What the pluck? Ear Hair

To pluck or not to pluck your dog’s ears?

Some dog breeds naturally grow hair inside their ears, such as poodles and terriers. Plucking the hair from the ear canal is a controversial topic that continues to make the rounds in the pet owning and dog grooming world.

The issue of whether to pluck or not to pluck a dog’s ears is a controversial topic in the world of canine grooming. Some experts believe that it can be harmful to the dog’s health. Plucking can be painful for the dog and can damage the delicate skin and hair follicles in the ear. Additionally, removing hair from the ears can create a breeding ground for bacteria, leading to infections. On the other hand, proponents of plucking argue that it is a necessary grooming step that helps to keep the ears clean and free of debris, reducing the risk of infection and allowing airflow. The debate over whether or not to pluck a dog’s ears highlights the importance of considering the unique needs and characteristics of each individual dog when making grooming decisions.

What does the latest science say? Ask 100 veterinarians, groomers, or pet owners, you’ll probably get 200 different opinions. The verdict, for now, is that ear plucking can can do more harm than good and is contraindicated. 

What is Ear Plucking

Ear plucking in dogs refers to the act of removing hair from inside the ear using fingers or haemostats. This can be done for various reasons as for many years it was normal for groomers or veterinarians to pluck this hair from the canal, believing that it prevented infections, improved air circulation, or for cosmetic purposes.

This process sounds unpleasant for the dog…

Does Ear Plucking Hurt?

While some dogs don’t react to the activity, that doesn’t mean they don’t feel pain as plucking dog ear hair does hurt.

Structures of the External Canal

The external ear consists of 3 structures:

  • 1. The pinna
    • collects and transmits sound waves toward the tympanic membrane
    • composed of auricular cartilage covered by skin
  • 2. The external ear canal (vertical and horizontal)
    • The vertical canal begins at the tragus, antitragus, and anthelix cartilages of the pinna
    • (Dogs may have few hairs at the entrance)
  • 3. The tympanic membrane

Within the skin of the canals, hair follicles are present. Sebaceous and ceruminous glands produce cerumen, which are secretions that trap debris, protecting the canal and tympanum, and keep the tympanic membrane moist and flexible and moist.

The anatomy of the dog’s ear canal. The vertical canal bends at approximately 75 degrees to become the horizontal canal.
The anatomy of the dog’s ear canal. The vertical canal bends at approximately 75 degrees to become the horizontal canal.

Long hairs normally grow from the skin of the ear canal in some breeds. The number of hair follicles in predisposed breeds gradually decreases along the length of the external ear canal while the highest density of hair follicles occurs at the entrance to the ear canals at the pinna and along the proximal portion of the vertical canal. Hairs may on occasion be found along the deeper parts of the canal.

In addition, ears are self cleaning.

Epithelial migration is a process that serves as a self-cleaning and repair mechanism for the ear canal and tympanic membrane. During which, the old cells within the ear are gradually transported from deep within the ear canals near the ear drums, out to the surface.

Otitis [Externa] in Dogs – Did the Groomer Give my Dog an Ear Infection?

Otitis is an inflammation of the ear canal in dogs. It is the most common disorder of the ear canal in dogs.

“A patient showing ear problems is a dermatology case until proven otherwise”.

“It is important to understand that ear disease is only a symptom (no more specific than ‘pruritus’).

Therefore, it is appropriate to approach the diagnosis of ear disease just as you would for any other skin disease.”

“Many diseases that affect the ears frequently will be affect the rest of the skin and vice versa.”


Otitis externa is classified into 4 categories in order to identify the problem:

Predisposing Factors

The predisposing factors of otitis do not cause ear disease, they only make the pet more susceptible to it or a more severe disease. This includes:

  • Increased Moisture
  • Conformation
  • Obstructive factors that inhibit epithelial migration, such as polyps and tumors

Iatrogenic Factors

This includes ear hair plucking. It can damage the epithelial lining. Hair plucking is contraindicated:

In the normal ear, it can cause inflammation and predispose the animal to infection.

In other cases, it may be indicated to prevent and manage otitis.

Primary Factors

These are ultimately the reason otitis begins.

  • Adverse food reactions – reported in up to 40% to 52% of dogs with nonseasonal pruritus.
Primary factors of otitis
Primary factors of otitis
Primary factors of otitis continued

Secondary Factors

These do not, in themselves, cause otitis but rather, are a result of a diseased ear and contribute to the primary factor. These secondary factors must be treated along with the underlying (primary) cause.

  • Infection
  • Bacterial
  • Yeast
  • Fungal (rare)
  • Contact reactions to medications in an already diseased ear
  • Excessive ear cleaning

Perpetuating Factors

Are changes in the anatomy and physiology caused by the primary and secondary factors. These changes may include:

  • a loss of epithelial migration
  • edema
  • proliferative changes
  • stenosis
  • ruptured TM
  • otitis media
  • calcification of the canal

Otitis can be a chronic and recurring issue for some dogs, and prompt veterinary care is necessary to diagnose and treat the underlying cause and prevent complications.

New Perspectives on the Controversial Debate Over Ear Plucking

There is limited scientific research on the effects of ear plucking in dogs. It has been recommended traditionally to veterinarians, groomers, and pet owners that all dogs should have hair-free ears. Ear plucking has been incorporated in being a routine component of dog grooming. However, recent evidence has revealed that ear plucking in the normal, healthy ear may not be necessary.

Ear plucking is not medically necessary in dogs with normal ears. Plucking is contraindicated. Excessive ear plucking may inadvertently result in micro-trauma and inflammation to the ear canals, predisposing and not preventing your dog to an ear infection. Veterinary dermatologists recommend that the only times ears should ever be plucked is when the ear canal has an infection and has too much hair in it for medication to make it throughout the entire ear canal.

“Excessive hair should be plucked from the external ear canal in dogs prone to ear problems because it may allow cerumen accumulation and contribute to irritation. The process of plucking may cause irritation in normal ears and should be used only when it is deemed necessary on the basis of the history and examination of the ear canal. Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory medication should be instilled in the ear canal after the plucking is complete and the canal is clean and dry.”

Ear plucking, however, may still be necessary for dogs with a history of ear infections. Check with your veterinarian whether the ear hairs should be plucked.

These rare cases should be performed in a vet clinic, where the plucking should be done with appropriate pain management and sedation on board if needed so that it can be done safely and properly. As the ear canal is quite long and “L” shaped, what a groomer or pet owner can accomplish in an awake dog would not be adequate.

Alternatives to Ear Plucking

  • Trim excessive, long hairs from the ear by carefully shaving or scissoring out the hair, rather than plucking.

Each dog is different and the best approach to ear maintenance will vary depending on factors such as breed, ear conformation, and individual health history. Consultation with a veterinarian is recommended before any ear plucking or grooming procedure to ensure that it is done safely and effectively. The debate over whether or not to pluck a dog’s ears considers these unique needs and characteristics of each individual dog when making these important grooming decisions.

Synergistically Yours,


Sheepdog Riggs, Forever in Our hearts

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