if either of the following situations arise:
- there is an excessive accumulation of ear wax that looks like it is blocking the air flow
- the ear canal appears to be red and inflamed, or moist
- there is discharge from the ear canal (waxy or purulent)
- or there is debris in the visible upper part of the ear canal
In these cases the ear is either infected or likely to become infected very soon. Thus, in either of these cases you have two options:
- You can take your GSD to the vet for a comprehensive safe ear treatment. This may cost you anywhere between around $75 to $350 depending on what you get done and how, and where you live in the USA; the same amounts apply in the UK, but in Pounds; only if you live in other parts of the world then this consultation and treatment is likely to be cheaper (but not in Switzerland and Germany).
- Or, if you find the situation not too severe (your judgement call, really), you can instead carefully clean the upper part of the ear canal yourself - subject to having learned below how to do this without damaging your dog's hearing!
How to cleanse the ear canal safely
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
What you need
To safely clean the upper part of the ear canal, you will need some specific ear cleansing preparations and tools as follows:
- Hemostat to carefully remove debris and other objects
- an eardrum-safe ear cleansing agent like Pfizer's Oti-Clens or Zymox' Ear Cleanser - probably worldwide the top products for this purpose!
- Zymox' Otic without Hydrocortisone as a medical ear treatment after cleansing the ears with the above preparations
Note how short the syringe of these three top ear preparations is, and even the otoscope of an otologist - it's for a reason: Never reach further than the upper part of the ear canal!
- Get Zymox Otic without Hydrocortisone - if you still don't know why, make sure that you now read the MYGERMANSHEPHERD Health Manual that you received for FREE upon subscribing to the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL! This is the more appropriate, effective, and sufficient remedy to prevent and treat ear infections.
- When you use Zymox Otic (without Hydrocortisone) you must use the Zymox Ear Cleanser, because the Zymox products are based on enzymatic agents (which of course need to match the enzymatic agents of any other product used at the same time)
- To carefully remove objects, use a quality hemostat (which are blunt-nosed, self-locking tweezers if you so wish). Don't use non-gripping instruments, such as bobby pins, cotton swabs, matchsticks, or similar nonsense. The risk of pushing the object deeper into the ear canal is TOO BIG!
- Do not try to remove an object if your dog will not hold still! Then any attempt doesn't make sense.
- Do not try to remove an object if it is so far inside the ear that you can't see the tips of the tweezers/hemostat!
- Never ever use ear candles!
- The longer an object is left in the ear, the harder it is to remove
- The longer an object stays in the ear, the higher the chances of infection
- A vet visit is always needed if an object remains in the ear longer than 24 hours!
- Finally, note that your dog may be one of the very few where the Pfizer and/or the Zymox Products do not work - then you need to find alternatives for your dog (this basically applies to ANY products you may use)
- BUT: Do not allow your vet to immediately prescribe Amoxicillin (or other antibiotics)! The only reason why such products are being routinely prescribed is that they earn the vet commissions/perks. Fact is, in almost all instances they are neither needed nor the appropriate treatment! They are more harmful than beneficial - make sure that you consciously read the MYGERMANSHEPHERD Health Manual to understand why.
How to proceed
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
- Calm down your GSD as much as you can
- Restrain your dog (ideally by standing above your dog and enclosing its body firmly with your legs)
- Ideally with your dog in standing position, gently pull back the affected ear and look close to inspect the inside of the ear canal with your naked eyes
- If you can see debris in the ear canal, initially just tilt the head of your GSD with the affected side pointing down and then gently pull the ear back and down to straighten the ear canal, such that the object may fall out. Often the force of gravity and moving the ear is sufficient to dislodge an object that simply got stuck in the ear
- If there's no chance that the object falls out by gravity, with a steady hand, use the hemostat (or tweezers), practice twice the opening and secure closing, and then gently but firmly grip the object and release it away from the ear
- To instill a cleansing or medical preparation, you really need only a couple of drops of the above-mentioned products! Get the drops straight into the ear canal when in vertical position
- Restrain your dog for 5 - 10 more seconds, then let it shake out the fluid (with the debris), and use the Kleenex to wipe off any residue
- If seemingly this was not enough, then proceed with a few more drops
Next edition: Micro-chipping your dog