FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contrary to what you may have been previously taught, requested, or commanded, the current advice from veterinary dermatologists is that plucking ear hair can do more harm than good. Rather than prevent ear infections, this procedure can actually create a greater likelihood of infection by damaging the tender inner ear tissue and allowing a foothold for bacteria to thrive.
In her presentation to Tucson, Arizona groomers, “Ears: What Every Groomer Needs to Know”, Dr. Heide Newton, DVM, DACVD plainly stated that groomers should stop plucking ear hair from inside dog’s ears. “Healthy ears are self-cleaning”, stated Dr. Newton. She encouraged groomers to continue the practice of ear cleaning, however, using products formulated for ear care, and massaging the base of the ear to allow the product to loosen wax and debris from deep in the ear canal. Clipping and/or careful scissoring of excess hair around the ear opening is also helpful for maintaining ear health. Q-Tips should be used only on the crevices of the outer ear, not down into the ear canal. The concern is not that the eardrum might be damaged as with human ears, but that waxy material may be inadvertently packed further into the ear canal.
Another clear statement from Dr. Newton was that “Bathing with clean water will NOT cause ear infections.” Contaminated water may introduce microbes that lead to ear infections, but clean water is not a problem.
The possibility of cross-contamination from an infected ear to the other ear or another animal is the one area where groomers might be at fault. It is very possible for pseudomonas bacteria, the most common infection agent, to transfer from an infected ear to various surfaces and then be picked up by other animals or even humans. The most obvious sign of a pseudomonas infection is what vets call a “purulent exudate”. Translation: yucky discharge. If the groomer suspects an ear infection, Dr. Newton suggested the following protocol:
1. Clean the GOOD ear first.
2. If the ear with the suspected infection is cleaned, be gentle and use a non-stinging ear cleaner. The groomer may also choose to not clean an ear with a suspected infection, especially if it looks serious.
3. Disinfect everything that has had contact with the suspicious ear or might be sprayed with shaking of the ears. This includes: your hands, the tub, the faucets, any tools, the table, the kennel and bedding, and the tip or spout of the ear cleaner bottle.
In addition to ear discharge, other signs of ear abnormality are redness, itchiness, odor, swollen tissue of outer ear, hair loss on earflap, and scabs or scaliness. Ear problems are often quite complex and difficult to nail down and treat. A referral to the veterinary dermatologist can result in a quicker and more accurate diagnosis and more effective treatment, thus lessening the time the pet has to suffer from uncomfortable, often painful conditions. By encouraging pet parents to seek treatment for suspected ear problems, the professional groomer is serving the needs of the pet.
Speaking to about forty Tucson pet groomers, Dr. Newton is a member of Dermatology For Animals, a group of practicing veterinary dermatologists based in Gilbert, Arizona with practices in several states across the U.S. Veterinary dermatologists such as Dr. Newton, undergo several years additional training and examinations beyond that required of general practitioners. In addition to working full-time in the Tucson practice, she currently serves on the American College of Veterinary Dermatology (ACVD) Exam Committee (the certifying board) and is a lecturer for the North American Veterinary Dermatology Forum (NAVDF) Resident Education Forum.
Additional References:Pseudomonas Article - http://www.allergyearskincare.com/animal-care/component/content/article/81.html
2019 UPDATE: Talk about an article "with legs", this piece is still bringing me push back and demands to see the science. I don't expect to ever see a clinical trial or a scientific study of ear plucking vs. no plucking. There are way too many variables and no medical urgency to allocate funds and resources to this. But I have found some more quotable references.
"According to Dr. White,( veterinary dermatologist) normal dogs should not develop ear infections; however, there are some predisposing factors that can lead to ear infections in normal pets.
Examples include frequent swimming or bathing, narrow ear canals, long floppy ears, traumatic plucking of hair from the ear canals, and overly aggressive cleaning of the ears. Unless a pet is participating in an activity that may predispose it to infection, such as daily swimming, then regular ear cleaning is not recommended in normal pets.
'I also recommend not to pluck the hair from the ear canals of dogs during grooming, as this creates inflammation within the canal that often leads to secondary infections,' explains Dr. White." https://vetmed.illinois.edu/pet_column/let-veterinarian-get-bottom-pet-ear-problems/
And this from a vet dermatologist in New Zealand:
New Theories on Ear Plucking
Traditionally, it has been recommended that all dogs should have hair-free ears and ear plucking has been a routine component of dog grooming. However, recent evidence has revealed that ear plucking in the normal, healthy ear may not be necessary. Excessive ear plucking may inadvertently result in micro-trauma and inflammation to the ear canals and this may predispose your dog to an ear infection. Ear plucking may still be necessary for dogs with a history of ear infections since plucking minimizes trapping of excess ear debris. If your pet has frequent ear infections, check with your veterinarian whether the ear hairs should be plucked. http://www.cahillanimalhospital.co.nz/dermatology-hairy-ears--to-pluck-or-not-to-pluck.html
This is from a very comprehensive study of ear treatments (my underlining):
Predisposing Factors for Otitis: “Inappropriate cleaning solutions, traumatic cleaning and plucking.” “Careful selection if cleaners is important to avoid acidic, potent ceruminolytic and astringent ear cleaners in sensitive ears. Regular cleaning is better than regular plucking.”
Topical ear treatment - options, indications and limitations of current therapy, S Paterson, Journal of Small Animal Practice, October,2016, https://dol.org/10.1111/jsap.12583
DVM360.com is a website with information for veterinarians. Here is a quick audio clip:
Not everyone is onboard the advice to minimize ear plucking. This article maintains that the hair follicles of the ears "adapt" to plucking after a few regular pluckings and no longer create a micro-inflammation. In all of my searching for info on this topic, I have not found anything that substantiates that the skin accommodates the plucking.
MY OWN EXPERIENCE: I had backed off ear plucking before the 2013 presentation by Dr. Newton so I welcomed her request. Since then I rarely pluck ears. I'm not going to say never, because there are distinct individual dogs who seem to need ear plucking. In the past 10 years, I have had zero, zip, nada instances of dogs coming in with ear infections post grooming. We lightly clean the ears, and for very hairy ears I will slip and scissor the hair. My dogs are happier without the plucking. My two Maltese are 6 years old and have never had their ears plucked. I have never had a problem with either one. My personal Bichon is over 10 and has plucking about once a year. I feel confident that less is best when it comes to ear plucking.