Groomers Should Not Pluck Ear Hair

Veterinary dermatologists advise that plucking ear hair can do more harm than good.
By Barbara Bird, CPG

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 a presentation to Tucson, Ariz., 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”, Dr. Newton said.

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.

Dr. Newton also stated that “Bathing with clean water will not cause ear infections.” Contaminated water could 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 you suspect 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 nonstinging ear cleaner. You 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 a veterinary dermatologist can result in a quicker and more accurate diagnosis and more effective treatment, thus lessening the time the pet has to suffer with uncomfortable, often painful conditions. By encouraging pet owners to seek treatment for suspected ear problems, you, as the professional groomer, are serving the needs of the pet.

Authors note: Dr. Newton is a member of Dermatology For Animals, a group of practicing veterinary dermatologists based in Gilbert, Ariz., 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. 

Barbara Bird, CMG, aka BBird, has been grooming at Transformation Pet Center in Tucson, Ariz., since 1977. At age 73, she is still grooming three days-a-week, while writing for industry journals and speaking at trade shows. She has received two coveted Cardinal Crystal Achievement Awards for Journalist of the Year in 2006 and 2007 and two Barkleigh Honors Awards for Best Blog of 2010 and 2011. In addition to outstanding work at the grooming table and charismatic presentations as a speaker, Barbara is especially devoted to sharing research and technical information in writing for fellow pet groomers worldwide. 

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