I am all ears! | Preventing ear problems in English cocker spaniels

If a cocker spaniel puppy came with a User’s manual, the book would definitely contain a warning about ear infections.  It is true that English cockers are predisposed to issues in this area. It does not, however, mean that your dog is destined to suffer from one.

There are a few things that can cause your cocker experience an ear ache and irritation. They can be connected to genetics and anatomy, health problems elsewhere in the body, parasites such as ear mites (one of the most common triggers), environmental allergies and food sensitivities, yeast and fungi, overall health status, side-effects of some medications, lifestyle, foreign bodies such as grass seeds and, of course, grooming routine.

The most important rule here is to take the dog to a vet if you suspect anything however minor and insignificant. Guesswork, internet searches, over the counter medicines, natural remedies and ear problems do not belong together.

I love my boys’ ears. I love to look at them, photograph them, groom them, touch and stroke the silky hair and I even love the way they smell… So I make sure they stay this way – beautiful and problem-free.

That’s why today I am not going to talk about illnesses. Instead we will focus on prevention because it’s so straight forward yet so effective for keeping any problems at bay for the entire life of your dog.

So here is a list of things that I do and use myself and recommend to anyone who comes to me for advice.

Check your dog’s ears daily and be particularly vigilant if your cocker is an adventurer or avid swimmer. It helps to know what a healthy ear looks like, notice any changes in texture, skin colour, temperature and scent, and spot any odd-looking discharge or grass seeds before they get into the ear canal.

Clean your spaniel’s ears once a week and keep it simple. Simplicity is the key when it comes to ear routine. By nature the canine ear is self-cleaning, so you don’t want or need to fiddle with it too much. Do not insert anything inside the ear canal. Do not pour any solutions into the cavity either. The latter may have to be done if the dog already has problems and based on your vet’s recommendations. However, if your dog has healthy beautiful ears, all you need to do is to get two cotton pads, moisten them with an ear cleanser based on salicylic acid (the simpler the formula the better) and gently and carefully wipe the visible outer surface inside each ear. That’s all.

Trim the hair around the ear canal monthly to allow air circulation. Be cautious if using clippers – it can cause irritation. Plucking must be avoided because it can leave the skin open to infections.

Groom your dog every day, so the ears are never left wet. Leaving them to dry naturally softens the skin of the ear canal and around the edge, creates damp and warm environment, and allows infections, bacteria and yeast to thrive. Keep an eye on paws, too, because anything that affects the paws can be easily transmitted into the ears.

Brush the ears daily to avoid mats. Also don’t use clippers on your dogs ears – it will thicken the hair, make it prone to matting and trapping moisture. Use scissors or Coat King instead.

Avoid frequent bathing because it also softens the skin and increases the risk of getting the water into the ear canal. If you do bathe your dog, always protect the ears with cotton balls.

Use vet-prescribed flea and worming treatments. Besides keeping obvious parasites at bay, correctly chosen products will also prevent an ear mite infestation.

If your dog had to be on a course of antibiotics, remember to restore his gut bacteria with a course of vet-recommended probiotics and by adding some plain natural yoghurt or kefir into your cocker’s diet.

Feed your dog a complete balanced diet because it will strengthen his natural defences. It does not need to be home-made or unique. A good quality commercial age-appropriate dog food is a reliable and safe option. If unsure, consult a vet or nutritionist.

When feeding your dog, use special spaniel bowls, snoods and scrunchies to protect your cocker’s ears from getting dirty, otherwise you may end up with a dog who suddenly develops very smelly ears caused by yeast and bacteria.

You can find more information about English cockers, their health, grooming, nutrition and puppy tips in my book Perfect cocker spaniel.

Photo credit: Cooper & Fred photographed by me

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