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Grooming Series - Ears

I always get questions from new owners about grooming their Shih Tzus. This is a major part of owning a Shih Tzu more than other breeds. For the next few blogs I will be doing a Grooming Series. There is, of course more to the grooming process than just brushing and bathing.

A major point I will stress is that this has to be started as young puppies. Touching, rubbing and imitating the actions before they are needed will help your new puppy get use to what is to come. It will prevent injuries. A nervous and scared dog on the grooming table is a accident ready to happen. When they have scissors near them and they pull, jerk and shake it is more likely an injury can happen.

I always suggest to get children scissors and make the sound around they head and ears, as a game. Treat them when they stay still. Also get a hand held vibrating massager and massage their body to imitate the sound and feeling of clippers.

Doing these small things will make getting groomed a joy not something to fear. My girls fall asleep on the grooming table.

All About Dog Ears

Dog ears have the same basic structures that human ears do, but in different proportions. Those different proportions mean that dogs have slightly different ear health needs than humans. In order to understand what kind of ear care products dogs need, it is necessary to know a little bit about how a dog's ears work.

Ear Anatomy

Dog ears, like human ears, have three main zones: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear includes the external flap or pinna (this is the part a kid can grab; the plural is pinnae), but it also includes the ear canal down to the ear drum. Basically, anything that comes in contact with the dog's physical ear is part of the outer ear. One of the key differences between dog and human ears is that dogs' ear canals are much longer and have a sharp turn inside, like a bent drinking straw. This means that their eardrums are harder to see and also that their outer ears are more vulnerable to infection than human ears. Beyond the eardrum is the middle ear, a closed space involved in the dog's sense of balance. The middle ear is drained by a tube that leads to the throat. Middle ear infections are the kind common in human children. Beyond the middle ear is the inner ear, which contains the nerves important to hearing.

  • Check his ears for excess discharge and have a sniff of them. Bad smelling ears can indicate infection, yeast or ear mites which need to be treated by the vet.

  • Many owners do not realize that dogs can grow hair in the ear canal, even large amounts. For this reason, many owners never check their dog ears unless the dog is shaking or scratching its ear(s). By that time there is usually an ear health problem requiring veterinary medical inspection.

  • Ear infections "Otitis Externa" may arise from water trapped in the ear canal. The damp environment creates an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and fungus, often leading to painful sensitivity, redness, swelling and infection. Shih Tzus have ear flaps that causes the affection since the flaps cut air circulation and trap moisture.

  • Accumulations of wax and a lack of air circulation can lead to ear canker. Canker infection often causes a dark-colored discharge and foul odor. The pet requires veterinary inspection of the condition.

  • Some dogs scratch their ears as a result of allergies; they should be inspected and treated by veterinarians.

Ear Cleaning Tools & Supplies

Sterilize any tools that you have used during the cleaning process, actually a process you should do between all ear cleanings as well.

You will need the following tools and supplies for the ear cleaning procedure. Carefully read and follow instructions supplied with all products before using them.

Ear Care Product

Ear cleaning solution

Used to moisten cleaning pads for the visible ear and to flush out the ear canal

Cotton balls or cleaning pads

Used to wipe down the visible ear surfaces

Cotton swabs

Used to clean the nooks and crannies of the visible ear, never inside the ear canal

Ear powder (deodorizer too)

Used to help dry the ears and also to make ear hairs easier to grip for plucking


Used to pluck hair in breeds with excessive ear-hair


Used for looking inside a dog's ear. Otoscopes are also used in human audiology and medicine, but dogs require a special dog otoscope. Otoscopes are not necessary for cleaning, but they do help with the ear inspection that goes along with a cleaning. Make sure to find out how to use an otoscope properly before using it to examine a dog.

Do not use Q-Tips or alcohol.

Ear Maintaining

We encourage owners to use the services of a professional groomer and veterinarian for ear cleaning. Shih Tzu owners should practice preventative ear health maintenance and check their dog's ears at least once a week.

1. Lift the dog's ear flap and expose the inside flap the ear facing you. Using your thumb and index finger, quickly remove hair as needed around the external ear opening. Pull in the direction of hair growth and only small amounts of hair at one time. You can spray a light amount of medicated ear powder in ears with excess wax and hair to dry the wax, and make the hair easier to pull.

2. If there is hair in the ear canal it should be removed when there are no signs of ear health problems. However, never clean or remove hair more than one-half inch down into the ear opening. The ear area further down in the ear canal is best left to veterinary care. To remove this hair, spray a light amount medicated ear powder into the ear. The powder absorbs moisture and dries ear wax and hairs, thereby providing better traction.

3. Using hemostats, grasp small amounts of pet hair and pull outward toward you slowly. Careful, don't pinch the sensitive ear skin. Never probe further down than one-half inch into the ear canal opening. You must exercise this extreme caution in order not to disturb or damage the ear drum. Clean the hemostats after drawing out hair and wax, and continue removing hair until done. Sterilize hemostats when done.

4. Although you do not clean ears more than one-half inch into the ear canal, observe the condition of your pet's ear beyond the cleaning limit. You may see foreign matter, a discharge, heavy wax buildup or even a melanoma (tumor)this should be reported to your vet right away.

5. Look for additional ear wax and matter to clean from the ear. Moisten cotton ball very lightly (absolutely no dripping) with a small amount of commercial ear cleaning solution, and swab and clean the ear canal area outward to the ear flap. Repeat as needed. This procedure may soothe irritated skin from the hair removal process depending upon the ear cleaning solution you use. Ensure you have removed all ear powder from ears.

6. Sterilize tools and properly dispose of ear wastes and soiled cotton.

Water and excess ear cleaning solution must never get in your pet ears. Do not use water in the cleaning process. Do not syringe their ears; it is a veterinary procedure only. If you are uncertain how to proceed, don't. Seek professional veterinary care. When you bathe your Shih Tzu you should also place cotton in their ears to prevent water from entering the ear canal, and the ear area must be completely dry so as not to provide a damp environment favored by bacteria and fungus.


Dog ear care is one of those things that even many loving dog owners do not stop to think about until the dog starts developing symptoms. If a dog's ears are kept clean to begin with, owners can prevent the development of illness or disease in their beloved pet. The best dog ear care is about prevention more than it is about cure. And, just as with other forms of dog hygiene, caring for a dog's ears is another way for a dog and human to learn to trust each other. A clean, healthy animal who trusts humans is a delight for any dog lover.

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